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A post about sports by a guy who doesn’t know much about sports.

In the past weeks (read: years), story after story of NFL players are hitting the spotlight.  Horrible life choices, criminal behavior, and lack of self-control are making the headlines.   Mixed in there, certainly, are some players/teams doing charitable work, or getting in trouble for wearing a shirt that says “Jesus” on it.  In some cases, it seems there’s even a decent man among them.   A few men who deserve to be reformed in prison shouldn’t damn the entire enterprise, nor should a few good guys/moments redeem it.

lionsBut all of the speculation and conversation should demand we take a serious look at how and why we support the NFL as an organization, how we hold those involved accountable, and what we sacrifice in order to be entertained.

As Steve Almond writes in his book, “Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto”, if the NFL were being honest about the risks to new players, as they are drafted they would be required to sign a statement that reads:

“I, ________, the undersigned, am aware that the average age of death of an NFL player is, according to the Players Union, up to two decades shorter than normal life expectancy.  Furthermore, I recognize that playing in the League, even in the absence of formally diagnosed concussions, may cause brain damage leading to the loss of cognitive function, depression, disorientation, and suicidal ideation.”

Even the NFL is finally conceding that around 1/3 of it’s players will experience brain trauma. (NFL says it’s probably lower, brain people say it’s probably higher.)  But even if supporting the NFL didn’t make us accomplices to such injury, what about the financial figures?

Almond shares, “In 1948, nearly 9/10 of the revenue earned by the NFL’s best team, the Philadelphia Eagles, came from ticket sales.  The share from radio/TV rights was 3%.  Hardcore fans kept the league afloat, the ones who braved stadiums so cold that players sat bundled in hay to keep warm on the sidelines.  This season, the NFL will receive $5 BILLION in TV rights alone, nearly half its total revenue, and 3x more than MLB earns.”

So here we have one organization, the NFL, that makes over $10 BILLION dollars annually.  Surely, they pour a lot of that good back into their communities, right?  After all, we see promotional pictures of teams visiting the sick/elderly/children/etc. all the time.  Unfortunately, things like this are happening only AFTER tax-payers from those cities have paid hundreds of millions of dollars to provide facilities for their local team to keep playing.  And yes, you read that article right…..even after being largely funded BY those taxpayers, local franchises pay no taxes themselves.

Now football has done a lot of good for people.  Giving people a place where they can use some of their strength and grit in a way our “tech-savvy” world doesn’t have many outlets for.  Calling all ages to enjoy the passion of a body at play.  The long distance throw/catch that seemed to be impossible.  The dodging of defenders all the way down the field as the crowd stands and cheers.  In a moment of remembering, Almond recounts, “Elway ran around like crazy until he spotted something nobody else did, a path to redemption where others saw only ruin.  In the moment of greatest peril, he summoned poise.  In the midst of entropy, he found order.  We all want to find that magic within ourselves.  And failing that, we want to watch as someone else does.”

My question to football fans is, how will we call for a change?  There’s obviously something very good here.  Something that taps into the heart of millions of fans.  But somewhere along the line, we started pretending we didn’t notice the impact it was having on our culture.  We cannot pretend anymore that the injuries aren’t happening…both on and off the field.  Lives are being lost and broken.  We cannot pretend anymore that the financial set up, with its’ heavy burden on cities already suffering with hungry and homeless, is right.  How will we be voices for change, calling for the redemption of a sport we love?

In a recent interview with Mark Edmunson, author of “Why Football Matters“, he talked about viewing NFL players as “heroes”, and mentioned we have a severe lack of heroes in most realms of our world today.  It’d be great if an NFL player did something truly heroic, like demanding some of the issues above were addressed (actually addressed, not simply glazed over as injuries have been for many years).  But as a parent, it definitely made me think consciously about helping my daughters find “heroes” for their own lives.  People who are helping the Kingdom of God to break through.  People who are bringing justice, offering grace, building with love, and sharing the Hope of redemption in the dark corners of our world.  My guess is, it won’t be someone on the astro-turf.  Or, more painful to admit, on the ice…

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the 300 are ours.

By now you might have already heard of the huge party that most of us weren’t invited to.  300 Teenagers in New York decided to break into an ex-NFL star’s giant home, and throw a party.  The party involved drugs, alcohol, destruction of property…and lots of selfies.

Because of all the “selfies” and social media posts, they were able to identify quite a few of the close to 300 partygoers.   The NFL star himself invited them to all come back and help clean up in order to avoid criminal charges.  Apparently only 4 of them did.  (pitiful hand-clap)  Then he took action by posting the pictures/tweets they shared publicly while on his property.  By simply seeing what was available online, with some help, he compiled a list of names, and is calling those teens to respond by giving to charity.300-logo3  Kudos for him realizing this whole situation could be used to do something much larger than recoup the damages.

This party reveals quite a bit about youth culture, and one of the most dangerous things seems to be the elevation of self over….well, everything. The pictures & tweets posted seem to be of young people living out all the cliche’d phrases we hear pumped out in horrible music and quoted in memes all over social media. “Night of my life!”, “Live in the moment!”, “Don’t Care!”, “Don’t judge!”, etc. The list could go on, including every aspect of life being a continuous unchallenged party.  Combined with mob-mentality bad judgement, the feeling of invinsibility continued even long after the party was busted up.

I’ve seen some responses that are blaming the parents. Certainly there’s some major blame there, whether it’s bad decisions or not being present. But we cannot support the culture of excess, parties, escape and consumption (of people and substances) the way many of us do; and innocently point a finger when an event like this happens. We cannot pretend to be surprised when all the bumper stickers, song lyrics, and cliche’s become the life choices of our younger generations. Even as the cops closed the party down, so many of these teens were sharing how glad they were to have been there. The elevation of “epic experiences” over making right decisions isn’t something confined to our youth.

Reading Titus chapter 2 gives us a great reminder to the ENTIRE community.  Whether older men, older women, younger men, or younger women…one thing we all have in common is the need for “self-control”.  To be “sober-minded”.  To have control or “reign” over ones desires/passions.  This was obviously big enough to write about several times throughout scripture, and one of the ways we know we’re bearing the “Fruit of the Spirit” is by the presence of self-control.  This isn’t a new thing, and it isn’t something we’ll solve in a week.  We must be making choices today about what we support, and see the connections between the life we’re living and the choices of the generations following in our footsteps.

How does your life reflect the call/challenge to practice self-control for the sake of those who are growing up in the world we’re shaping?