A Theology of College Football

For we their praises sing
For the glory and fame they've bro't us
Loud let the bells them ring
For here they come with banners flying
Far we their praises tell
For the glory and fame they've bro't us
Loud let the bells them ring
For here they come with banners flying
Here they come, Hurrah!
-University of Michigan Fight Song

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth;
break into song; sing praise.
Sing praise to the LORD with the harp,
with the harp and melodious song.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
shout with joy to the King, the LORD.
Let the sea and what fills it resound,
the world and those who dwell there.
Let the rivers clap their hands,
the mountains shout with them for joy,
Before the LORD who comes, who comes to govern the earth,
To govern the world with justice and the peoples with fairness.
-Psalm 98

I am a huge fan of college football, especially the Michigan Wolverines. I've loved football since I was old enough to run around with a ball, and even when I lived in Iowa I cheered for the Wolverines. Even though my family is from the South Bend, IN area, I am a vehement fan of Michigan, and proudly display my support...especially at the beginning of the season when Michigan plays Notre Dame.

I'm sure most Catholics wonder why a Capuchin friar would even root for a team over Notre Dame. (I often joke that the reason I didn't join the Dominicans was because they weren't comfortable with me not being in league with ND football.) I happen to feel that if Divine Preference is involved, then God probably loves Michigan football more than Notre Dame's program. I have no real evidence, but it feels good to me.

Perhaps my experience is a revelation of a greater truth. Let's use Saturday night (a great night of football for me!) as an example:

On Saturday Michigan beat Notre Dame (Yay!) after a poor showing last year. On top of that, USC beat Ohio State (anytime Ohio State loses is a de facto win for Michigan). Both games were intense and close. As I watched "my team" triumph, I was invigorated with energy. I talked with other people while only partially paying attention; I'd run from the dinner table to check the score every 10 minutes; since I had to cook Saturday night, I got a radio for the kitchen so I could listen to the play-by-play. I went so far as to tell guys in the community: "The most important thing I have to do today, after attending Mass, is to watch Michigan play Notre Dame!"

As I watched, I saw many of the things I'd seen so many times: cheering and elated fans for the winning team while the losing team had people crying and holding each other from the loss. I watched fans with their hands together, looking up at the sky, as the final seconds determined who would win. I watched kickers point to the sky after making a field goal and look to the ground when they missed. And I listened to Matt Barkley, freshman QB for USC, give an interview after the game in which he first praised God for the joy and the thrill of the victory that night.

What I'm talking about is nothing new in the realm of sports. We've watched baseball players do the sign of the cross as the come up to bat, we've seen keepers kiss and "bless" the posts before soccer [football] games...the use of prayer and religion on the field is nothing new. I tend to be understanding of this: if they are praying for strength to overcome adversity. While a sport often has an opponent, the drive most athletes have is to perform at their best, be mentally and physically prepared, and to block all things from their mind except the task at hand. I pray for many of those things each day, except I don't go play 60 minutes of professional soccer or football afterwards.

What I question is the intentions of fans, myself included. Watching football can be a means for disconnection within the family, or a way to spend a day in front of the TV instead of doing something productive or active. In this country, the popularized view of a football fan is an overweight middle-aged man who looks too out-of-shape to ever play the game again.

Whether I cover myself in paint, tail-gate to every game, or am able recite my team's offensive statistics for the past 4 seasons, I don't really know "my" team. They are just big guys in pads-when the game is done, I go back to my life. And perhaps that is my biggest concern with the energy put into the game.

Looking at how I and others watch our beloved teams, there seem to be 4 key elements:

1. A personal investment, emotional or otherwise, in the success or failure of the team.
2. A display of commitment to the team, personal or public...especially in times of great success or continuous loss.
3. Public witness or defense of the team; (Last year I watched Michigan vs. Notre Dame at a bar full of Fighting Irish alumni.)
4. Support of the team can be a focal point for energy. In spite of other issues going on, team support can override everything else, especially if one has a lot of personal investment.

A person who fulfills these guidelines with regards to sports is often considered a "die-hard fan." In spite of the eccentricity, their "sometimes crazy" devotion is accepted.

A person who fulfills these guidelines with regards to the poor, marginalized, and underclass is often considered a "hippie" or maybe a "Communist." Those especially eccentric are often written off as idealists. Before I get too political or preachy, the overarching problem I saw was the sense of solidarity for a fleeting game (evident even within myself) versus those issues that exist within our community.

And maybe I am reaching to make a parallel. Comparing my undying devotion to the Michigan football team is a different matter than my relatively low concern with sex-trafficking and child labor around the world. Watching the Michigan vs. Ohio State game is on my calendar, but I have no idea what needs exist for the local homeless/hungry contingent in Pittsburgh. One set of events is not on par with the other...are they?

I offer, if only as a self-reflection, that the investment I have in any event can be seen by how I feel. I've want to cry when I see "my team" lose...just as I've wanted to cry when I watched a friend "fall off the wagon." I felt a disconnected kinship with the players as they embarked on their season, just as I've felt that same kinship with guests of the Community Meal or inmates at the jail. But most of all, I've felt the exhilaration of listening and being involved with the victories...just as I watched this past Saturday.

So perhaps that's part of my call: to be a fan for the poor, the marginalized, the hungry, and those that have been cast aside by society. And perhaps my jersey is simply a brown robe with a hood, and outdated but significant sign of who I support in this life. Or perhaps...I'm stretching just a little.

Hail to the victors, whomever they may be.

All logos are property of The University of Michigan and Ohio State University.

Spread The Love, Share Our Article

Related Posts

No Response to "A Theology of College Football"