Finding God's Winning Spirit

Sports Revival (Part One)

April 22, 2014 | Greg Smith | Sports

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Last week my blog addressed the issue of keeping score in sports and our obsession with winning and losing. In that blog I mentioned that sports was totally out of control in this country. I've had some responses to that blog asking me to expand on what "totally out of control" means. For me the answer to that is more than obvious but this is what I meant.

We have perverted, severely damaged and in many ways, destroyed the meaning and purpose of sport. This is not just a United States problem but rather a global problem. Mankind has once again taken something that was innocent and single in purpose and quite frankly mucked it up. This is obvious to me and should be obvious to everyone – the following proves this to be true.

The first place to look is violence around sporting events. Nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to European football (soccer). The Hillsborough disaster which took place in Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England on April 15, 1989 killed 96 people and injured 766 when angry fans rushed the field and crushed other fans against a retaining fence.

At Burnden Park (Manchester, England) a wall collapsed crushing spectators and started a stampede which killed 33 people. The tragedy was thought to have started when some 20,000 fans locked outside broke down the gates and forced their way into the grounds.

1985 in Brussels, Belgium hooligans triggered one of the worst soccer disasters of all time. About an hour before kickoff Liverpool fans broke through a fence and attacked Roma supporters.  The Italian fans retreated, but there was a small wall behind him, which soon collapsed. The retaining wall collapsed killing 39 people and hurting hundreds more.

Then there is the Argentine soccer riot of 2007. During a match between Nueva Chicago and Tigre fans demonstrated their support by throwing rocks and beating each other with pipes – 41 people were injured and one was killed in one of the bloodiest riots in sports history.

International violence does not stop with European football. Canadian fans, often known for their manners, know a little bit about sports and rioting. In 1993 Canadian fans showed they can be dangerous in victory or defeat. After the Canadians won the Cup, fans started looting and assaulting police, destroying not 1 but 47 police cars – 168 people were injured and damage was in the millions.

We here in the United States are just as guilty. Without going into the same sordid details let me mention a few. There is the Detroit World Series 1984 riot, the Los Angeles Lakers riot of 2010, the Bowe vs. Golota riot of 1996 (in Madison Square Garden) and on and on. This fanatical fan violence is not restricted to professional athletics as college campuses are also familiar with such violent sports related behavior.

In 2008 when Lane Kiffin ditched the University of Tennessee after only one year to go to USC the volunteer fan- base reacted in anger. On January 12th after hearing the news, hundreds of fans took to the streets of Knoxville, smashing cars  and  setting fire to things and causing a great deal of damage.

On April 4, 2011, riots broke out in Storrs Connecticut after the UConn Huskies won the 2011 men’s basketball national championship. Light poles and street signs were torn down, trash cans were thrown about, and two cars were flipped. Similarly, on March 31, 2012 Kentucky beats interstate rival Louisville to advance to the national championship game and fans riot as an estimated 10,000 people flooded the streets of Lexington flipping cars, setting couches, trash cans and other objects on fire.

We must not overlook Maryland as College Park is one of the leaders in sport rioting. They tend to take to the streets win or lose. The worst being on March 31, 2001 when Maryland choked against the Duke Blue Devils in the final game of the NCAA Championship, blowing a 22 point lead. After the game Maryland fans smashed storefronts, attacked police, and started a bonfire costing over $50,000 in damage.

You do not have to tell those of us in Auburn, Alabama about sports getting out of hand either. Someone poisoning two 100-year oaks because of a lost football game pretty much tells you how we view football here in the south. Especially considering the guilty party did not even attend school at the team that lost!

Football and basketball are not the only sports that can spark riots on college campuses. On April 6, 2002 the Golden Gophers beat Maine to win the NCAA men's hockey championship. To celebrate about 1000 students poured out into the streets surrounding the Minneapolis campus smashing streetlights, setting furniture on fire, and hurling rocks at police.

The list never ends and there is no end in sight. You think the importance we put on sports is out of control? 

Violence is not the only indicator that sports has gotten crazy. Obsession is never a good thing and sports has certainly become that. You, or three or four of your closest friends, have a child involved, immersed, or in reality, obsessed with some sport. It doesn't matter if it is gymnastics, soccer, baseball or even competitive dance; this activity has become a dominant part of this child's life. This obsession is unhealthy at every level.

This routine is not physically healthy. Talk to your local orthopedic surgeon and he will tell you that the 12-year-old body cannot hold up to 20 hours a week of constant training and the physical abuse required by gymnastic teams, travel-teams or various junior athletic programs. The rise of stress fractures, breaks, torn rotator cuffs and knee injuries in adolescents should be proof enough to the normal parent – but then again "sports parents" aren't normal.

This obsession with regimented “boot camp in sports” typically doesn't even pay off athletically. If there is not an injury early in one's career there most often is burnout. Many children, with exceptional athletic ability, frankly get tired of the drudgery and the treadmill of the sport. In essence this 24/7 uphill climb tends to eventually kill the fun, and in turn, the desire to play the sport at all. Talk to any professional athlete and he will tell you of a kid he knew growing who was more talented than they were but got tired of the sport and quit.

Some coaches will even recommend cross- training outside the primary sport to increase performance. Most of us recognize this cross-training as just simply playing other sports which we used to do. Many obsessed sports parents encourage their kids to stay with one sport in fear that he or she will fall behind the other kids competing for the same position in the “sport of choice”.  They have the notion that 1500 hours of hitting a baseball as a 13 year-old will insure a 330 batting average someday in the big leagues.  This too is stupid. 

For sports to take every spare moment of a child's life during the formative years is socially a disaster. In our present culture is hard enough to teach social skills to the youth of today without sequestering them at some ball field or in some gymnasium. To limit a pre-teen or teenager’s social interaction or peer-group to his or her teammates is quite frankly irresponsible. Life is going to get busy enough and the time to make friends, get to know one's self and explore others is limited and valuable. Spending this time in the car going to and from some practice or to work with some personal coach is not going to get the job done.  One parent told me that at least this time in the car is used to do homework – wow what kid would not love this life style?

Great post!! We are not the obsessed parents(I hope not) that you discribe but we do have a 16 yr old still at home that is a good athlete. He had a tramatic brain injury at age 2 1/2. He is playing football and had a concussion last year. We are all wondering if he should play next year. There is huge pressure to play in a small school.
Posted by Todd Stewart on
Most often I do not comment on blogs or posts however I must say Amen to sports being out of control. When life is based on our favorite team winning or losing and their success or failure determines how we feel, then we have made a god out of sports and our priorities are definitely misplaced. The God of the universe desires a personal relationship with us. This requires only one thing on our part and that is surrender to Him as God. HIs purpose for our personal lives in life or sports, is a personal loving relationship that grows stronger and more trusting with each days experiences, not just in the wins but also in the losses. Jesus is Lord, sports is just another of God's great training ground for our relationship with HIm.
Posted by Andy Hepburn on
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