By: Jeffrey Newholm
“God is dead”, the skeptics are crowing, or He is at least dying. According to the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center, 21% of American adults reported no religious affiliation in 2014, compared to only 5% in 1972. Moreover, according to a recent Pew Research Center study, only 56% of millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000), associated themselves with religion. Skeptic Hermant Metha responded to those findings by saying “it’s just incredible news all around”. Perhaps skeptics see American as ridding itself of the shackles of organized religion. After all, did not St. Paul himself introduce himself as “a slave of Christ Jesus” (Romans 1:1)? But I fear that instead of setting ourselves free, we have just chosen a different master than some sky god: materialism. Our culture is becoming more and more obsessed with base hedonistic pleasures while ignoring all things spiritual. A Godless society isn’t necessarily a better one. God is forgotten in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, but the result is a nightmarish dystopian landscape where one’s entire life consists of swinging to and from every imaginable mindless self-indulgence. And that’s where America is headed.
The United States currently has a mixed economy capitalist economic structure. As one of my marketing professors put it, we have a consumer economy. For the economy to grow, people need to produce and consume material goods. Even our current progressive administration seems to admit this fact, seeing as the whole point of the stimulus package was to get people to buy more stuff. And many say this is the model economic system. Fictional movie characters Gordan Gekko and John Galt uphold the virtue of greed and always yearning for more. (Of course both ended up in jail).
But research has shown that yearning for ever more material possessions isn’t the way to a fulfilling life. The authors of The Paradox of Generosity found “very happy” people volunteer nine times more than “unhappy” people. The average American paycheck has grown over the past 30 years, yet according to Italy’s Siena University, we’re actually less happy today. And think of all the technological inventions of the past 30 years! What was the point of the invention of smart phones, the modern array of gaming and bigger and better TV’s if they aren’t making us any happier? Well how exactly does all of this tie into sports you may ask. I think sports is actually a very worthwhile endeavor for us fans-if we act responsibly. Research has shown putting money towards experiences, rather than things, better improves our happiness. A ticket to a game? A great time and it’ll form a great memory. A $200 jersey? Probably not worth it. I like the idea of having a favorite team, especially a high school or college team, because it’s about more than just the game-over the years you get to see the development of the players as athletes and people as they hopefully grow into stardom. In the pros athletes tend not to be good examples and the team is a business, not a family. Even in the WNBA 2015 finals MVP Sylvia Fowles sat out half the season because she wanted to play for a different team. In the lower levels of play a team wins and loses, grows and regresses together. A good teammate wouldn’t just quit out of self interest. Some sports fans are definitely not good examples, however.
The National Institutes of Health found that, in NFL cities where the home team is upset, domestic violence goes up 10%-20% if it’s to a rival. Gentlemen football is a game! Your life will go on no matter what happens to the home team! I also can’t abide unabashed homerism. First of all there’s no point in rooting for a team if they’ve stunk for decades and have no hope of improving. Our own Monte Perez recently had the presence of mind to ditch the lowly Knicks (you can read his rationale here). But worse than rooting for a bad team is rooting for a team that is morally corrupt. There are allegations the Browns lied about Johnny Manziel’s injury to cover up his alleged drinking problem. And the Browns are horrible! We are not serfs. We can find someone else to root for if the home team doesn’t maintain high standards. There have been athletes who are flat out criminals and the home fans still support them. A good example is Florida State’s Jameis Winston, who had a long record of wrongdoing off the field but happened to be a great football player so he faced little discipline. And all the fans stood up for him until the end! I prefer to root for a team where I can feel genuinely good about their success. True, it’s hard to find a morally upright team in the alphabet soup of major North American sports. But there are plenty of teams outside the limelight which aren’t corrupted by absurdly high rewards for success. I’ve been out of college for years and I still go out and support my high school teams. No we’re not that great. We don’t have legions of adoring fans. The players will never be rich. But that’s all for the best. The less popular sports feature the games we love in their purest form. I can put up with a lesser quality of play in return for knowing I’m cheering for a likable, upright citizen.
I don’t think America is going back to our Christian roots, and that’s okay. But for whatever bad morals the bible may teach, there is one line I want to leave you with: “Do not love the world or the things of the world” (1 John 2:15). It’s the people and experiences of the world that make our lives worthwhile, not the things we’re supposed to buy. And I think sports can bring us some great examples of both. So go ahead and root, root root for your favorite team. Fandom, at its best, can bring out the best of what life has to offer.
You can follow me on Twitter @JeffreyNewholm and our blog @NutsAndBoltsSP.
Photo credit: Zumapress.com