It is no secret that I am an enthusiastic sports fan. My sweet husband and children cannot stymie my outbursts as I cheer perhaps a little too loudly for my favourite team, especially during the playoffs. I enjoy watching almost all team sports but I appreciate and applaud exceptional individual achievements no matter what sport an athlete may compete in.
I was never a particularly great athlete myself. Truth be told, I wasn’t even a mediocre athlete. I had no natural abilities. I tried a few sports but I just did not have the talent. My soccer coach in high school, bless his heart, allowed me to run up and down the field for a few shifts each game basically so I could have the experience and to enjoy the close camaraderie of team competition. He had no serious expectations I would ever score any goals or set up any scoring plays. I think he was thankful whenever I survived a shift because I had the uncanny ability to block shots with my face. In one game alone I was carried off the field twice, struck senseless by a ball ricocheting off my nose. After that fateful game he determined the safest place for me was on the sidelines where I could loudly cheer for my team mates.
My track coach also discovered what I lacked in athletic ability I more than made up for in vocalizing encouragement for others. He made me house team Captain during a school sports day, not because of any athletic prowess I possessed, but based entirely on the fact I could yell the loudest, effectively spurring my teammates onto victory with my incessant encouragement. It came as just as much a shock to him and to me when I participated in and won the girl’s high jump event that year. As I proudly walked up to him wearing my first place ribbon, he did not congratulate me, as would have been good coaching protocol, but asked incredulously, “Where in the world did you get that ribbon? Did you find it on the ground?”
I should have been hurt by his assuming I did not earn the ribbon by my own merits, but instead, I smiled and sauntered past him and said, “I came in first in high jump!” I neglected to add how I managed that extraordinary feat but it became obvious when the three girls who were supposed to have come in first, second and third place, limped past us. Each of them in succession had managed to careen over the pole and land with enough force to injure themselves thus leaving the last competitor, me, the last gal standing and the winner by default.
I am in week four of my recovery from major surgery and I have little else to do but rest and allow time to heal. Thankfully, I have enjoyed the NHL Hockey playoffs and the NBA playoffs during this “down” time. Unfortunately, no Canadian teams are in the finals of the Stanley Cup playoffs. I honestly do not care who eventually wins out between the St. Louis Blues and the Boston Bruins, but I always seem to cheer for the “underdogs” so this year I’m throwing support behind the St. Louis Blues who haven’t taken home a cup in forty-nine years.
It’s a different story with the NBA playoffs. This is the first time I’ve actually watched basketball since my brother played on our small town high school team in the 70’s. I was the team statistician and occasionally I was also the score keeper for the home games. I can’t say I was enamoured with the game then, but I did like hanging out with tall basketball players. So, for close to forty-five years I haven’t followed the game or the NBA with any kind of interest…until this year.
The Toronto Raptors, the only Canadian team in the NBA, are in the finals for the very first time in their franchise history. Up until two weeks ago I did not know any of the player’s names, much less their rise in the NBA league, but I have become a Raptor fan in short order. Canadians have embraced this team with patriotic furor. I have great respect for the players of both the Raptors and the Golden State Warriors who can throw a three pointer on a consistent basis. I don’t understand all the rules, but I enjoy the games and I laugh at the antics of Drake, Canadian Rapper extraordinaire, on the side lines, as he and the thousands of other diehard Raptor fans cheer on their favourite team.
Raptors “Superfan” was interviewed after a game and I couldn’t help but take note when he said, “One more game, God willing, and we are the Champs!”
I find that comment interesting. It is as if he is assuming that God will determine the outcome of each game. Does He? I’ve asked that question before. Is God a sports fan? CNN wrote an article in 2010: “When did God become a sports fan?”
“It’s hard to pinpoint when athletes started invoking God on game day. The late NFL Hall of Famer Reggie White, the “Minister of Defense,” was one of the first professional athletes to routinely thank Jesus after victories during his career in the 1990s.
Baker, the author, says that as far back as 1943, Gil “The Flying Parson” Dodds, an American distance runner, would give Jesus credit for his victories. Dodds signed autographs with a scriptural reference to Philippians 4:13 (“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”).
One of the first professional athletes to attract criticism for invoking God after victory was Michael Chang, an American professional tennis player.
Chang won the French Open in 1989 as a 17-year-old underdog. He was booed by a Parisian crowd when he thanked Jesus for his victory at the tournament’s trophy presentation.
Chang, who now helps runs a Christian Sports League in California, says he thanked Jesus not to gloat, but to show gratitude.
“When I go out there and share my faith, I’m not saying God is on my side and he’s not on your side,” Chang says. “The Lord loves everybody, and the Lord is on everyone’s side.”
In a week, both the NHL and NBA finals will have concluded. There will be celebrations for the winner and the losing team will commiserate and feel the loss profoundly. Will the teams praise God for the win, or blame God for the loss? I am always a little concerned when athletes (and fans) praise God for the wins, but neglect to praise Him for the losses as well. After all, shouldn’t Christians praise Him all the time?
So, I will pray that the athletes of all the teams will show good sportsmanship whatever the outcome. I pray the fans will also show good character in the manner they celebrate a win, as well as how they graciously accept defeat. I will pray that Christian athletes will understand the importance of giving Glory to God whether they come in first or come in last.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:1-3