Football and Philosophy: Going Deep (The Philosophy of Popular Culture)
The University Press of Kentucky, 2009
240 pp., $17.95
The End of Autumn: Reflections on My Life in Football
University of Illinois Press, 2009
368 pp., $25.00
And God Created Football
A fair amount of recent scholarship argues that American football—and perhaps American sports in general—has become a religion. What's interesting is that the very people who have a vested interest in this issue seem uninterested, or at least unconvinced.
In the recent past, the Christian community was ambivalent about sports. As long as athletes used their athletic accomplishments as a springboard to missions—think C. T. Studd (from cricket to China missions), Billy Sunday (from baseball to revival ministry), and Eric Liddell (track & field to China missions)—all was well. But to dedicate your life to athletic excellence, especially to professional sports—well, it was bad stewardship at best, and likely to be censured as downright worldly.
In case you haven't noticed, all that has changed. As Shirl Hoffman shows in Good Game: Christianity and the Culture of Sports (coming in February from Baylor University Press), Christians have embraced sports with no little enthusiasm. Christian parents enroll their children—boys and girls alike now—in youth leagues and enthusiastically follow them in traveling teams, even if that takes them away on weekends, and thus from Sunday morning worship in their home church. Churches have sports ministries and banquets featuring Christian superstars who wax eloquent about how God helped them who helped themselves (with discipline, teamwork, and so forth). And, in large parts of the country, high school sports is seamlessly woven into religious life.
What about Sabbath issues, long a major stumbling block for Christians? Well, Eric Liddell's qualms about running on Sunday now seem quaint. Every professional football team has Christian chaplains who hold pre-game services for players still committed to Sunday worship (if not to Sabbath rest). And when it comes to the Big Event of the Year, churches no longer complain about the Super Bowl depleting Sunday night services. Now the services are scheduled so as to not conflict with the Super ...