Sports Can Be a Touchdown for Faith. Beware of Encroachment.

As a lifelong athlete and coach, I know sports build character. But I worry about the idolatrous, selfish culture of American athletics.

When my wife told me that my son received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty at his football game, I was enraged. He’d aggressively thrown the ball back to the official he believed had missed a call. I flew into a lecture about leadership, respect for authority, and composure. I even called friends and family to register my disbelief and embarrassment.

But before I got too self-righteous, my parents—always eager to come to their grandchildren’s rescue—reminded me of the times I was far from a model of sportsmanship. I’ve had my fair share of penalties and made hotheaded remarks. I’ve come a long way, but I still haven’t fully mastered the art of balancing passion and prudence in the arena.

Accordingly, I beg your charity as I explain (and preach to myself) why I believe sports can be a helpful servant for Christians—and an awful master. We can value the virtues that sports teach and be encouraged when players like Justin Fields and Paige Bueckers boldly proclaim their faith while being wary of the culture of idolatry, pride, disrespect, and selfishness that crops up in every level of American sports, from peewee soccer to the NFL.

As a former college football player and a current Little League coach, I’m convinced sports are a great way to build character in children and teach the value of leadership and institutions. Youth sports provide social proof that diligence and teamwork are essential aspects of improvement. Children learn real-world lessons by overcoming the mental and physical obstacles sports present. Truths that are difficult to communicate in theory suddenly make sense on the field.

Sports are particularly valuable in a culture where …

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