Category Archives: Sports

“Football is God”

One of the minor benefits to waiting tables is being able to eavesdrop, which is usually just boring.  However, in the last two days, at two different restaurants, I have overheard discussions about child abuse and the recent Penn State scandal.  As dreadful as the allegations are, I consider this one good outcome, that is, to remove the shroud of sanctity that has surrounded the Penn State Football Machine and raise very serious questions in Pennsylvania and around the country.

I read the Grand Jury’s disturbing report about the alleged sexual predator and former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.  If the report is as accurate as it is believable, then a very destructive individual has been arrested and will no longer enjoy the protection of the Penn State Football Machine.  If you want an excellent summary of that report and recent events, go to the New York Daily News article published 11/13/2011, link following.  It is my interpretation that this time line demonstrates that the University was aware of Sandusky’s behavior and moved to protect the organization and the football program years ago, but did not take steps to help victims or to prevent ongoing abuse.

http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/college/penn-state-scandal-timeline-sex-abuse-scandal-rocked-happy-valley-article-1.976843

If you think being devoted to God means unquestioning loyalty, worship and obsessive enthusiasm, then football is god.  For many, the Penn State Football Machine is the Vatican and Joe Paterno (JoePa) was the pope.  I’m not the first to make this comparison.  CNN contributor Roy Peter Clark, link follows, makes the point well.  When his story was originally posted to CNN’s Web site homepage, the headline was “Football is God.”

http://edition.cnn.com/2011/11/11/opinion/clark-penn-paterno/

Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights, wrote this in the New York Times 11/11/2011: “If the allegations are true, head coach Joe Paterno and top-ranking university officials allowed former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky to roam loose as a sexual predator even though there were clear indications of his abuse of children.  That has nothing to do with the Nebraska game coming up Saturday. It has to do with a culture at Penn State in which the football program, with Paterno as its god, was allowed to do whatever it wanted, including the protection of one of its own regardless of his alleged depravity.”

The football game was not cancelled Saturday and Penn State lost.  Instead of the display like  earlier in the week when students rioted over the firing of JoePa, there were students holding vigil for the victims.  Nonetheless, what continues to disturb me is the image of football players kneeling in prayer on the field at Saturday’s game.  This strengthens the religion of football, but not real religion.  It is a pathetic attempt of self-aggrandizement to elevate a tainted program.

Most likely the majority of those players would claim to embrace Christianity, being the majority religion of the country and all.  How about a quote from Jesus about this kind of behavior?  “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others,” (Matthew 6:6, New International Version)  If you need others to see you pray, then it is about you.  Just you.  Here’s a prayer: “Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; in your compassion forgive us our sins, known and unknown, things done and left undone…”  (Book of Common Prayer, The Episcopal Church).

I admit to not being a sports fan and have blogged about sports in two prior columns: “Smackdown: Man v. Nature” (10/11/2011) and “Sex and Sports and Religion” (6/24/2010).  Neither am I a Penn State graduate, even though many people confuse it with the University of Pennsylvania (Penn), from which I did graduate.  I am close to more than one Penn Stater and they are very upset by any criticism of their alma matter.  The moral failure of the University’s leaders, including JoePa, merits criticism.  That does not diminish things at Penn State like “Thon,” when each year thousands of Penn State students work feverishly for months to raise millions of dollars to help kids with cancer.  I have been to Thon and contributed to Thon.  It remains a valuable and important philanthropic activity at Penn State.  But that does not excuse the lack of morality in the football program.

Football is not god.  In fact, unquestioning loyalty is more appropriately attributed to a cult than a religion.  As we have seen in the past week, it is dangerous.  In both the small decisions and the large ones, each individual has personal responsibility.  Some students were weeping for JoePa while others were lighting candles for victims of abuse.  These are small decisions that I believe affect what will happen next.

I wonder if the Vatican is breathing a sigh of relief that the media winds are blowing a different direction right now.  I hope not.  Because one of the underlying cultural problems is patriarchy.  When you mix men, money and power, bad things will happen.  And when they happen, they will be covered-up because they will protect each other – not the vulnerable and powerless.

Forgive us – for what we have done and what we have left undone.

-J.B.

Photos from CNN online

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Smackdown: Man v. Nature

This is football season (insert frowny-face icon here).  I live near Philadelphia where fans have a reputation – especially football fans.  Because of all the disorderly and illegal behavior at football games, the Philadelphia Eagles and the City of Philadelphia had to create a mini-court at the stadium to be able to process the hoards of law-breakers.  (Take a look at what a Google search on the “Philadelphia Eagles and fan violence” generates.)  I remember when the Eagles lost a playoff game there was a television news clip of a woman with tears streaming down her face who said, “this was the worst day of my life.”  Really?  Lucky her – if that’s as bad as it has ever been.

There are two sports that are worse than football: professional wrestling and demolition derbies.  Yes, trophies are given for smashing up other cars.  I’m at a loss to propose which of those ‘sports’ is more absurd.  At least the pretend violence and staged melodrama of WWF doesn’t burn fossil fuel.  But the WWF stage does remind me of how some religious people view nature: God using nature to smackdown bad people, and people trying to smackdown nature for personal gain.

Every time there is a natural disaster, some religious simpleton claims that it was God’s will or Divine punishment for sin as God uses the force of nature to toy with silly humans gone astray – perhaps reflecting on a literal view of the Noah’s Ark story.  My friend Kathleen is a talented environmental science teacher and reported that one of her students said (I’m paraphrasing here) that they know how humans came into existence, “God created them.”  Kathleen responded, “You can believe anything you want in your church, but this is a science class and we are learning about science here.”  Good thing Kathleen isn’t in Texas, she could probably get fired for saying that.

When combining the view of a punishing god with the supremacy of human beings over nature the result is a world view that provides resources only for the godly and allows for the reckless exploitation of everyone and everything else.  Joseph Campbell told a story about how Zen philosopher Daisetsu Teitaro (D.T.) Suzuki described the Western world view (The Power of the Myth, Program Two: “The Message of the Myth”):  “God against man.  Man against God.  Man against nature.  Nature against man.  Nature against God.  God against nature.  Very funny religion.”

One source of this view, I would suggest, is the creation story from historic Judaism and Christianity.  The first chapter (Genesis 1:26) describes “dominion” over creation by human beings.  According to Strong (The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, James Strong, LL.D., S.T.D., 1995) the word dominion in the St. James Version of the Bible is based on the Hebrew word râdâh, which is translated as “rule” or “subjugate”.  More recent translations of the Bible use the word “power” (Good News) or “rule” (NIV), which I do not find any more enlightened than “dominion”.  I had hoped a little research would reflect the St. Jame’s version’s use of “dominion” to be a poor translation, but that was not the case.

I have not gone to rabbinical school nor am I a Christian Biblical scholar.  I’m a regular person with an interest in religion and a drive to consider context, which is my explanation for “dominion”.  That creation story was passed on in the context of a patriarchal culture, which by definition subjugates everyone to the (male) patriarch.  In doing (secondary) research for this column I have been reading Karen Armstrong’s The Bible: A Biography, and reviewing her earlier work A History of God.  What I continue to learn as I study religion, especially Christianity, is about the human influence on theology and sacred text.  In talking about New Testament parables, an Episcopal priest (from whom I always learn something) said that Jesus’ stories often teach us more about people than God (Rev. C. Reed Brinkman, 9/25/2011).

Power over nature, to most thinking people, is an arrogant illusion.  Go ahead, try and stop a tornado.  And if the only way you can exercise your god-given dominion on the earth is by exploiting the environment and abusing animals, then you are not even a very smart patriarch.  In the long run you are hurting yourself and your descendants.

The selfish exploitation of animals and natural resources may nicely complement Western capitalism but does not reflect the underlying spirit of either Judaism or Christianity, and is certainly not part of most Eastern religions and practices.  The Dominion World View is the unfortunate result of isolating an antiquated minor Biblical reference to justify selfish behavior.  Drowning puppies that didn’t sell, over-fertilizing fields which corrupts the water table, irrigating crops that aren’t intended to grow in arid regions and thereby lessening water resources for everyone else – all justified because God gave you dominion.  That should be an offensive view to both the godly and godless.

Because you have the resources to smash cars into each other doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.  It just makes you a stupid, wasteful bully.  Unfortunately, power and resources don’t go only to the deserving.  In fact humanity has a sad history of resources being ravaged by the greedy at the expense of the powerless.  The wise and compassionate stewardship of shared resources not only sustains our survival but make us human beings.  And if you’re religion doesn’t guide you to be a better human being, then trade-up for a better religion, or get to know your own religion a little better.  -J.B.

Sex and Sports and Religion

Religion is not the only means for determining morality.  Religious folks don’t always understand that people without religious affiliation are still capable of being moral people.  The reverse is obviously true as well.  Religious people are capable of a complete absence of morality and frequently demonstrate lapses from ethical behavior.  In fact, it is essential to have a secular moral code so people of all religions (or no religion) living in the same society can survive each other.  The law isn’t always right, but it is a starting point.  It doesn’t really matter if it’s based on the “10 Commandments” or English Common Law.  It matters that we have a code of conduct that prevents us from killing each other.  Just short of killing each other, where should we draw the line?

Prostitution just doesn’t have to be illegal.  It’s all in the definition.  Is selling your soul a little bit every day to work in a cubicle while telling your lazy boss that she is a genius to protect your job prostitution?  How about having sex with your date only after an expensive dinner?  And then, of course, what about trying to barter sexual favors for sports tickets?  (A 6/24/2010 online story link is posted below.)  It’s time for “All Things Religious” to weigh in on this topic because of the newly launched blog by my friend who was convicted of attempted prostitution.

http://www.philly.com/philly/news/breaking/96991164.html?cmpid=15585797

I’m not going to comment, or base my friendship with her, on what she did or how she has reacted since.  I do want to comment on the rest of us.  I don’t think any of this would have been newsworthy if the tickets had been to the opera.  Sports enjoys a religious status that many people take for granted.  How many times have you seen people crying over a lost game?  How about street rioting from a team’s win or loss?  I have been researching the content of the Philadelphia Inquirer.  Stories with religious content in the Sunday paper average less than five percent, which is roughly less than a quarter of one page for the front two news sections.  By comparison, the Sunday sports section is usually 15 pages.  Yet, there are more people in religious services every Sunday than attend all sporting events taking place in an entire week.  (I have a citation on this.  Comment below if you want to know more.)

The CNN article by John Blake (link below) asks better questions and has more examples than I have time for here.  This culture’s reverence of sports and the unholy mixing of religious proselytizing with sports attempts to elevate the temporal to the metaphysical but in fact demotes the divine to the trivial.

http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/wayoflife/05/25/God.sports/index.html?iref=allsearch

The only thing more potent than sports and religion is sex and sports.  That it is even possible to establish a blog on the topic is absurd – though I predict it will be well read.  Because we have the technology for Facebook and the opportunity for free blogs, doesn’t mean we have to talk about every Henry Miller moment that crosses our subconscious.  (For the record, I like reading Henry Miller.)  My erudite response to the sex and baseball blog is: YUCK!