Sports Fanaticism: How Far Is Too Far?


akland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr grew up in a Pentecostal home, so he’s used to all the shouting.

That’s good, because everywhere the NFL rookie goes these days, he hears the shouts, the screams, the squeals—and that’s just from the grown men wearing his silver-and-black, number 4 jersey in the stands, at the mall, in the parking lot, and at stoplights.

Carr responds by politely smiling and waving, and sometimes signs autographs with a Scripture reference thrown in—making a point to turn the attention to God.

“I just want to glorify God,” Carr says. “All the praise is His.”

That’s how it’s supposed to be. But as we fill our college football stadiums on fall Saturdays and abandon our pews on NFL Sundays, maybe we need to grab a scorecard and see where our high praise is really going. Are we worshiping the Lord Jesus Christ in His sanctuary, or are we worshiping homemade idols brilliantly disguised as superstar quarterbacks and championship contenders?

We can’t idolize football players without making them our idol, and we know how that plays out in Scripture. “You shall have no other gods before Me,” the Lord declares in Exodus 20:3 (NKJV), with teeth-gnashing consequences spelled out in the chapters to follow.

Can we, as Spirit-filled believers, get behind our favorite teams without crossing Joshua’s line in the sand (Josh. 24:15)? Is it possible, in our idol-soaked culture of human worship and sports allegiance, to be a number-one fan without violating the doctrinal premise of the first commandment?

Absolutely, it’s possible—I would know. When the Lord saved me as a 21-year-old sports fanatic, I learned how to worship God and not the Dallas Cowboys.
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How does a 7-year-old kid in a central California farm town become a Dallas Cowboys fan? Easy. Turn on the TV, se a quarterback named Danny White, and decide that’s reason enough to ask your parents for a number 11 jersey.

I wore that Danny White knockoff jersey to a shred, running down my own wobbly passes in backyard games of one-on-none, hearing the invisible crowd go wild. “The Catch” of 1982 didn’t crush my spirit; it just made me more determined to see my Cowboys win a Super Bowl.

As a teenage Catholic, I decided which Mass to attend during football season based on the Cowboys’ kickoff times. For 10 a.m. Pacific time zone games, I would attend Saturday-night Mass. Otherwise, I’d hit the 9:30 a.m. Sunday service to give me plenty of time for 1 p.m. kickoffs.

When the Cowboys won, I screamed and hollered throughout the house. When the Cowboys lost (Babe Laufenberg era, anyone?), I would throw non-football objects across the room and pick fights with my non-Cowboys-fans brothers.

By the time I accepted Christ at a rural Church of God 20 years ago, the Dallas Cowboys were a full-blown idol. Know what I prayed the most for as a kid? That the Cowboys would win, and how I would never do this or that ever again, if God would just let us beat the Redskins on Sunday.

Maybe you aren’t nearly so extreme, but think about it: When Alabama “rolled Tide” through your SEC college team last year—or when Auburn stopped the Crimson Tide—did it ruin your day beyond repair? When your starting quarterback saved all his interceptions for the end of the game, did you snap at your kids over something trivial at the dinner table that evening?

Do you want to name your firstborn after the Super Bowl MVP? Do you skip services because it conflicts with the printable magnet schedule on your fridge? Is Psalm 23 your devotional reading after a loss?

If so, it’s time to solve this potential idol problem the way I began to solve my idol problem when I got saved: by worshiping the Lord harder, louder, and stronger than the
Cowboys or anyone else. Because, if we don’t pour out our praise to God, we’re going to pour it out somewhere—our spirits are wired that way. Our worship needs a better outlet than sports.

For me, the worshiping shift began by missing the kickoff of a Cowboys playoff game because it was during church time. If I was going to shout loud when Emmitt Smith tore off a touchdown run that afternoon, then I had to shout louder in praise to my Lord when we sang from the Red-back hymnal that evening.

A funny thing happened along the way: the deeper I worshiped the Lord, the less the outcome of sporting events mattered. I still cared, and sports were still a blast; but the more I lifted my “#1” foam finger toward heaven, the less I pointed it toward sports and star athletes. When I gave all my praise to God, I did not have enough left in the tank to worship anyone else. If my team lost, God was still on my throne, so all was well . . . even when the Cowboys weren’t.

If I missed my alma mater, Fresno State, winning the 2008 College World Series because I was working at teen youth camp, so what? When I missed my favorite baseball team, the San Francisco Giants, clinching a 2012 World Series title because I was at our church harvest out- reach, big deal.

When NFL quarterback David Carr (Derek’s older brother), a former No. 1 overall draft pick of the Houston Texans, slipped into the back row of our church for a Sunday morning service last year, I didn’t shriek like a 12-year-old girl at a One Direction concert. We didn’t even make a big announcement about who was in the crowd.

Instead, the Lord reminded me of Acts 14. When Paul and Barnabas arrived in the city of Lystra, Paul looked intently on a man who could not walk and said, “‘Stand up straight on your feet!’ And he leaped and walked” (v. 10 NKJV).

Paul may as well have thrown a 99-yard “hail Mary” touchdown pass with no time left to win the Super Bowl! “When the people saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying . . . The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men” (v. 11). The local priest prepared a sacrifice of oxen. The people all but named a stadium after the apostle!

What did Paul do? He reminded the people that Christ is Lord, not him. “Friends, why are you doing this?” Paul asked them. “We are merely human beings—just like you! We have come to bring you the Good News that you should turn from these worthless things and turn to the living God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them” (v. 15 NLT). Paul gave the city of Lystra what all of us SEC-loving fans could use around this time of year—a proper perspective.

An NFL quarterback was in my church, and yet he was just another disciple of Christ, no different from the rest of us if you don’t count his cannon of a throwing arm.

So, next time you see Derek Carr signing autographs at the mall, or walk into City Life Church in Tampa and realize born-again Hall of Fame football star Derrick Brooks is sitting in the next chair over . . . give them a smile and a wave.

And then, go back to walking, leaping, and praising God for all He has done for you.