Football, MLK, and What Matters

The Packers aren’t going to the Super Bowl. This adds to much writing about it, although from a less popular perspective—not to be contrary but out of concern. Among the many social media posts, my brother-in-law commented that he took out the loss on his punching bag in the garage instead of hitting his wife, my sister. It was an honest comment, one that was trying to be healthy in assessing the many positives of his life and declaring that the outcome of the football game didn’t lead to more negatives. But the note made me sick to my stomach. So did many other comments about the game.

It is, after all, a game. The point of games is that they should be fun and should probably build community or strengthen relationships, contributing to emotional health (if not physical fitness). It may be argued that the many voices of lamentation are some sort of commiseration—literally, of sharing misery, a collection of grief. Yet that strikes me as falling short of community with compassion or sympathy, words that are about sharing suffering.

Of course, I see most things through a theological lens. I can’t quite shake questions of god being where ultimate devotion and allegiance are placed, seeming to make of sports a pantheon of polytheisms. More importantly and directly, yesterday morning I preached about making distinctions on what is beneficial. I believe this is a question of caring for ourselves paired with loving and serving those around us. Is a team more important, for example, than family? What is worse than this loss?

So I’m sad and disappointed in the passionate investment over the football game. It is misplaced priority, wasted emotion. It is fruitless hope and misperceived tragedy. Notice how much happiness people put at stake: even if life hasn’t seemed that great, if only the Packers would go to the Super Bowl that would make things good. How is life actually, really, honestly better if a team you like plays another game? In the meantime, I hear of many yelling throughout the game at their TV screens. What is that anger accomplishing?

With the observance of Martin Luther King day, reflecting on a dream that continues to be deferred, on what he called the “fierce urgency of now” and the “giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism,” what if we invested that passion instead into improving the lives of each other, of our society, of our planet?

Instead of this being a moment where somebody—anybody—wanted to abuse his spouse, what if we were to strive and celebrate that no spouse should be abused for any reason, that we stand with those who really are hurting, that games may be fun but ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬, that there is more to life? What if our loyalty and our knowledge and dedication were invested instead in helping each other, and we refused diversions or distraction from what is truly important?

If the question even arises in your mind whether life is less valuable or fulfilling after a sports loss, shut off the game.