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FIRST-PERSON: As a high school football player …

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP) — “Football, to play or not to play?” There are, it seems, a growing number of voices who depict the sport as too violent for polite society. Some are even saying it should be banned altogether.

Malcolm Gladwell, bestselling author and writer for The New Yorker, believes football should go the way of the dinosaur. His main argument for doing away with football is the violence and probability of injury, especially trauma to the brain.

Gladwell, in a 2009 column for The New Yorker titled “Offensive Play,” compared American football to dog fighting. “In the nineteenth century, dogfighting was widely accepted by the American public,” he wrote. “But we no longer find that kind of transaction morally acceptable in a sport.”

In a column titled “Our Shaken Faith in Football” at Christianity Today’s website, Owen Strachan suggests that Christians rethink not only playing football but also supporting the sport due to its violent nature. In so doing, the professor at Boyce College suggests a comparison between the gladiators of ancient Rome and modern-day football players.

There is no doubt that football is a physically demanding sport with an inherent risk of injury, sometimes even severe injury. It is certainly not for everyone. However, suggestions at regulating or banning football on moral grounds seem a bit melodramatic.

I do feel the need to qualify myself at this point. I am a former high school football player. I also hail from Texas, where schoolboy football is nearly sacred. I earned four varsity letters playing a variety of positions for the Mighty Charging Buffalos of Florence High School.

As a follower of Christ, many activities I pursued prior to my conversion were cast aside because the Bible clearly indicated they were wrong from God’s perspective. I see nowhere in the Bible, however, where God condemns athletic competition. In fact, the apostle Paul illustrates some aspects of the Christian faith by alluding to the sports of his day, specifically running, wrestling and even boxing, which was particularly violent and not for the faint of heart.

Since football is nowhere mentioned in the Bible, we must look to principles to give guidance. Writing to Christians in Corinth, Paul indicated that while all things were lawful, not all things were profitable. He also said we should not be mastered by any activity, meaning we should not become obsessed or addicted.

There is no doubt that some in American society certainly seem obsessed with football in general and their favorite team in particular. These are mainly spectators. If your life revolves around football, perhaps it is time to take a step back and evaluate your priories.

Is there anything profitable about football? I would say for those who participate, yes. So long as a person understands its risks and takes the proper safety precautions, there is much to be gained for those who play.

Discipline is an absolute necessity in order to compete on the gridiron. Not only must a football player discipline his body with rigorous conditioning, he also must focus his mind and control his emotions.

The Bible has much to say about one’s emotions, particularly anger, for example. “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty,” Proverbs 16:32 states, “and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” Football involves continuous physical confrontation. If a player does not discipline his emotions, anger is likely to well up and burst forth. However, a player who is out of control emotionally is simply no help to his team.

Learning to deal with hard knocks and pain is imperative for a football player. “Football isn’t a contact sport, it’s a collision sport,” legendary Michigan State coach Duffy Daugherty said. “Dancing is a contact sport.”

In football you are going to get hit and you’re going to get hurt, but hopefully injury can be avoided. If a player is injured, his body will not respond properly to the game and thus he cannot play. If player has bumps and bruises, well, he just hurts.

I was hurt all the time when I played football, which might have been expected since I was always the smallest player on the field. My fingers were always jammed and a couple were broken a time or two. I had minor issues with a knee and my lower back. I was knocked out once but was not diagnosed with a concussion.

In writing to the Corinthian believers, Paul said he buffeted his body and brought it under control. Since my football playing days ended, I have been metaphorically knocked down quite a bit. However, I long ago learned to play with pain and keep getting back up.

Football is a unique sport in its interdependence. In most sports, an individual can excel while his team fails. In football, each player is dependent on the other positions for individual success. A quarterback’s success is dependent on protection by his linemen and sure-handed receivers. An offensive line’s good blocking is accentuated by a running back hitting the hole on time. And so it goes. Football is a true team sport.

God inspired the apostle Paul to describe the church, the followers of Christ, as a body. Not everyone has the same gifts or abilities, but each person is interdependent on the whole in order to grow and for the church to reach its potential. Church is the consummate team “sport.”

For me football was profitable. I still enjoy watching games, primarily because I played. However, I don’t believe I am obsessed. So, as long as one is trained in the proper techniques of the game and understands the risks, I say, “Play on.”
Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • Kelly Boggs