It’s been almost two weeks since the Superbowl. While I really enjoy watching football, I don’t particularly enjoy post-game interviews with players. They tend to be so cliché, like “Nobody ever gave us a chance, but we worked really hard, stuck to the game-plan and trusted in each other…” Bla bla bla. Sports fans know what I’m talking about.
When a player from the winning team is interviewed after a Superbowl, they almost invariably start by thanking God. That’s a nice touch, but I’ve always been amazed by the religiosity of football players. I’m not saying they’re saints, but they certainly have a place for God in their lives. They pray before games, after games, during games. They attend church regularly and volunteer their time to help poor kids. They’re not shy to quote the Bible on TV. Professional football players must be the most religious segment of the US population.
It was only after this year’s Superbowl that I finally figured out why. It happened during the post-game interview (don’t ask me why I was still watching) as they were interviewing Ed Reed, an outstanding free safety of the Baltimore Ravens. The guy started the game with a sprained right knee. In the first quarter, he sprained his left knee. Although he temporarily left the game, he came back and played to the end. This is common for football players, who have an inconceivable ability to continue playing despite pain, sometimes with serious injuries like separated shoulders, broken bones and torn ligaments. Injuries are very common because the game is so rough. They only play one game a week and only 16 games in a whole season because the body can’t take any more. In any given game, every guy on the field is playing through some sort of pain. Careers tend to be short for most guys because the body eventually gives out. Surgery becomes a routine part of the off-season. Many players will be permanently affected long after the careers are over, with injuries that never fully heal.
Reed played a great game on two sprained knees (and who knows what other pain). Despite everything that he and his team had just accomplished, he explained that none of it could compare to what Jesus did for us on the Cross. That’s when it hit me. These guys really get it. They know what it means to persevere through excruciating physical pain and yet stay focused on their goal. They know how to forcefully whip their bodies into slavery by sheer will power for the sake of victory. They can relate to the Passion because they experience something analogous in a very tangible manner every day.
If these football players focused that kind of determination into spiritual advancement rather than athletic advancement they could probably become canonizable saints. No joke. The Holy Spirit never lets Himself be bested in generosity. If you give Him that kind of dedication, He’s gonna zap you something fierce.
What does this all mean? It means that despite the decadent culture, men are still capable of heroic self-sacrifice for a cause they believe in. It’s still there, albeit dormant in most men, buried under pampering and self-indulgence. But even the sleepers admire those who engage in self-sacrifice. They’ll get their butts off the couch if they’re sold on a worthwhile cause.
The raw material is out there. It just needs to be harnessed and channeled. There’s plenty of reason for hope.