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James A Mathisen
I'm Majoring in SPORTMinistry
The Chicago Bulls Study Bible
Even as I type these words, pundits from Manhattan to Malibu are pawing through the debris of the Fifties and the Sixties in search of a Magic Key to life in the Nineties. A recent piece in Wiredmagazine (David Batstone, "Cyberbeats," March 1998) claimed that "the literary maelstrom of Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs paved the way for the digital revolution." Uh huh. Just clap an academic title on it ("From Howlto Hypertext," say) and you've got a paper for the next session of the MLA.
But these savants are missing the forest for the trees. Who are the most influential figures in American culture over the past 40 years? Not Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs; not Elvis, Dylan, and Janis Joplin (though now you're getting warm). No, the figures in this pantheon are a bunch of guys (and, of late, girls) who can hit the ball farther, run faster and more elusively, dunk more spectacularly, swing more acrobatically than any ordinary mortal.
We've all seen the occasional screed about sports as the new American religion, the documentaries about exploitation (those East German factories for Olympic gold medalists had nothing on the NCAA). But the influence of sports is so pervasive, no one seems to know where to begin to take the measure of its meaning. Here is a start.
(By the way, my title is borrowed from Joseph Stowell, president of Moody Bible Institute, who referred to that apocryphal but not entirely implausible niche Bible in a recent sermon.)
moved onto college campuses and into middle-class respectability. After 1869, when the YMCAbuilt its first gymnasium in New York City, it quickly realized the potential that recreation and sport had for attracting youth to hear the Christian message. This realization, coupled with recognition of the increasing role athletics was playing in colleges, led to the YMCA's becoming a quasi-religio-social fraternity intent on evangelizing the "big men on campus" and spreading the gospel through ...