The REV. WILLIAM W. MCDERMET III, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), retired: He made Sports Illustrated. Of course he didn’t want to make it that way! There he sits enormously distraught in SI’s two-page picture for their Leading Off section.
“He” is Buffalo Bills receiver Steve Johnson, who somehow dropped the football in the end zone. Oh, so close. That catch would have defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in overtime, which would have been the high point of the season!
Johnson’s reflection on his missed opportunity: “I’m devastated.” Followed by: “I praise You (God) 24/7, and this is how you do me?!” After all, isn’t God always “pulling” for the underdog?
Johnson’s lament opens a philosophical dimension that we humans can identify with, expressed by the Buddha: “Life’s not fair!” Or if you happen to be within the Christian faith, you can ponder what Matthew records Jesus of Nazareth saying in 5:45: “For (God) makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” Of course, you and I are always to be found in the camp of the “righteous.” Right?
The sports channel ESPN Classic showed a Super Bowl championship team immediately following their win, in their locker room. Coaches had them all kneel and repeat The Lord’s Prayer. Maybe that team won because their ends and backs knelt in prayer/meditation in the end zone following touchdowns?
We can discern that we should never attempt to invoke God’s intervention on the final score. God has important acts to do; but directing a ball through the goalposts, or a ball into a basket, or into a cup, or over a net, or over a fence is not on the list. God encourages people to bring about peace, foster reconciliation and meet the basic needs of the marginalized.
We need to stop bargaining with God: “If my player catches the ball I’ll give $2,000 to my synagogue, temple, mosque, church, or to a 501(c)(3) organization.” Or, “If everyone in the Kansas City area does random acts of kindness for 30 days, the Chiefs will win the Super Bowl.”
Former Notre Dame President Theodore M. Hesburgh was being interviewed on a Saturday morning TV sports program while standing close to a statue, affectionately known as “Touchdown Jesus.” Asked what he thought about the afternoon football game, the president of 37 years, replied: “I’m really not that interested in the outcome of a game; I’m very concerned about how we are caring for the needs of all of God’s people.”
God may or may not be at the game; but surely is out feeding the hungry, holding hands with the dying, housing the homeless and beating swords into plowshares.
Football games can be enjoyed by all: However, let’s keep religion out of sports.
Now, maybe, we are ready for the kickoff.
William W. McDermet III lives in Raymore. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.