Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Jock Theology 101

The cliches are too numerous to count.  We'll go with the one that has a lot of currency where I came from: Football ain't a religion.  It's way more important than that.  And football (mostly college in the case of that quote) is hardly the only sport with its own "liturgies" and "creeds," so to speak.
Of late the news in Jock Theology 101 has been dominated by a certain quarterback playing more like a running back for the Denver Broncos.  [NOTE: since I believe in full disclosure, I will freely admit that I will never be inclined to give Tim Tebow a break, because he is a F'ing Gator.  Even if I have totally renounced all football on the (F)BS level until the B(C)S lies in a smoldering, decrepit ruin and they've either figured out a legitimate and fair way to come up with a so-called National Champion or quit pretending they're going to try, GatorHate is going to remain strong in my veins, like it does for any graduate of Florida State University.  So there.]  Tim Tebow has, all the way back to his F'ing Gator days and presumably even further, been a rather loud and public voice for a particular strain of evangelicalism, and has managed to cheese off a lot of people in the process.  He's also managed to cheese off a lot of NFL types by being a part of several wins for the Broncos despite being a really poor passer, though his latest few games do seem to be picking up in passing quality.  There's been a Tebow backlash, then a backlash against the Tebow backlash, and maybe now a backlash against both backlashes.  Quite the polarizing guy.
Mind you, there are several different outlets through one might make theological criticism of Tebow, but I'm going to stick with one (I really don't have that much time to write this blog entry after all).  By his words and behavior both present and past, Tebow seems to give the impression that God actually cares who wins athletic contests.
Perhaps God had a rooting interest in David vs. Goliath.  Otherwise, I can't find a shred of evidence in either testament, particularly in how the gospels present Jesus Christ to us, that this is at all a justifiable belief.  Even when Paul starts using running metaphors, he only wants to exhort his readers to finish the race (2 Timothy 4:7); he doesn't say anything about winning it.
While it might be amusing to accuse Tim Tebow of being a closet Pelagian, I really don't feel compelled to do much more than to link you, my two or three readers, to this fanciful Rick Reilly column from his days at Sports Illustrated.  It happens briefly, towards the end of the column (you might have to go to page two), but it's about as effetive a refutation of the notion that God is going to play "us vs. them" games with our games just because we do so.  While I'm always scared of putting words in God's mouth, even in a literary sense, I can't really argue with how Reilly shoots down that particular jock theology, after Christ has picked up a save for the Cincinnati Reds: "And please stop praying for wins. Put yourself in my position. If your kids were playing each other, who would you root for?" Hate to disappoint, but those folks on the other side of the line are your brothers, Mr. Tebow, if you're really serious about this Jesus business.
But in truth, my attention has been distracted from Tebow by a new entrant into Jock Theology 101: Albert Pujols, who seems to be enrolled in the class with his wife.  Pujols has never been quite so vocal and exhibitive about his religious faith, but has (let's be fair here) done a heck of a lot of funding and supporting a lot charitable and religious activities in the area.  The impulse is to appreciate Pujols's wilingness to "walk the walk" instead of putting that much energy into "talking the talk."  One could even argue that this is how it should be done, if you believe things like the Semon on the Mount (Mt. 6:1-6 in particular--you read that one, Tebow?).  
Nonetheless, after taking 254 gartanguo-gazillion dollars to swap uniforms for the next ten years from St. Louis Cardinals red to Anaheim Angels red, the family Pujols was apparently surprised that St. Louisians, the oft-proclaimed "greatest fans in baseball," weren't all sweetness and light about his impending departure, freshly-won World Series notwithstanding.  Pujols's wife Diedre apparently took their case to a radio station in St. Louis (not your usual sports-talk station, but a Christian station that had apparently once been partly funded by Pujols).  
Presuming that Diedre has not gone rogue, one learns very quickly that for all his good works and apparent sincerity of belief, Pujols may well be getting tripped up on a strange little belief to try to fit into a viably faithful way of looking at the world:  Dollars = Respect.  Or maybe it's Length of Contract = Respect.  Apparently an initial offer of a five-year contract for $130,000,000 (or about $26,000,000 a season) was insulting.  (Keep in mind that Pujols is 31 years old; not bad right now, but the end of that contract has the potential to be ugly for the Angels.)  Eventually the Cardinals offered ten years and something like $210,000,000, but by then the apparently wounded Pujols was ready to bolt for the big bucks and bright lights of southern California.  Diedre Pujols does a little bit of lashing out a fans and a lot of defending Albert, but unless I'm missing something that seems to be the gist of it.
Again, I'm straining to see how that formula works.  Maybe Pujols has major faith-based plans for all that moolah, I don't know.  But I gotta say I can't make the whole Dollars = Respect fit with anything I've ever known or learned about Jesus Christ.  "The laborer is worthy of his hire" and all that, but jeez louise, $26M/year seems a plenty worthy hire for a guy who plays a game.
I have got to admit that right now is one of those times I'm pretty happy not to have children.  I can't imagine trying to explain how Tebow and Pujols and their public deeds would fit with the things we'd have been trying to teach them all of their lives.  Oh well.

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