Football, sports, and violence: Should we use sports as a “hope” for children?

Recently, an article on ESPN about the violence in football offered the following explanation for why football will not go away:

It [the known effects of multiple concussions, etc.] also shouldn’t give people a reason to sell their kids on the notion that it’s not a sport worth playing. It’s easy to say that when you live in the White House or you’ve benefited from a nice, upper-middle class lifestyle. It’s a different story for those kids who grow up in inner-city projects or have few options of ever improving their own lives. Ask those families what football can do for them. Their parents won’t be so quick to condemn a sport that could open doors that would ultimately be closed to them later in life.

Really? Football is some kind of hope for kids with “few options”? I think this is absurd. How many of the kids who live on this dream actually grow up to play in the NFL? If the opportunity referenced is about scholarships there may be a point to it, but I think it is really depressing that when it comes to kids with few options, one of the first things that gets brought up is sports. I’m sorry, but sports is not a salve to these issues.

Giving kids the hope that they can play in the NFL or any other major sports league is not very realistic. I also think it sells children short. The general message that is given is that if you are born into a certain situation, the only way to pick yourself up out of that hard place is to play sports. Frankly, not everyone is gifted in sports, so this message presents a message of hopelessness.

So what do I suggest? Hey, I admit I am not an expert on this at all. I am not even sure I have any alternatives to suggest, but I think that we need to get beyond offering sports as a kind of dream. It’s not realistic to tell children that they can all go and be NFL stars or NBA stars or what-have-you. We need to work with children in their situation and work to change the situation. The salve for poverty and need is not to give a false hope that only one in thousands can even have a chance to achieve.

As a Christian, I have to say that we need to be praying about those in need. We need to use our gifts to forward the causes that help care for those who are in want. We need to get beyond offering false hopes and offer the true hope of Christ. I know for some that is groan-inducing. Allow me to explain: I’m not suggesting that just going around preaching the Gospel will magically reduce poverty and lead to world peace. What I am suggesting is that the Christian worldview, in all of its robust splendor, provides a motivation to care for those in need. It also provides a framework for viewing those in need not as people to whom we need to throw a bone in the form of false hope, but persons who are fellow imagers-of-God whom we are called to aid. There are no easy answers to all the needs of our time, but at least as Christians we are called to take on those needs head-on. I hope you’ll join me.

Finally, I’ll have you know that all of this comes from an avowed NFL fan. I love football. My point is we should not use it as a substitute for real hope.

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Here’s the article that touched off this issue for me: http://espn.go.com/nfl/playoffs/2012/story/_/id/8905129/super-bowl-xlvii-football-change-survive

 

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