I have always found it difficult to think about sports in a distinctly Christian way. I love sports (mostly watching, occasionally playing) and want to be able to enjoy fandom guilt-free. But every now and then, when I look at another of the sports scandals or when I hear of the lives of athletes, I wonder if professional sports really is a worthwhile pastime for the Christian. By our participation as fans are we contributing to the sometimes-shocking lack of morality, to the building of massive egos, to the idolatry of the athlete? How should we, as Christians, think about these things? Christians tend toward two extremes, I think, either writing off professional athletics altogether or embracing them with unblinking acceptance. Yet I’m convinced that neither extreme is helpful. It was with interest, then, that I picked up Ted Kluck’s The Reason for Sports (you may know Kluck from his books co-written with Kevin DeYoung, Why We’re Not Emergent and Why We Love the Church).
The Reason for Sports is “A Christian Fanifesto,” according to the subtitle, a series of essays on the subject. So it is not a cohesive A-Z kind of look at the topic and neither is it an apologetic for professional sports. Instead, it is a book that moves from one topic to the next, often based around articles that have been expanded from ones first printed at ESPN or elsewhere. Thus the strength of the book is not so much in the book as a whole, but in the scope of the topics it covers. Those topics include apologies (something athletes seem to have endless opportunities to practice, though few get it right), steroids and performance enhancing drugs, honest and dishonesty, pride and humility, the emptiness that the most popular athletes may feel even when at the top of their game, sports in popular film and the often perilous link between sports and sexuality. Like I said, this is a book with a broad scope!
Kluck writes from a near-insider’s perspective, having played semipro football (Arena League), having trained with pro athletes and having spent many years as a journalist in the field. The back cover says the book offers an “irreverent and contrarian look at the world of sports.” And I guess that about says it. It’s not that he is irreverent in his view toward God, but more toward sports in general. He tries to forgo easy answers in favor of thoughtful ones. And often his answers cut across the grain, so to speak.
If there is such thing as a theology of sports (and I’m sure there must be) this book is a good place to at least begin developing one. Its nature as a book of essays means that the reader will not walk away with a thorough theology, but he will still have a lot to think about as he attempts to integrate sports and faith. I can’t imagine the book will appeal much to those who care little for sports, but for the fan, this book will prove a light and enjoyable read.