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Day # 206 – God and sport – you have your say

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Researching and writing Tuesday’s ‘God and Sport’ post had me receive the most thoughtful responses in the 204 days of my year without sport. I even pre-empted at the beginning of that piece that their views warranted their own post, even 2!

It became clear as I compiled these that 2 would indeed be the answer. But don’t worry – I won’t tucker you out on this topic. I’ll do a Special Monday Edition to go with the regular Tuesday and Thursday postings next week.

So, here’s some snippets on people from various walks of life and faith on how they perceive the role of religion in sport and players using the sporting platform to highlight their individual beliefs. I’ll publish 3 more on Monday.

A European take on things

‘I used to have this warped view that somehow by Gary Ablett or Shaun Hart professing their faith might somehow show that Christians are cool – and maybe, inadvertently spark a revival. Naive I know! I guess it always seemed like sport was a golden platform from which to be vocal about your faith.

But my views changed dramatically after Kaka sunk Liverpool in the 2007 Champion’s League Final (arguably the world’s biggest yearly sporting fixture) and ripped his shirt off to reveal an undershirt with ‘I belong to Jesus’ emblazoned across the front.

Kaka after the Champions League victory. (And what's the deal with the no-surname thing?!)

What I realised is that if you hijack a moment with an ulterior motive, no one really cares. We’ve seen it in Big Brother, we’ve seen it at the Academy Awards and we’ve seen it in sporting arenas across the world. People love to use the stage for pushing their own agenda and I think the general public switches off to it.

I think here we need to draw a sharp distinction between the US and the rest of the world. In the US, thanking God is a qualifying statement. It’s the cultural norm. Not worth reading into it.

Aaron Baddeley. Not praying, just lamenting a missed putt...

In the case of the rest of the world, it’s definitely not considered the standard part of an acceptance speech. In fact, I know for a fact that when Aaron Baddeley thanked God in his win at the Australian Open as an amateur, behind the scenes he drew a very negative response from his mentor, Greg Norman, who signaled in no uncertain terms that he should have ‘stuck to the script and just thanked the sponsors’. (Bloggers’ note – Blogger thinks that Norman should stick to his own issues…!)

Greg Norman with wife number something...

Should Aaron have compromised his beliefs? No. Did his speech make a difference?  I doubt it. Does Aaron’s lifestyle choices and the way he interacts with others on tour make a difference? Absolutely.

Like any facet of life, true influence comes from direct relationships. So I truly believe that Kaka has a God-given gift and he’s best advised to honour Him by going out on the pitch and kicking the guts out of the ball rather than trying to merchandise faith in 5 words or less on a t-shirt.

The other interesting concept is that most sporting cultures are so racked with immorality and bad decision-making by athletes (AFL for example) that if you exhibit any sort of moral lifestyle, you are going to shine like a beacon anyways.’

The Sports Journalist

‘I’ve got no problem with major award winners thanking God if they do it every time they win something or make it a brief comment. Gavin Wanganeen’s was classy in the 93 Brownlow. But if you go from not thanking God to thanking God and then not thanking God, that’s inconsistent and reeks of opportunism.

Gavin Wanganeen winning the '93 Brownlow Medal (before he took the money and ran to Port Power)

I have a big problem with on field religious celebrations. It’s a team sport. Thank the people who helped you to get the ball! Ignoring them to take a knee…or do the Jeff Farmer point your arms to the sky brings the event back to the individual. There’s no I in TEAM.

Jeff Farmer. Tool.

It’s similar to the other silly things players do to celebrate. The baby rock of the arms is okay because it’s a one off…but it seems strange that players can score after having a kid when they normally wouldn’t. The Santa hat in the soccer the other day was dumb. The dude had to take the hat onto the field with him, then score. Individualism at its finest.’ (Blogger’s note – the ‘Santa hat’ comment sent me straight to Google. I had no idea. A Santa hat … seriously.)

The question is, where did he store it!?

East Doncaster footy legend

‘The cynic in me suspects that thanking God is a superficial, but publicly endorsed method of appearing humble. The ‘cynicism’ comes from knowing that – in fact – many of our sports stars are some of the most egotistical and unbalanced control-freaks on the face of His planet.

Living in accordance with His most fundamental teachings is generally not what got these people to the top of their field of endeavour.

Therefore (to save me from viewing them as hypocritical and if I had the chance), my question to them would then become: why exactly are they thanking Him? (and that’s the bit that we don’t often hear about). Do you – Mr or Mrs. Egotistical, Unbalanced, Control-freak Sports-Star – seriously expect me to ‘buy’ that you are placing the credit for your victory in someone else’s hands!?! Hardly…

Who, me, egotistical?!

At the worst, if it’s the point-by-point, blow-by-blow lip-service which implies that He is riding on the result of every play-phase, then get a grip.

For starters – give yourself some credit that you’re an active, self-responsible and decision-making participant in the ebbs and flows of the game. Also – I don’t think I’d be the only ‘lay’ man who had an issue with God taking a personal interest in the outcome of every contest within a sporting contest when clearly there are more pressing world issues that He could probably invest his efforts in. I choose to think that His intent is elsewhere in ‘life’ – not in manipulating the results of ‘sport imitating life’.

As a bit of an aside: I also think there’s a certain amount of grace in a player NOT mentioning their belief that they had an irresistible force ‘working’ on their side of the contest. Wouldn’t that imply that God was ‘barracking’, and was not, in fact, spoiling for a fair contest? What if the other player also credits God as a major inspiration? Do they have to question whether God wanted the other player to win more? Why?!

On sporting fields, my experience has been that ‘quiet’ faith is far more attractive – and far more compelling – than repeated public assertions off it…’

So, as you can see, this issue is one that arouses strong feelings. Thanks to those that shared in such depth. Monday will be the final focus on this topic, before Tuesday’s post on the impossibilities of dropping off the sporting grid completely!


About petek8

Pete Evans has just finished going 12 months without watching any sport. The journey stemmed from a sense that the balance was out-of-whack with my time and my priorities. Everything seemed to revolve around creating enough time and space to fit in the last game, games, recap shows or space to surf the net for the latest numbers and analysis. The cycle never ends - one season leads into another, seasons overlap if you follow various sports and the media's insatiable appetite for a new 'story' means that even the greatest of achievements aren't heralded for more than 3 days. So I stepped away from the machine for awhile and intentionally engaging with the journey by writing about it.

13 responses »

  1. You are aware mate that this has become mostly an interesting sports blog? Ironic really given its sport your trying to avoid?
    We will miss you big time on the opening night of the 11-12 NBA season, you’re not the only one missing out because we all miss out on you being there. This ban isn’t all good for your friendships. Had to be said on behalf of a few.

    • Mate, I know it’s been challenging and will continue to be. You and I will be great mates whether I give up sport for 12 months, or either or us decide to remove ourselves from junk food, facebook, sidling or Mariah Carey Christmas CDs.

      Keep doin the journey with me. It may seem crazy, pointless or even hypocritical at times, but our stories and lives in ‘the village’ together are meant to prod and cajole us in all kinds of ways. Boxing Day and others will hurt [Lakers – Bulls!? Seriously… 😦 ] but the growth I’ve experienced in the last 6+ months through this and other intentional ways of engaging with the world around me has been significant.

      Stick with me, my friend, and bring yourself along for the ride as well, looking for chances to genuinely say, ‘What’s the message in this for me?’ One of the best days of my year was the Saturday helping you move. 8+ hours of everything! Don’t know I would have been so keen to give up a Saturday 12 months ago if it messed with my Sat routine of online reading til about lunchtime, 1-2 NBA games (+ Maccas, which we had anyway!) + AFL games x 1-3.

      Remember, none of this is a pointed message to you or anyone to say, ‘You must replicate this’, but in 6+ months, has really none of the 50+ posts made you think, ‘Ok, maybe I should think about this or that?’ There are extremes communicated at different times in this blog, I’ll grant you, but often it’s the beginning of robust discussion, which I love. I’m not so sure you do. Most of the dialogue has been really heartening. It’s great to have your voice heard, but it’s also awesome to have Ooze’s input. At times, two extremes. It’s a great chance for you to hear what the other is saying and reflect on it instead of trying to ‘win an argument’ or get someone completely to your side. More often than not the ‘answer’ is found somewhere in the middle. It’s important that you see that.

      Your mateship is massively important to me. If it came down to that or giving up the 12 months without sport and this blog, I’d drop the sports stuff in a heartbeat. (I’ll stop there – what is this, emails from 2001?!)

  2. Love the journalist’s take on thanking your team mates rather than God. Makes sense to me. Also like the Doncaster footy legend’s thoughts on the whole God ‘barracking’ or influencing a particular outcome in a game. The words of Andre Agassi still ring clearly in my ears when he lambasted Michael Chang to clinging to his faith – in summary Andre could not validate the idea that God would take sides.

    Whilst on the topic, I feel like Andre’s book taught me a lot about the fact that sport is merely a stage, but what happens behind the scenes is the true essence of life. Agassi was all about the journey and the journeymen that chose to join him and invest in him and others. So I finished the book wondering, does it really matter if Andre professes a personal faith, because he sure as hell has encouraged mine.

    Interesting comment from you at the end Matt. It appears that for you, sport facilitates friendship. So it must suck to have E sitting on the outer. But hey, I guess when something becomes an unhealthy obsession and the person has the guts to honestly self-examine we have a decision to make – do we trust that good fruit can come from a lifestyle change, or do we snuff it out. I’ll back E’s judgement on this one… I always have.

    • The Agassi book was a true gem. I’ve passed it around to anyone with a minor interest in him or the game. The Michael Chang scenario takes me back. That was a big one at the time. You didn’t comment about the ‘European take on things’. What have you got against that writer? Shame on you…

    • Hey Catters, just to clarify, sport doesen’t facilitate friendship in itself and Evans and I and Deb and Jo have had superb catchups since “The Year without” began. However when you have something largely in common with someone that you often catch up over or talk about or connect and laugh around, and that is eliminated, or avoided in conversation (and this has happened a lot with Pete since this started) it’s actually really weird and at times highly annoying. Pete is the “MVP” of the room when we have our boys catchup, whether that be at TGI’s or watching NBA or a footy game or even “Survivor” when we used to do that. It shouldn’t be seen as some kind of weakness in people that use sport or tv shows as the vehicle that gets them together, the same way that boys who go shooting or 4 x 4 driving use that as their vehicle to catchup. The point is that we make the effort to find different reasons and ways to catch up and actually get involved in each others lives and the stuff that’s going on. To be totally truthful, I’d go and watch St.Kilda versus Freo at my mates place in South Morang if it meant we would catch up, have a laugh and grow the relationships. I just miss Pete being around when Diddle’s TV didn’t work 10 mins before the opening bounce on GF day, or when Dallas went in to Mia and won game 6 killing the evil giant…….those moments are just less memorable without him and If I’m not as effusive as other contributors in my praise of this “year without” that would be why.

      • If it were alcohol, not sport that Pete was taking a break from, we would not be having this debate. We would miss Pete at the pub but would understand his reasons, and support his absence.

        Why is refraining from sport harder for us to understand and support?

        In Australian culture, I’d suggest it’s more socially acceptable to put your hand up as an alcoholic, because it’s a well understood issue. The effects of unhealthy alcohol consumption – it damages relationships, damages your health, and potentially kills you.

        Our nation’s obsession with sport is unhealthy, yet I don’t know anyone other than Pete that has made a stand. (side note: Are we all obsessed and should we all follow Pete’s actions? No)

        What are the effects of an unhealthy consumption of sport? Unlikely to kill you 🙂 but it would subtly damage relationships, and would prevent you living life to the full.

        Is having a year off the best way to deal with an addiction? Cold turkey (for life) is the recommendation for alcoholics. Is 12 months without sport extreme? To adjust an imbalance, perhaps; for an addiction, maybe not?

        Addictions can be powerful, whether it’s a substance, gambling, food, pornography or sport. Personality plays a part in the best course of corrective action too. Who but the person themselves can make that call?

        Yes, his decision to take a year off sport has ramifications for those of us that watch sport with him, but if we value the friendship ahead of the shared connection, shouldn’t we trust his judgement and support his cause?

        (Apologies to Pete for comparing him to an alcoholic 🙂

      • Yep, Matt, I love the South Morang analogy, and more because I know it’s not an analogy. You have mates there, yeah?!

        I definitely see you heart in this and where you are coming from.

      • Diddle, great to have your voice heard. This journey is probably an extreme as I may have had myself more towards the ‘imbalanced’ end of the continuum rather than ‘addicted’. But, as you probably know far too well by now, ‘this is how I roll’!

        In response to your ‘alcoholic’ comparison, my neighbour pulled out of our weekly Friday arvo drink last night. I hope you’re satisfied… 🙂

  3. Great points raised by both contributors and by Ben, the Agassi story is certainly an insightful one, for so many good reasons.

    As for the self imposed ban being good or bad, millions don’t have something as simple as fresh drinking water. When anyone re-asseses something about their own role in this world I applaud it. It’s your reluctance to step back on to the basketball court that angers me Mr Evans!

    • A combination of a snapped finger tendon + genuine fear of your unstoppable game keeps me glued to the recliner… Ooze, you should read the Agassi book. It is gold.

  4. Wow, fascinating. I am all for your spending time together, it’s important and wonderful friendships that you have. I love reading these posts, it’s just that to me, it’s a no brainer, anything that has so much power and control over your lives is damaging. Maybe it can be compared to women going shoppng together and spending too much money and feeling pressured to spend money. I don’t know. As a wife who has needed her husband home to help and spend time with our 3 children in the last 6 years, balance is the word. I cannot remember the last time Darren sat down and watched sport while the girls are awake, he is rather sitting on the floor playing snap, or brushing barbies hair or cuddling them or reading to them at bedtime, or washing dishes etc etc. I love it that he prioritises them and me over watching sport. Maybe having girls with physical limitations has also helped us both to see that if you are able, sport is great, healthy and fun, but not everything, cause in this family it just can’t be.

  5. Amanda Louise! Great to have you weigh in. Daz is a unique man and I love that he is such a present father. Such a role model and an inspiration for me with Little E coming along in less than 5 months – arrggghhh!

    You’re right though – there’s definitely ‘female’- equivalents, whether it be shopping, spending, interior house items no one really needs or whatever, there’s something trying to drag us away from the important.

  6. Great input from Diddle and HoseBall. Very good points….especially the part where Diddle called Pete a Cold Turkey. I know thats not exactly what he said but thats what I’m hearing!


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