Wednesday, April 27, 2011

If Jesus Were a Hockey Fan: a Lesson in Sportsmanship

Being a Pittsburg Penguins fan and living in the Washington, D.C. area has given me some interesting opportunities to teach my boys lessons in good sportsmanship. After a long day of being verbally assaulted by Caps fans at school for wearing his Penguins jersey, my son came home and said, “you know Mom, I don’t understand why Caps fans are so hateful about the Penguins. As a Penguins fan, I don’t have problem with the Caps … it’s the Caps FANS that I have a problem with. No sense of sportsmanship there!” 

I thought that was an interesting observation and distinction from a 15-year-old. 

Sportsmanship. When I looked for a quick definition on Wikipedia it started with the obvious “Sportsmanship expresses an aspiration or ethos that the activity will be enjoyed for its own sake, with proper consideration for fairness, ethics, respect, and a sense of fellowship with one's competitors. Being a "good sport" involves being a ‘good winner’ as well as being a ‘good loser’.”

But I was more intrigued by the sentences that followed.

“In general, sportsmanship refers to virtues such as fairness, self-control, courage and persistence and has been associated with interpersonal concepts of treating others and being treated fairly, maintaining self-control in dealing with others, and respect for both authority and opponents.” Wow – rings a bit of Matthew 7:12, doesn’t it? Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. 

Then there was a section headed “Relationship to Morality.”  

Morality … on Wikipedia? Morality is a Biblical concept… so does that make good sportsmanship a Biblical concept?  

It read, “Sportsmanship typically is regarded as a component of morality in sport … acting toward others in an honest, straightforward, and a firm and dignified manner even when others do not play fairly. It includes respect for others including team members, opponents, and officials.” 

I don’t think this is exclusive to the players, either. Let’s talk about the fans for a minute. Now I certainly get that “trash talk” is part of the whole sport-fan thing and even though I generally stay out of that kind of exchange, there’s no harm in a little banter between friends. But I think there is a line that is crossed when hateful words are shouted out at complete strangers or the physical harm of a particular player is celebrated or, even worse, overtly wished for. If hate in our hearts and thoughts is the same as murder (1 John 3:15) what is the implication of trash-talk that clearly comes from a place of hate and is intended to disrespect “others including team members, opponents, and officials.” 

Now if Jesus were walking the Earth today, I don’t know that he’d be a hockey fan (certainly not for New Jersey, anyway). But if I brought him to a game with me, would it change my behavior in the stands? It shouldn’t. Would it change what I say to an opposing fan? It better not. Do you think He’d be screaming from behind the glass, “TAKE HIS HEAD OFF!” I don’t think so. If a player from the opposing team was laying on the ice with blood dripping from his eye socket, would Jesus say, “yeah! That’ll take him out for the rest of the week!” or do you think he might utter a quick prayer for the poor guy that he’s okay. Can we show a little concern for the human being before we move on to celebrating that this injury could play in our favor? 

I’m not trying to be trite in boiling it all down to WWJD. It’s natural to appreciate the strategic advantage to your team when a player from an opposing team is out for a game of for several due to injury, but to celebrate the injury itself, to wish injury upon others? I don’t think Jesus would do that and I don’t think that would make Him any less of a fan or would diminish His (or my) ability to enjoy the game. If Jesus and I are demonstrating sportsmanship (which is Biblical, apparently) “the activity will be enjoyed for its own sake” even if my team loses. 

I have several dear friends who are Red Wings fans and Black Hawks fans who have been up against my Penguins and we can enjoy watching the game together without any bloodshed. And if my Penguins don’t make it through the playoffs, I will support my friends by cheering for their team. But if my Penguins make it and your team doesn’t, will you cheer with me? I think Jesus would.

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