3 Diagnostic Questions to Detect Sports Idolatry


When I hear someone say “War Eagle!” or see someone sporting Auburn gear, I almost reflexively feel obligated to respond, “Roll Tide!” It seems like a duty, even a moral responsibility. To call football in the South a big deal is like saying the Grand Canyon is a big hole in the ground. Any time Alabama and Auburn meet on the field, everything in the state grinds to a halt. As football analyst Beano Cook once quipped, “Alabama-Auburn is not just a rivalry. It’s Gettysburg South.” The thought of a wedding or funeral in Alabama on the day of the Iron Bowl would be met with a “Bless their heart.”

Though I’m an unabashed sports fan, I don’t write this article as a fan but as a pastor and seminary professor. Any consideration of love for sports raises the question: Is this good or bad? My answer is an unequivocal yes.

It all depends on whether sports are summed up in Christ or abstracted from him.

Spoilable Gift

God didn’t create sports; people did. But people created sports in response to the world God created. Sports are capable of providing spectacular glimpses of truth, beauty, and goodness as athletes tune and discipline their bodies to perform amazing feats. Indeed, I consider sports to be a competitive manifestation of the performing arts.

But God’s gifts are always in danger of getting turned into idols. We can so fixate on something good that it subtly morphs into something ultimate. Any time we think we can’t be happy or satisfied without something, we’ve made it a counterfeit god, an object of worship, an idol.

Is your commitment to sports standing in for delight in God? To help you determine whether you’re corrupting this particular gift, I offer three questions as guidelines.

1. Do you enjoy sports as a good gift of God even when your team loses?

It’s not difficult to find, even among professing Christians, idolatrous excesses in devotion to sports either as a player or as a fan. In my home state, the Alabama-Auburn rivalry has been connected to incarceration, divorce, murder, violence, and, recently, the poisoning of majestic trees that were part of one of the grandest traditions in college football. For such people, allegiance to a favorite team is not an enjoyment of God’s good gift of athletics, or a mere cultural identity marker, but an obvious idol.

If you cannot delight in God for a hard-fought contest when your team loses, then you are perverting the gift of athletics and teaching those around you to do the same. Parents, if you cannot cheer like crazy for your favorite team—only to see them lose—and afterward laugh and play in the yard with your kids, you have an idolatry problem. I’ve known children who desperately wanted their dad’s favorite team to win, not because they cared all that much but because they knew he’d be sour the rest of the day if his team lost. Such behavior does not befit one whose identity is in Christ.

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SOURCE: The Gospel Coalition
David E. Prince