Taking On a Sacred Cow


I wrote most of this awhile back but wasn’t sure if I would post it. But, as March Madness comes to an end, and I have yet to watch a single game, I thought I’d put it out there.

During our furlough, one of my friends asked what stood out to me about the surrounding culture, in particular the church culture, now that I was somewhat of an outsider. He was especially interested in the areas of life that seem to often go unnoticed but need to be rethought. This was my response.

What caught my attention during our time in the States was an ever-present obsession permeating the culture. It never struck me as I lived in Texas. And I didn’t really notice its place of reverence after we moved here. But, upon stepping back into the North American culture, its powerful presence smacked me in the face everywhere I went. I’d call it an idol. It is not the biggest or most threatening idol in our lives, but it is the most unnoticed, yet pervasive idol of which I can think. And I think it is time to call it out.

The idol is Sports.

As I write this, there is part of me that cringes and can’t believe I would make such a claim. I love sports. I’ve always loved sports. How dare I? But, it is that very sentiment that confirms my feeling about our idolatry. Sports is our sacred cow. (And I am not writing about this just because UConn lost in the first round. I’m not that upset. Really. Seriously. Believe me.)

Let me explain myself. How might we describe something that has become an idol in our lives? We might ask the following questions. How much of my time is devoted to it? How much money do I spend on it? How invested emotionally am I in it? How much do I stress its importance to my kids and train them in this area? How easily do I justify or whitewash the negative features of it? In regard to Sports, my take is that we would answer “very,” “a lot,” or “extremely” to each of these.

In order to be more concrete, here are some specific ways in which I see Sports as an idol in our lives.

First, next time “our team” loses a big game, check out how distraught people are on facebook and twitter. It seems odd that we can be so affected emotionally by something that happens to people we don’t know and an organization we have no real connection to other than we might live near it.

Second, compare the amount of time we watch and/or play sports with the amount of time we read, spend time with family, serve the needy, pray, etc.

Third, think about how easily we overlook the immoral behavior and injustices connected to sports. The most recent strike in the NBA is a good example. Both sides of the conflict are essentially greedy. And people voiced their frustrations about the strike as it cut into the season. But, as soon as the season began, all of that was pushed under the rug. We stay upset at Wall Street and the government for similar behavior, but we happily throw our money and support behind this industry as soon as they give us a little of what we want.

Fourth, in the lives our kids, we treat Sports as the ultimate good. We stress ourselves out trying to get our kids to play every sport, and play it the best. We go to practices and games nonstop. We go in debt buying the newest equipment for our kids. Is it any wonder why Sports is an idol? We train our kids this way.

Fifth, parents who get in fights at their kids games. Enough said.

Sixth, back in the day, the only time you could justify cancelling Sunday night worship was Super Bowl Sunday. (I know most of you know what I am a talking about.) Not that canceling was a bad thing, but it does seem odd to cancel in support of one of the most consumerist events around. (If we were going to cancel, I would personally liked to have missed worship for the final round of the Masters as well. I missed Freddy’s green jacket because I was at church. I still haven’t forgiven myself.)

Finally, the amount of money spent on sports (or the other word for it—games) is astronomical. On a personal level, we spend an unhealthy amount of money on our kids’ sports, going to games, buying memorabilia, and gambling. And as a people, if we are honest, we spend a shamefully exorbitant amount of money on sports. We build structures like the Cowboy Stadium and we pay athletes millions of dollars, all the while we do not have enough money to fund education or treat preventable diseases throughout the world. And I say “we” because the fans are the patrons.

With all that said, I am not saying playing and watching sports are bad things. There is a lot of good that can come from sports. But, like money, it can be a blessing to others if viewed correctly or it can become an idol if we are unreflective. This is why I said it is the unexamined idol. The idols of money and nationalism are far more dangerous. But, I’ve heard sermons and read books about those issues. I’ve never heard anyone prophetically speak about the dangers of Sports. Maybe it is time.

(This post is as much for myself as anyone else. I am that guy who used to watch the same episode of Sportscenter 3 times each night and scream at any ref who made a call different than the way I saw it. I used to obsess about being the best (though I failed miserably). But, that is exactly why I want to bring attention to this. I don’t want my kids to think sports have anything to do with their value nor God’s purpose for them in the world. I don’t want that for anyone else’s kids. I just want them to enjoy sports like any other hobby.)



  1. As I am trying juggle my plan for supper tonight around the first game of the season for the Little League team I help coach at 6p, and the NCAA Championship basketball game on tv at 8:00p…..I must admit you are right.

  2. I can honestly say, this is not my idol! For the first time in my life, I’m actually grateful to be an uncoordinated Reese since, other than a few sad attempts, I never really got into sports (though that short season as a right fielder in 6th grade softball was memorable).

    Seriously, though, I do appreciate your insight. I think it takes a lot to say that, knowing how much our family loves and values sports. Well said.

  3. Darren…this a great post (despite the fact it hits too close too home 🙂 and since we moved, I’ve noticed a lot of the same things in my life. Balance is needed when comes to enjoying good things, and I often go overboard especially when it comes to “my” beloved Cowboys! Thanks for your authenticity and vulnerability. Blessings, Greg

  4. That is scary and a whole lot of truth. Must confess it hit home
    with me………as I read it again and again I substitued a few other things in there. Keep thinking, keep writing and keep on searching.

  5. Hey Darren, thank you for you enlightened perspective that comes from your ability to look at our culture objectively after diving into another culture. This idol is one I have wresteled with since childhood. However, i feel as though I value so many things so much more than sports now, and I know my heart is in a better place than it was back in high school. But I know of my weakness and ability to chase after things that don’t really matter while missing out on eternal treasure opportunities all around me. It is good to be reminded that my entire life (including my goals, enthusiasm, calendar and bank account) should point to me valuing God’s Kingdom and relationships above all else. I would appreciate your prayers that I stay focused on what matters most and don’t get distracted.

  6. So sorry! I meant Derran. I typed my comment on my Kindle Fire, so I am going to blame it for changing the spelling of your name. Technology is undermining me and assuming I am incompetent…

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