I’m not much of a football fan–I went to a Mennonite high school, so I never really learned enough to fully appreciate the sport, and my Super Bowl tradition consists of rooting for whoever everyone tells me is the underdog and making sure I’m around when the commercials are on. I am, however, slightly fascinated by the role that professional sports (and athletes) play in our culture. It’s a civil religion I’ve participated in on rare occasion; mostly I just observe from the sidelines.
Robert Lipsyte, writing in The Nation, makes several correlations between Christianity and football, including sainthood and the variety of ways in which it is experienced:
Given the chance, I’d watch the Super Bowl with the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who knows about Baal and ball. Twenty years ago, in Lynchburg, Virginia, at a Liberty University Flames game, Dr. Falwell told me: “Jesus was no sissy. He was tough, he was a he-man. If he played football, you’d be slow getting up after he tackled you.”
He had me at “sissy.” The rest was revelation. The muscularity of Dr. Falwell’s evangelical Christianity was a perfect fit with football, another win-or-lose game. For Americans, war hasn’t produced a real winner for more than 60 years. That’s why we need football. But let’s get back to Dr. Falwell. “My respect for Catholicism and Mormonism goes straight up watching Notre Dame and Brigham Young play,” he told me. He hoped that, someday, Notre Dame and Liberty, his evangelical college, would meet for the national championship, thus informing the nation that “the Christians are here, we’re not meek and we’re not going to fall down in front of you. We’re here to stay.”
While we wait for his Holy Bowl to show us how to kick the other cheek, we do have the gospels, saints, and rituals of the Super Bowl, arguably the holiest day of the American calendar. Nothing in sports draws us together as surely–not elections, the Academy Awards, disasters, terrorist acts, or celebrity deaths. The Super Bowl is a melting pot hot enough for atheists, Sodomites, and Teletubbies to become one with the Saved, if only for a single Sunday. But that’s a start.
You can find the rest of the article here. Enjoy the game.