Thought of the Day: Religion and Sports

I have never been that much of a sports aficionado. 

That doesn't mean I don't enjoy sports. I love watching the Olympic games, I will attend an occasional basketball or baseball game live, and I was a fairly competitive athlete in track and field growing up. Sports has always been a part of my life--but it has never developed into an obsession.

The closest athletic activity that is borderline obsessive for me is weight training--but I do that mainly to stay fit--not because I want to become Mr. Universe or anything.

Yet the majority of my friends seem to be completely obsessed with certain sports, like American Football. Now normally I wouldn't think anything of it. While I prefer to crack open a good book and read for hours on end, they flick on the sports channel to watch a game of their favorite team, after all, we all have our hobbies. 

But then I noticed something peculiar. 

Almost all of my extremely religious friends, both men and women, tend to also be the most fanatical about following their favorite sports team with a loyalty that reflects the same zeal they express themselves religiously with. 

I was just wondering if anyone else has noticed this, or if I am just observing a fluke here, or could it possibly be all in my imagination?

Personally, I think religion and sports reflect the same brand of fanaticism. Both require loyalty. Both require a certain level of attendance and show... after all there is no such thing as a closet sports fan... and there is no such thing as a closet religionist.

Meanwhile, believers are expected to make an appearance at church just as sports fans are expected to make an appearance at the playoffs, finals, and big games of the season. In fact, like religion, switching sides is viewed as taboo. Having more than one favorite team is almost as bad--just as most believers look down on a person who can't make up their mind about which religion they belong to. You either know or you don't, and with sports, you either are into it enough to have a favorite team or you're on the fringe.

Like religion, sports has highly specialized rituals, for both players and fans. Like religion, sports asks you to have faith. If the team didn't do so well this season, don't freak out, they promise to do better next season--just have a little bit of faith, won't you?

Both sports and religion give you the same highs and lows. When your team wins, the eruption of pure unadulterated elation is similar to the raised arm praise believers give when they sing an uplifting hymn. When there is a scandal on a sports team, for example a star player getting found out as a sex addict who frequents prostitutes and whores, fans feel betrayed, when there is a scandal in the church, usually for the same reasons, parishioners feel betrayed.

When one's church raises enough funds for the missionary service, or that new parking lot, people feel ecstatic. When one's favorite sports team wins the championship, I imagine they feel likewise.

Is is any wonder that so many sports fans kiss a cross necklace and praise God for their excellent plays? Or ask God to help them win? It seems to me that sports is, in more ways than one, similar to religion.

Now that I think about it, I know hardly any atheists who are avid sports aficionados. I know some who follow sports on television--but only casually--they don't paint their faces. 

What could this mean?

My friend Bud has pointed out to me that he believes that religion and sports both provide a sense of community and kinship which people long for. I would like to add acceptance in general. This psychological trinity of community, kinship, and acceptance seems to be, perhaps, the main motivating factors with regard to why certain people are attracted to sports and religion. Even so, there is still just too much overlap to believe this is all there is. It seems to me that other psychological factors are at play here to. I'd be interested in investigating this issue further (if somebody else hasn't already). 

Am I merely imagining a connection between religion and sports--or is there, perhaps, something more here. What do you think?


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