Christian football fans debate violence of the sport

 — Sept. 8, 20138 sept. 2013

by Timothy Fowler, Ecumenical News

Ahead of a new season, U.S. Christians are debating the wisdom of being fans of the country’s most popular sport because of the violence inherent in American football.

The settlement of a lawsuit between the National Football League (NFL) and former players who sued over brain injuries they allege were received while playing has sparked the clamor.

The NFL agreed to pay the 4,500 players who were party to the case $765 million in the settlement.

On one side of the debate are believers like Rev. Rick McDaniel, who in an op-ed for Fox News Saturday said that football is biblical.

“There is much in the Bible that supports the qualities needed for playing football,” he said.

“Many stories in the Bible tell of battles, of perseverance and of commitment. Romans 8:29 tells us God wants our character to be formed like Jesus, and football is a character-building exercise.”

McDaniel cited godly character traits such as hard work and self-sacrifice as coming from playing football.

In addition, he noted that players learn how to win or lose gracefully.

On the other hand, there are those who disagree with the pastor. These Christians say that the game is far too brutal and should not be endorsed by a follower of Jesus.


Another member of the clergy, pastor and writer Bob Thiel, wrote in Church of God News on August 29 that football is a violent sport which Christians should avoid.

Thiel prefaced his remarks by referring to the concussion-related injuries which brought on the lawsuit former NFL players and the league.

Although the NFL admitted no liability, tacit or otherwise, in the agreement between the two sides, the Church of God pastor still questioned the violence in the sport.

“The league still faces a major challenge in making the game safer, “he said.

“Despite rule change designed to reduce head injuries, collisions have been growing more violent and concussions remain a significant danger.”

Thiel said that “it would be wonderful if we could make the game safer, but there is far too much satisfaction as a player, owner, coach and consumer to quit.”

And there is no substitute ‘patch’ for American football. We are all too selfish to stop.”

Thiel challenged his readers, asking them, “Are you among the selfish that advocates this sport? Can you let it go or do you prefer to watch it knowing it is harming those who are ‘entertaining’ you.”

He wrote that he could not reconcile the Scriptures with American football after witnessing the injuries suffered by some friends who had played the sport.

“There are better ways for Christians to learn principles like teamwork from other sports or activities than watching actual violence,” Thiel said.

Christianity Today writer Owen Strachan agreed with Thiel’s sentiments.

Despite his belief that the game provides common ground for the members of the diverse American society, Strachan said it is worrisome for Christians.


“Few things more represent a kind of ‘secular liturgy’ than a football game,” said Strachan. “Cue the nacho cheese sauce, throw on your team’s jersey, fire up the flat-screen, and enjoy a game for a few hours, talking and laughing and jumping out of your seat together.

“Football, though, is physically brutal, and therefore raises 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).”

Strachan said that there was no place for Christians to avoid reality.

“The Gospel opens our eyes to hard truths about ourselves and our world, he said.

“If a game is associated with violence, that should be of note to believers. Following Christ means avoiding unnecessary violence, no matter what macho culture and John Wayne manhood might say (Luke 22:36). It also means seeking the good of our neighbor, and remembering that the imago dei calls us to be a kingdom of ethical prophets who desire that all humanity might thrive.”

Strachan should think hard about involving their children in such a violent game.

Echoing Theil, he said that “there are other contact sports that can help produce character in our youth. ”

Strachan said, “I myself feel conflicted about football. I don’t want to be legalistic. I’m not a medical researcher. I don’t have all the answers.

“Some conscionable, God-fearing Christians may strongly disagree with me. I know that football affords joy in a world in which it can be hard to find. I know that it brings people together. I know that common grace is just that: a form of grace.

“But at the end of the day, the punishing nature of the game concerns me.”

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