The debate, waged in congenial fashion, focuses on football’s aggressive nature and Christians’ response to its frequent violent hits and its effect on players.
A bit of common ground, however, emerges regarding football’s appeal and its character-building qualities.
Football’s “grace, precision and the crushing of bone,” as Owen Strachan puts it, make the game appealing.
“There is nothing quite like a hit over the middle. A ballet-graceful wide receiver at full extension grabs a tightly thrown pass only to be smacked down like a rag doll by a heat-seeking safety,” Strachan, assistant professor of church history and Christian theology at Boyce College in Louisville, Ky., wrote in a post titled “Our Shaken Faith in Football” at ChristianityToday.com in early September.
Two other Baptists in the blogosphere, David E. Prince and Jimmy Scroggins, also noted football’s appeal in a joint post titled “Is football too violent for Christians?” at the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s erlc.com website.
“No other game combines brute force and elegant choreography the way football does,” Prince and Scroggins wrote in late September.
Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky., and an assistant professor of Christian preaching at Southern Seminary. Scroggins is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach.
Strachan, Prince and Scroggins noted football’s widespread appeal. It “provides a place for people of wildly different backgrounds to come together,” Strachan wrote, and serves “a profound communal and civic function.” As Prince and Scroggins put it, “the atmosphere and pageantry of football attracts countless people who are fans of the spectacle more than” the actual game.
Among numerous character-building qualities of the sport, the trio agreed that it calls for discipline, determination, courage, teamwork and self-sacrifice.
Risks & downsides
Then, however, comes the debate over how Christians should respond to the game’s inherent risks as well as its potential cultural downsides.
For Strachan, the harmful physical effects that full-contact football has on players and its brutal nature raise “concerns for Christians, who of all people have the most stake in human flourishing based on the imago dei, the likeness of man to God” (Gen. 1:26-27).
Referring to the National Football League’s deliberations over players with concussion-related injuries, Strachan asked, “[D]oes it behoove Christians to reconsider the game’s violence? I think it does.”
Strachan acknowledged that his question raises a “tough issue” because, “To lose football would be to see one of the primary laboratories for maturity (in young men particularly) disappear. It would change America, which has been warmly defined as fundamentally ‘football and apple pie.’”
“Concussions are the scariest part of the game” and “are under-reported and under-diagnosed in youth sports,” Strachan wrote. Despite millions of children playing football nationwide, he pointed out that, “there are almost no studies of the effects of youth football on the human brain.”
Also, the “culture of football should concern Christians,” Strachan wrote, and “football-related arrests, assaults on women and tiny children, murders, drug charges, and more should not glance off the evangelical conscience.”
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