Football: America’s pastime or idolatrous obsession?September 14, 2015
In honor of Super Bowl 50 the USAToday is going to be running a weekly list of “The 50 Things we learned from week X of the NFL Season.” (That’s the National Football League for those who live in hobbit holes.) But what happened yesterday is noteworthy for more than the fifty discreet reasons noted by the USAToday.
According to Statista, a group that analyzes such things, the fan cost index in 2014 was $479.11. That means that the average spent per game by every individual that attended a NFL game in 2014 was nearly $500. And according to ESPN, 17,609,643 people attended NFL games in 2014. That’s $8.436 billion dollars spent in one year.
And that’s just those who attended games in person. According to Neilson, whose job it is to tell us how many people watch what programs on television, an astounding 60% of Americans tune into at least one NFL game each season. Ask yourself, “did I catch even part of a game last year?” Maybe on Thanksgiving? (I did.)
And that fact that we’re watching football on Thanksgiving and Christmas days brings up another issue: Sunday is no longer the only day of the week devoted as a Sabbath to the pigskin. There’s the NFL draft, preseason games, pre and post game analysis, Monday night football, Thursday night games, the post season and of course, the Super Bowl. Even in the off-season there is reason to remain engaged, tuned in, studying, because now the fan can get into the game through fantasy sports.
Forbes estimates that Americans spend an average of $70 Billion a year playing fantasy football.
Add to that all the dollars, time, energy, NFL Sunday Ticket, tail-gating, game-day parties and you’re talking about worship that considerably outpaces national participation in Church. And therein lies the point.
America does not have a worship problem. America has an idolatry problem.
We know how to worship. We know how to devote ourselves, our attention, our financial support, our hearts, our minds, our allegiance, our passion, and our praise. But the object of our affection is football shaped and pigskin covered.
There’s a reason that football is called America’s pastime, but is it really idolatry?
Last year, Kevin DeYoung challenged Christians to explore that question by asking three others.
Is ministry and worship on the Lord’s Day compromised by my allegiance to football on Saturday and Sunday?
Are my emotions all out of whack?
Can my conversation go deeper than football?
Is discipleship (including bible study, prayer, and missional service) compromised Monday-Friday by my allegiance to football through fantasy participation, Monday, Thursday, holiday games and preparations for my Saturday and/or Sunday football observances?
But its DeYoung’s third question that I find particularly powerful.
I grew up going to Tampa Bay Buccaneer games. I remember the Tampa Tribune front page full “From Worst to First” and “to Worst again” headlines because they were framed full size in my dad’s study. But I also remember, as a great a fan as my dad was of the game, that church – and the needs of neighbors – came first. The Bucs were great and we were going to support them win or lose, but it was a game. It was okay to cheer, but not to worship.
Yes, that required that some Sundays we went to early church with a trunk full of tailgating supplies, but even on days when kick-off was early, church came first. Football was fun, but it was second.
DeYoung’s walk off line is excellent and convicting: “Go ahead and give football a little bit of your weekend. Just don’t give it your worship.” For many people, attention and devotion to football is not confined to “a little bit of the weekend.” It’s all day, both days, and it’s Monday night, Thursday night and all the waking hours in between with their fantasy teams. That’s worship – and the Bible calls worship directed at anything or anyone but God, idolatry.
Where is football in the line-up of your heart priorities? One quick evaluative way to tell: did you start this morning in your prayer closet with the Father or in His Word, or did you check your fantasy standings first? Ouch.
The truth is that we all commit idolatry which is why the first of the 10 commandments, echoed in the greatest commandment, is centered on the issue. God comes first or we are not genuinely acknowledging and worshiping Him as God. That’s idolatry distilled down to its most basic form. So, when we recognize that we are committing time, energy and material resources to something ahead of God, we need to deal with it.
I know, I know, tonight is Monday night football and it would be un-American to suggest that you not watch, right? Wrong question. It would perfectly American to watch, it is America’s chosen form of worship. The right questions to ask (after sincerely evaluating yourself against DeYoung’s three questions above) are:
- Is watching football the highest and best use of that time, the talents God has given me and the resources over which He has set me as steward?
- $500 on average for every person who attends a game. What did you contribute to your church yesterday? Or last month? Or last year?
- 4 hours on average to watch a game. How many hours did you spend at church in worship and bible study and missional service this week?
Worship is a moment by moment decision we all make about the One to whom our attention, affection and allegiance are owed.
Who’s your #1? Click here to read more on The Washington Times.