I’ve been on a sports fast since the beginning of football season.  I haven’t been perfect as I’ve checked the occasional score or stat here and there.  It was impossible not to know who won big games since Facebook and Twitter give you up-to-date info and emotions on sports.  In addition, I would watch a game if I was with neighbors, friends, or if my wife and boys wanted to watch.  Still, my overall sports intake was cut down by more than half, and it was good for me.

Being on the outside of sports these last five months opened my eyes to a lot of issues concerning our American culture, sports culture, church culture, and family culture.  Below are some observations I’ve made and some lessons I’ve taken away from my fast.

1.  The Word “Fan” is Short for “Fanatic”

I’ve heard Colin Cowherd and others make this point, and I never knew how true it was until these last five months.  Reading FB statuses, Twitter feeds, and having conversations with people about their teams is a frustrating task.  Fans who think they are “objective” about their team and their team’s rivals are delusional.

I remember reading one fan predict the score between his team and his team’s rival.  “We are going to beat them by two touchdowns at least!”  “Oh yeah, you are on the road, you have matchup problems, it’s a rivalry game, and Vegas isn’t even giving you 14 points.  I’ll take the underdog.”  “You’re crazy!  We’re gonna smoke em!”  Sure enough, the rival team covered…and won the game.

All sports fans don’t just buy into a team, or a player…they buy into a narrative.  Not only is their team much much better (or sometimes much much worse) than what is actually the case, but other teams that would infringe on their narrative are much much better or much much worse than what is actually the case.  If you are a fan of a major SEC football program, then you argue that other SEC teams aren’t nearly as glamorous as they seem.  Your fanbase is the best and most objective, the rival fanbase is crazy, irrational, and it would be purgatory or worse to be associated with that team. (Does it amaze you the emotion we pour into what a bunch of 19 and 20 year old kids do with a football?)

Fans are fanatics.  They want their narrative to be true in the end, and they will cover up facts and reality to preserve that narrative.

2.  How I Watch Sports is a Witness to the Gospel

When I was in high school, I would throw objects across the room when my team blew the game.  I cursed out refs when they blew the 1999 NFC Chmapionship game for my Bucs (I get that Harry Potter forehead burn whenever I now see a “catch” where any part of the ball hits the ground).  If I wasn’t a Christian, I may have done some voodoo on Brett Favre.

In all seriousness, I’m glad I can watch a game like an adult now.  Sure, I get peeved sometimes, but it is usually if a player isn’t hustling, the ref totally blew a call, etc.  I don’t get mad if my team just loses.  I hardly ever raise my voice, type an ALL CAPS FACEBOOK STATUS ABOUT HOW MY TEAM WAS SCREWED!, etc.

I also never say that I hate another team, player, coach, etc.  How I handle myself during a sports game or in discussing sports is a witness to the gospel, and I know that my boys will imitate the way I watch sports just as I imitated my father.

Colin Cowherd says it best.  Like your team, but love your family.  Fans can easily switch these things around.

3.  I Appreciate My Father’s Sports Legacy More Than Ever

My own father was a sports nut, sure.  He was in 4-5 fantasy leagues…per sport (football, baseball, basketball)!  He could justify it since he usually made out with some winnings.  I joked at my dad’s funeral service that he and his friend, Bill Genovese, winning their fantasy basketball league nine years in a row is right up there with Cal Ripken Jr. or Brett Favre consecutive games played streaks.

Sure, my dad would react strongly at times, but he never went ballistic.  He never hated another team or player.  In fact, one of his best teaching moments was September 1997 when the Bucs played the 49ers at their home opener.  Both Steve Young and Jerry Rice got injured during the game.  When Rice was down, I began to cheer.  My dad immediately stopped me and said, “Son, even if we root against the other team, it is never funny when another team’s player is injured.  It is a serious matter.”  I have remembered that conversation these last sixteen years, and it has sobered my perspective on sports.

My dad was also an objective fan.  He never let his love for the Bucs, Braves, Lightning, etc. override his objectivity.  He was a great analyst of the game.  He appreciated plays by opposing players. (“Daniel, did you see what Daunte Culpepper just did?  What a play.”  Thankfully, the Bucs still won the game.) He only lost his objectivity when it came to lower-tier sports and teams.  Whether it was USF Women’s Basketball, Erskine College sports, Centre College sports, etc. he would let the “fanatic” come out a bit more.  I think he did this because he knew the games meant less and so a bit more liberty could be taken.

I still love my dad and think about him every day.  I’m glad he set a godly example, even though he wasn’t a Christian, when it came to sports.

4.  Sports Should Not be Idolized or Demonized

Our culture idolizes sports.  It was a shame that Richard Sherman’s rant received more headlines on MLK Day than the Doctor himself.  I’m sure Sherman thought that was a travesty as well.

Observing parents at little league games is quite embarrassing.  There is nothing mature about living vicariously through your child hoping that them scoring the winning point somehow justifies your existence.  Ugh.

I also have little patience for those who demonize a sport.  It is one thing to say, “Football isn’t my preference.”  It is another to say, “Football is the stupidest game ever invented and only serves barbaric purposes.”  Not only do such sentences deny the doctrine of common grace and general revelation, but it betrays that person’s ignorance.

Don’t idolize a sport (“If they eliminate kickoffs in football, all is lost!”) or demonize a sport (“If people stopped watching the NFL and shopped for organic food, this culture would be better off.”).  Be balanced.

5.  I Can’t Wait to Share Sports With My Sons

These last five months have not diminished my liking for sports.  I still cherish childhood memories sitting at Raymond James Stadium seeing Derrick Brooks, Mike Alstott, Warren Sapp, and John Lynch turn the Bucs into a Super Bowl champion.  I still cherish my autographed Tony Dungy book my dad got me for my birthday several years ago.  I think Peyton Manning is one of the best players to pay to watch.

I look forward to having my sons watch games, go to games, and root for…my teams?  Well, I hope they root for their dad’s Tampa and Florida teams, but they might end up rooting for Cam Newton and the Panthers.  And I have no problem with that.  I wouldn’t have a problem if one of my sons ends up getting a D-1 football scholarship to play for Florida State and go up against my Florida Gators.  I’ll just become a Noles fan.

Like your sports.  Love your family.  All for the gospel.