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Diversion or perversion?

“I will what I want.”

This is the Under Armour ad that is appearing on the ESPN website. It pushes one of our culture’s most cherished concepts (especially in regard to sports and athletes): that through hard work, grit, and a take-no-prisoners-attitude—we can become more or less god-like. We alone are in control of what we become. We depend upon no one and nothing else. It you go to the main page espousing this nonsense, one picture tells us, “Of course I believe in destiny. I’m the one who creates it.” Another tells us that “Kelly O’Hara doesn’t take control. She never lost it.”

It’s all very slick, contemporary, and designed to appeal to a certain demographic (youth), who are more susceptible to being seduced by such a message because their life experience (or lack thereof), makes swallowing the super-person hook easier. (There’s a reason these ads all feature young athletes in their physical prime as opposed to people in hospitals or nursing homes).

At one level, you have to appreciate the ads because they challenge us to quit making excuses and start being pro-active (and many people, disciples included, need such a message). Unfortunately they speed right past challenging and end up at silliness—by making all of this an end in itself resulting in nothing more than the glorification of the person. And we’ve been down this road lots of times and it usually doesn’t end well for one obvious reason: it’s not healthy to put people on pedestals and treat them in a god-like way (Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Michael Vick, Mark McGwire, Oscar Pistorius, Joe Paterno, O. J. Smpson, etc.,).  At the end of the day, they are still people and treating them like they aren’t is a bad idea. Make that a very bad idea.

I was watching my first football game of the season last Thursday night and was overwhelmed by the pageantry of it. It struck me that it was not unlike Imperial Rome. You had people flocking in masses to a coliseum. Outside the coliseum there were statues to the various deities associated with the sport. Clustered around the coliseum were various shrines housing treasured items.

I write all of this as one who enjoys and appreciate sports of all kinds. But the sports industry has been out-of-control for quite a while. The huge amount of money associated with it is obscene and one sign that we have lost the perspective of sports as something bringing simple enjoyment and diversion. Now it is a gazillion dollar industry with heavy ties to gambling, little honor, and less inspiration. Way too many people define themselves by their teams and substitute being a fan for having a life. What should be a diversion has become a perversion.

This is an area where disciples can let their light shine. We can show people how to have fun and enjoy sports without it becoming an obsession.

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