I am a big sports fan. I’m not exactly sure why that is the case. I have a build not unlike many Hobbits, and I have never been athletic. When I played church league basketball, I never scored a point. I did, however, get some rebounds and I helped my church beat a sister denomination across town. How’s that for bragging rights? My passion for sports could also be explained by the fact that I’m a sucker for on-the-court drama and a nerd for numbers. And that is what games and competition bring. Sadly, we seem to be losing that in society. Oh, it’s not for lack of athletes. It’s not because of a low number of good teams, leagues, and TV channels. We’re losing the awesomeness of sport through the stupidity of the sports fan.
Take the Kevin Durant situation this past NBA off-season. If you don’t know who Durant is, he’s a very successful player that decided to leave one franchise (Oklahoma City) for another (Golden State) that has played in back-to-back NBA Finals. Why? Reasons vary. Regardless, it’s his business and not that of the fans who say they “bought his jersey and paid to see him play only to watch him skip town.” They should get a technical foul.
Think about it this way. If you take a job, any job, what do you tell your present co-workers who find out you’re leaving? “I have to do what’s best for me,” you might say. If you have a family, you could explain that you have to do what’s in your family’s best interest. After all, it may be that more money is involved. It could also be that your next job will bring you more of a challenge while carrying the possibility of a promotion down the road. So why don’t fans offer athletes the same understanding as they make the same career move? Whether we like it or not, professional sports is a business. The people playing a professional sport, whatever it is, are professionals. But people don’t want to hear that, even if their job would be listed in the ‘Professional’ column of their local newspaper’s classifieds.
As I’m writing this, there are news reports of fans burning their Kevin Durant jersey, recording it, and posting the video on social media. I know. It’s dumb, but that’s exactly what’s playing out on TV sports networks covering Durant’s move from OKC to Golden State.
Let me stop here and say that most broadcasters are not to blame. Sure, I’m a news reporter and therefore seem biased. However, the actions made by sports fans over this or any team/player’s actions are part of the story. I’d say the same thing about an ESPN talk show interviewing Kevin Durant’s mother, which happened by the way. ESPN’s producers viewed it as part of the story. In all honesty, I’d rather hear what Momma D has to say than some male or female sports personality who only knows the who, what, when, and where, but lacks full details on the why.
Years ago, one of my favorite all-time NFL players was found to have done immoral things off the field, and afterward his NFL career came to a close. I was disappointed. I really looked up to him. I was so disappointed I sold a football he had autographed someone had given me as a gift. I did not want anything that reminded me of the player in question. Sure, we’re all sinners (Romans 3:23), and what he did had zero impact on his team’s chances, but just seeing the signature made me think of the other things that he did.
In my opinion, this is not the same situation as “hating” on someone for what ultimately boils down to a business decision. The player I was upset with acted out of selfishness. So do the fans of players who get mad because they choose to play for another team. When that happens, fans are essentially practicing idolatry.
If fans of any sport or player, not just the NBA and its superstars, are upset with a team or athlete, it could be that they have immoderate attachment or devotion to something. That’s the definition of idolatry - immoderate meaning “going beyond reasonable limits.” I witnessed this in a television market I worked in for five years. Every fall, just after a big football game between two arch rivals – and that’s putting it politely – someone somewhere would be shot after a domestic dispute involving the game. (No, this does not mean that guns are bad and/or football played a role and we should, therefore, ban all weapons and games.) But people need to simmer down and not get so wrapped up that it ruins their day, week, month, or life when someone decides to go in another direction. Much like Kevin Durant did.
If you think that you’ve become too engrossed with sports and athletes, if you “live for them” and follow them constantly, it may be time to slow things down a bit. Take a break. Read a book. Learn something new. Find a hobby. Just don’t make an idol out of whatever you take up as a substitute for sports and super-stars.
“Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14).