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How Do Sports and Faith Intersect?

Is sports another kind of faith? We explore a pretty deep question.

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Running a fairly popular site about the Portland Trail Blazers, I get plenty of interesting questions come across my inbox. While most of them involve lineups and trade suggestions, occasionally we'll get an intriguing one like this:

Dear Dave,

You work as a pastor and run [Blazer's Edge]. How do you reconcile sports and church? The two worlds seem opposite to me. Excess vs. austerity, highlight reels vs. service, aggression and dominance vs. peace. How do you skip between one and the next?

Charles V.

It's an interesting question. Someday I will unpack more from my personal journey and how the intersection between sports and faith plays out in my mind. Doing so would involve breaking down some of the assumptions you're making in your question, Charles, and that's beyond me right now. It might need to be part of a biographical series or something...though whether it would be written for the sports world or the faith world is up in the air.

Instead I'd like to pose a more general question to all of our readers: are the concepts of sports and faith discrete for you, or can you see overlap between one and the other?

You do not have to be a person of faith to address this matter. I'm not talking about the specifics of a sport and a faith. Instead I wonder if there aren't common characteristics driving both the impulse to believe/worship and the impulse to follow/root for a team.

A couple cautions:

1. For people of faith, in no way would I expect you to equate the Trail Blazers (or any other team) with your deity. We all understand fully that to "follow" a god and "follow" a team are two different things. Let's not spend a thousand comments establishing that. (Equating the Lakers directly with the devil may be more permissible, however.)

2. For people who find faith foreign or even repugnant, we are not opening a forum to express how stupid religion is, in particular or in aggregate. Even people who disagree with faith would admit the reality of its mechanisms, for instance that people gather corporately around a central core. Those mechanisms are the subject at hand here, and whether they equate in any way to the mechanisms surrounding sports. People gather on weekends in various houses of worship. People gather in stadiums as well. Are any of the root causes of these gatherings similar?

I'll open the proceedings by suggesting that several core concepts unite faith and sports fandom. We just mentioned gathering around the central core that unites us. Provincial self-identification ("us" vs. "other") is a near-inevitable side-effect of that process that's common to sports teams and churches. Belief in things not seen ("Portland's young core has more promise than most in the NBA"), the desire to prove and/or quantify things that seem nebulous ("Jesus feeding the 5000 and True Shooting Percentage are the most indicative measures around!"), and endurance despite contrary evidence ("This is our year/suffering builds endurance!") are other examples. Plus there's the nagging urge to castigate any who disrupt or disparage those who argue against the normative belief.

The two spheres even share language. Follow, faith, devotion, passion, sacrifice, discipleship, leadership, and teamwork are words commonly used in each. There are more.

I could go further, but I'm going to let you have at it. Is sports kind of your faith...or a slightly different form of faith? What commonalities do you see between the sports process and that of faith? Some might also answer how their concept of faith has informed their participation in sports. Either way, if the two words were drawn on a Venn Diagram, what would the shaded middle section contain? Let us know your thoughts below.

--Dave / @DaveDeckard@Blazersedge