February 4, 2023

Subject: Football is a Judeo-Christian Game

1Corinthians 9:24 “Those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize. Run in a way to win it.”

Ed Croteau

Here in Kansas City, we are preparing for our Chiefs to again compete for the Lombardi trophy. Just to be in the Super Bowl is one of the most difficult things in sports. We love every one of our Chiefs.

Chiefs Kingdom takes being a fan to a new level. The 2019 Bleacher Report analyzed NFL fans according to four categories: 1) Fan Engagement, 2) Fan Football IQ, 3) Fan Online Presence), and 4) Fan Tailgating and Restaurant Presence). Chiefs fans scored the highest of any NFL team. Chief Kingdom is #1.

Football fans are a community. Dr. Hunter Thompson (Gonzo journalism) may have said it best: “Football fans share a universal language that cuts across many cultures and many personality types. A serious football fan is never alone. We are a legion, and football is often the only thing we have in common.”

That is why we are a gold mine for marketers. And why the National Football League (NFL) is so wealthy. NFL games accounted for 48 of 50 most-watched TV events in 2022. ‘Sunday Night Football’ reigns as the #1 TV show for 11 straight years. The NFL is a behemoth, generating about $18 billion in gross annual revenue. Why is football such a part of American culture? Because it reflects America’s Judeo-Christianity.

Americans easily see the bond in values between our military and football: brotherhood, team over self, have a game plan, discipline, performance through pain, never giving up. We love it each week when, just before the game, our military jets do a flyover, and they bring out their colors. But are we as aware of the enormous tie between football and our Judeo-Christian faith? We probably take this for granted.

For example, as with the military, NFL teams employ chaplains who offer spiritual guidance to coaches and players. And that spiritual guidance, which plays a large role in many NFL players lives, is overwhelmingly Christian. In fact, the NFL has no rules prohibiting players or coaches from sharing their faith.

In his 2014 article ‘Football and Religion: The Odd Relationship Between God and the Gridiron’, University of Virginia English Professor Mark Edmundson gives us a great understanding of how football has, and continues, to point Americans to their Judeo-Christian national heritage.

“When I played high school football, we knelt before every contest. The coach asked God and the Lord Jesus Christ to help us play a fair game, not do significant bodily harm to the opposition and not to sustain serious injury ourselves. The coach asked that we might win the game if we were deserving. Then we said a prayer: usually it was the ‘Our Father.’ Football, it seemed, was a Christian game.

Things haven’t changed all that much. Pro and college teams still pray before games; coaches still invoke Jesus and God. When players hit the end zone, they hold a finger up in the air: I owe it all to you, Lord. When a man goes down and stays down, players from both squads get on their knees and pray for him.”

But there is something to consider about football when comparing it to biblical Christianity. You get both the Old Testament and the New Testament – Judeo-Christianity – in football. Edmundson explains.

“It’s odd that football and the Christian faith should be so resolutely aligned in American culture. It never occurred to me when I was a young Medford Mustang, on my knees asking Jesus for a clean game and a victory, that Jesus might not have fully approved of the violence that was about to unfold on the field.

Football is violent. You blast your adversary with all the might you can muster. It’s odd that on Sunday in churches across America we hear the gospel of the forgiving Savior, and then go home, turn on our TVs and watch young men try to bust one another’s spleens.”

Edmundson’s explanation is America’s heritage: “But if you think a little more about it, most Americans are Judeo-Christians. They believe the entire Bible – old and New Testament – is God’s word.”

God is a God of love, but He is not a pacifist. How you treat each other – whether teammate or adversary – matters. This is where football, our military and Christianity unite. As Psalm 89:14 says, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Mercy and truth go before Your face.”

As this week’s verse says, it is not just winning, but the way we win. There is a judgment to how we play and how we live. That is why football players pray to Jesus Christ. He is our ultimate Savior from ourselves.

Ed Croteau is a lay pastor and resident of Lee’s Summit and hosts a weekly study in Lees Summit called “Faith: Substance and Evidence.” He can be reached with your questions through the LS Tribune, on Facebook and his website www.fse.life.