As a part of a private scholarship I receive for college, every year I’m required to read a book given to me and write an essay with my reactions, thoughts and commentary. This year’s book, “Who is this Man?” by John Ortberg, explored not only the life of the man Jesus Christ, but how transcendental his life, his teachings and words were on numerous aspects of our society.
As I read about the extent to which the disciples “believed in Jesus,” and wholeheartedly went about proclaiming his ministry throughout the Roman Empire and beyond, I found myself wondering about the last time I had heard about people “believing in someone,” but this time with a rather different ending: Sports.
It’s quite remarkable, if we listen closely to daily sports chatter, how often we can hear the use of religious/spiritual expressions when talking about our favorite sports.
“I believe in Aaron Rodgers. He is my guy.”
“Do you have faith that the Packers will make the Super Bowl?”
“He is the heart and soul of that team. How will they move on after his loss?”
This phenomenon is not exclusive to any demographic either, as almost every sport fan has used it, including those who don’t otherwise subscribe to any particular religious identity.
The zealous fervor a majority of people exhibit toward their favorite team or athlete is remarkable and curious.
Why is that?
The better question is: What do we mean when we place our faith in a particular individual or group of individuals whose actions are meant to serve as entertainment?
How do we really feel toward these people? Moreover, for those of us who affiliate with Catholicism or any other religion, are those emotions we have with sports substantially different from those we express toward our religious figures?
I find this curious considering the recent happenings with Ryan Braun, our once-revered local sport superstar turned national scapegoat. I was in Boston when this transpired, so my observations are pretty much based on my own source of information from back home: Facebook.
The actions inflicted deep pain even though many of us have never seen him in person, spoken with him or had any significant personal interaction. The disappointment and anger his actions generated were rampant across status updates.
“How could you??! We believed in you… and you let us down.”
Why do we react that way?
Same for those poor souls who are Cowboys fans (OK, this is my one sports jibe of the article being a Packer fan myself) who, for the past years, have started every year, with the same variation of thought:
“We have faith that this is the Cowboys’ year,” only to finish saying: “We thought you guys were going to be good, and the team let us down.”
Why is it that we perceive and respond to sports in the same way almost all of society once did toward a religion and any religious figure involved in a scandal not so long ago?
Notice that my question is not one that comes out of some exasperation. I consider myself an avid sports fan, so this actually is more out of curiosity.
But back to Braun. My home is five minutes from Miller Park. I love the Brewers and love to watch them play, even through this tough year. Oddly enough, though, I had quite a different reaction to the Braun saga than many of my peers.
I, certainly, was disappointed. However, it was not that he personally disappointed me, as if he owed it to me personally because I was spiritually invested in him. My disappointment was broader, stemming from simply seeing a “good guy” public figure make terrible decisions. He messed up. Tough times for him.
But, really, in my mind, that is it.
Sports are awesome and a wonderful aspect of our society. But perhaps it’s worth understanding how we act toward them. We do not have to change how much we love a particular player or team, but it’s wise to have perspective once in a while, particularly when we speak of things we “have faith in.”
After all, sports are just that. Sports.
(Espino, a 2011 graduate of Marquette University High School, Milwaukee, is studying economics at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. His home parish is St. Vincent de Paul, Milwaukee. Email him at email@example.com)