Men of Sunday: Go Deep on Superbowl Sunday

In a couple hours the most popular sporting event in America will take place between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens. I’m a Bills fan and feel no division/conference allegiance, so I am rooting for the 49ers because I love the city of San Francisco. Is that a good enough reason? Hope so, because it’s all I’ve got.

Disclaimer: I’m more of a baseball girl myself, so the passing of tonight’s game is most significant to me in that it’s just 9 days until NY Yankees pitchers and catchers report to Tampa for the 2013 season. But I digress…

Fun facts about Superbowl XLVII:

–      More food is consumed on Superbowl Sunday than any other day of the year aside from Thanksgiving. (What’s busier than the commissary on payday? The commissary on payday the day before the Superbowl!)

–      Approximately 1.25 billion wings will be eaten today. (Obviously not by myself and my husband, per our [begrudged] journey toward vegan-ism. Read about it here).

–      Approximately 4.4 million pizzas will be consumed today.

–      This is the 10th Superbowl held in New Orleans, but the first since Hurricane Katrina.

–      Both the 49ers and the Ravens have undefeated records when it comes to their appearances in the Superbowl. They are 2 of the 5 teams to claim that stat. After today it will be 1 out of 4.

For all the hype today offers, I’ve been reading “Men of Sunday” by Curtis Eichelberger. It’s about the faith walks/relationships with God of NFL players, wives, and coaches. The topic is considered to be the most under-reported aspect of American athleticism. I’m all about being off the beaten path, so I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who likes football, is in a leadership role, works in a public workplace, has children, is married, has friends, or likes to read. That should cover… pretty much everyone!

What continually amazes me about the stories being told is the solid faith in the hearts of these players, their wives, and their coaches. They are known as “faith guys” within the NFL, guys who are known to have a relationship with Jesus. This isn’t the chaplains forcing faith on the players. Anyone who knows anything knows that you can’t force faith. It’s a realization and an opening of the heart and spirit that has to happen deep inside one’s soul. The stories in “Men of Sunday” tell of players and coaches like Ray Lewis, Trent Dilfer, Samari Rolle, Leslie Frazier who welcome prayers, Bible studies, and accountability partners to get them through the season with their mind, body, heart, and marriage intact. Grown men weeping not over the loss of a game, but over the loss of his son or a relationship. Professional athletes whose priorities lie in wanting to glorify their Lord and Savior and serve their wives before their fans and coaches. Big, burly men from opposing teams who gather to pray on the field as the cameras and fans make their stadium exits after a game.

Now, these athletes are clear: they want to WIN. They don’t give everything they have to watch themselves lose. But they know the game is not the be-all-end-all. They’re disappointed and heartbroken when they lose, but they move forward with faith toward their next step.

Many of the players interviewed by Eichelberger talk about how they don’t ask “Why” because they figure, if they know God has something under control, there’s no reason to question the circumstance. If you know something to be true at an absolutely foundational level, why would you double-back and doubt? Through injuries, betrayals by their friends and families, illnesses of their precious children or spouses, they don’t ask ‘Why?’. They say, God, help me get through this. Jesus, let me be strong for my wife, for my children. Father, what can I learn from this?

Some of the guys listed and written about in this book have prior convictions, children from women who are not their wives, bar scene and womanizer histories that would fill a confessional faster than you can say “Forgiven”. And they have the cockiness on the field to match. They make us yell, “Sit DOWN!” or “Shut UP!” when we’re in the comfort of our own living room, watching them yell and/or dance after a bad call or a great play. But what if we gave them more of a chance than that? What if we cared more about their hearts than about their game? What if we said, “Yes, you’re obnoxious on the field and you have made a ton of mistakes, but so have I.” What if we didn’t talk about athletes/celebrities like they were supposed to be Higher Order beings who teach us how to behave? What if we remembered that they are just like you and me, just with more money, power, and talent? What if we remembered that our prior convictions – jail-worthy or not – would fill that same confessional just as fast?

Yes, their publicity and notoriety give them more responsibility because they have people looking up to them. Yes, their fame and power put them in a position to do almost anything they want. But behind closed doors – and we all have those closed doors – they are trying to be a husband, trying to be a father. They are pressured by family members to support entire households because they have the cash (True story: one player was pressured to support his siblings and mother; they told him, “If she [his wife] doesn’t have to work, why should we?”). They are called on by “friends” and hometown “buddies” to “lend them a hand” (read: give them money). They have gorgeous, shapely women approaching them at the grocery store, at their hotel room, and after the game, offering any sexual favor the player might desire. These men have choices to make and people to answer to, all from a very high-stakes position atop their NFL Celebrity Hill.

I’m not saying don’t care who wins. It’s a competition and these men work hard, and may the best team win. There should be a winner. I’m just saying, remember that ultimately, they are men throwing and kicking a ball up and down a field. Human beings who love and laugh and care and cry and anger just like we do. That’s all.

A tall order, I know, for a nation that glorifies athletes, yet cuts him down in an instant if said athlete fails our Higher Order standard. But I encourage you to at least think about it. Be one of those people whose hearts is bigger for the way they see other people. Be one of those people who subscribes to compassion for rather than excessive adulation of our nation’s athletes.

You tell me:

1. Who are you rooting for tonight and why?

2. Is this (compassion for athletes) a good idea, or not worth the time?

2 comments

  1. I am going to put this book on my list of goodreads. I am not a big fan of football but I bounce back and forth always on the Super Bowl night. The best was the lights going out and watching Facebook. Either way love your post!! Can’t wait to see next blog.

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