“Can Christians root for athletes who do bad things?” On a recent Happy Rant podcast we discussed this question. Can a Christian feel good about rooting for guys like Jameis Winston, Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice, and others? The question arose because the number of prominent star athletes getting themselves in legal hot water seems to have skyrocketed. In years past we might have been able to ignore an indiscretion or two, but now they confront us at every turn.
The question rises from more than just the prominence and frequency of athlete missteps. It stems from our acute awareness of them and insatiable appetite for information about them. Once upon a time tabloids were smutty news that scratched a guilty itch. Now we get tabloid news piped to our phone screens every minute. We don’t have to browse; we get notified. This pervasive awareness of celebrities, athlete or otherwise, completely changes the nature of our perceptions and interactions. We believe we “know” them intimately as people, so instead of just watching how they perform we judge them the way we would acquaintances or co-workers.
More than any other kind of entertainer, this applies to athletes which causes a unique conundrum. Sports are entertainment, plain and simple, just like movies, music, and books. Unlike those other forms of entertainment, though, athletes play themselves instead of playing a part or a role. Actors play other people, parts we quote and remember. Authors create characters and fade into the background. Musicians are like athletes in that they perform as themselves, but their sounds can be carried in one’s pocket, listened to in the car, and enjoyed without every seeing them. We can close our eyes and lose ourselves in the music and forget the musician playing it. Athletes don’t play a part or create a story for us to get lost in; they perform as themselves and nothing else. Their own names adorn their jerseys. When they take the field we simply see them. We may “know” other types of entertainers, but the delineation between performance and person separates us from their morals. That line for athletes is nearly rubbed out, so we must question our fandom.
But how must we question it?
. . .