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Should Christians watch football?

A faithful fan shares his conflict.

As a follower of Christ, I am increasingly conflicted about the game I love — football.

Since 2007, I have been blessed to write about the National Football League for a variety of publications. I spend about 13 hours per week researching and writing about all aspects of the game — free agency, the draft, training camp, fantasy football and everything in between. My articles have appeared in USA Today, fantasy football magazines (remember those?) and on a couple of websites.

Views | Jeff TefertillerIn football, there is a sense of community unlike any other sport. It unites players and fans from all backgrounds. People of all ages, sizes, races and religions come together to root for their team. People of affluence and influence share a love of the game with others from across the socio-economic spectrum.

At the University of Missouri, we’ve witnessed the power of football to effect change in a school’s administration.

Love of the game influences the vacations fans take and the TV packages they purchase. In a way, it reminds me of the kind of church Luke describes in Acts 2:44: “All the believers were together and had everything in common.” Faithful football fans have the opportunity to introduce others to the greater community of Christ.

But there’s also danger in our love of football. After Sunday worship, as we watch our favorite players, we can’t resist cheering when one delivers an eviscerating hit — a hit that leaves his opponent lying flat on the field. But that player has family and friends who vicariously feel the hit themselves, sitting in the stands or watching from home.

The days of just “getting your bell rung” or “having the cobwebs knocked loose” are long gone. We know that these hard hits take a toll on players amateur and professional.

For decades, former players have suffered from neurological ailments and other consequences of playing the game they love. The symptoms last for decades. The struggle to bring these devastating effects into the light is chronicled in the upcoming film “Concussion” starring Will Smith, who also acknowledges his conflict in loving the sport and knowing its dangers.

Often, I’m tasked with writing about the implications of a player’s change in circumstance — due to the way he performs (or fails to perform) on the gridiron or due to injury. I discuss the triumphs and disappointments of football.

It’s difficult to fathom the reality of a player whose career is suddenly over because of one vicious hit. It’s sobering.

Recently we mourned the loss of Ben Hamm, a junior linebacker for Wesleyan Christian School in Bartlesville, Okla., who died after suffering a head injury during a Friday night football game. He was a dedicated member of the Dewey Church of Christ.

“He was very passionate about life, passionate about his school, about football, about his family and — most importantly — he was passionate about God,” Rocky Clark, the school’s superintendent, told The Tulsa World.

His story is not unique. During that same week, two other high school football players died from injuries on the field. Schools across America have focused on training players how to hit — and to look for signs of concussions. And still this happens.

This game we love to watch devastates families.

What is the answer? Should we stop watching? Should I keep my own 10-year-old son from playing?

The conflict within me continues as the football season marches on.

George Wilson, safety for the Buffalo Bills, prays before a game against the New York Jets in 2009. (PHOTO BY ED YOURDON, VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

At the end of every NFL game, I am thankful to see players of both teams — who were bashing into each other only moments before — circle around midfield, hold hands and offer up a prayer to our Father.

As I pray for the safety of the players, I also pray for the opportunities we have to be the light of Christ to our fellow fans.

JEFF TEFERTILLER is a deacon of the Memorial Road Church of Christ in Oklahoma City.

Filed under: Football Headlines - Secondary Views

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