In between promoting Critical Race Theory, Cultural Marxism, and venerating a human sex trafficker and homosexual (Martin Luther King Junior – for links on this subject, click here and here and here and here), how does The “Gospel” Coalition spend it’s time? Well, it’s busy telling us that contact sports, in particular, professional football, is unchristian.
That’s right. They’ve posted an article claiming that hitting and tacking in organized sports is inherently unchristian.
The Lord creates, protects, and sustains life, but football damages life. Jesus heals, but football wounds. The law says “You shall not kill” and for centuries the church has taken that to forbid all kinds of harm, whether deliberate or careless.
Doriani’s point is that the possibility of long-term damage – including and especially brain damage – due to long-term involvement in a contact sport like football, violates the Old Testament’s law and especially the principle of the Sixth Commandment. Although Doriani does not use the term, being a graduate of Westminster I’m sure he’s familiar with it, he is speaking of the General Equity of God’s Law; that is, the moral and universal principles that undergird God’s Law, which may be applicable to various life situations not seen explicitly in the narrative of Scripture. Doriani is correct that the General Equity of Old Testament Law – along with passages like the Sermon on the Mount – form the basis of Christian ethics.
However, Doriani is applying the General Equity to organized sports poorly.
The detailed laws of Moses, which we neglect to our loss, support that view. If someone “swings the axe to cut down a tree, and the head slips from the handle and strikes his neighbor so that he dies—he may flee to one of these [refuge] cities and live” (Deut. 19:5). Thus accidental manslaughter results in banishment (Num. 35). Another law says, “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if anyone should fall from it” (Deut. 22:8). The principle is that we are responsible to keep careless people from harming themselves, if we possibly can. It means I am my brother’s keeper.
The reality is that professional football provides an avenue of revenue and means of provision for its players, many of whom are shattering the bonds of personal poverty by capitalizing on the athleticism given them by God. One of the curses of sin in the Garden of Eden is that man shall labor in pain and by the sweat of his brow (Genesis 3:19). The reality of this – that earning a living has irrevocable consequence upon the long-term health of the body and has been realized in no shortage of professions and industries since Adam’s fall. Doriani points out that those who voluntarily participate in football have a higher-than-average-chance at brain injury, therefore it is immoral. His thesis is flawed on two counts.
First, voluntarily participating in a vocation (or activity) is quite different from the victimization of an unwilling victim as is seen in the 6th Commandment, and is different from the charge of negligence and liability in the Judicial Laws he references. This should be seen as a clear differentiation from the intention of the Moral and Judicial Law in regards to harm done to another individual against their will or as a matter of negligence.
Secondly, Doriani’s thesis falls flat upon its surface if applied consistently to other forms of livelihoods. He writes:
Football causes brain damage. How many blows does it take until brain damage begins? I don’t want my grandson to participate in that experiment.
Doriani cites a 2017 study by a neuropathologist, Ann McKee, that demonstrate a vastly disproportionate odds of brain injury in football compared to those who don’t play football. The obviousness of the study’s findings should be clear without the study; those who are extremely physical will face physical damage. This hardly seems groundbreaking. Nonetheless, McKee claimed that 110 of 111 professional football players were found to have suffered, “chronic traumatic encephalopathy.” Those are big words, and Doriani found them credible. But, does Doriani know what they mean?
The link between CTE and football, and what CTE is to begin with, has been called “junk science” by those who know what they’re talking about. Discussing CTE is like talking about electrolytes in Gatorade; we’ve heard of it, but don’t know what it is or what it does. Or, at least most people don’t. Consider this explanation of it:
The detached science on CTE and football is actually rather primitive, excusably so given that the first instance linking the disease with a player occurred about a decade ago. Not a single study has attempted to demonstrate, let alone succeeded in establishing, a causal link between contact sports and CTE. This hasn’t stopped writers from pretending that science has indicted football as the source of the neurodegenerative disease. The sensationalistic coverage has decimated the ranks of youth football teams. Parents who once hoped their boy would become the next Junior Seau now worry that their boy will become the next Junior Seau.
Admissions by neurologists of what they don’t know contrast with boasts by public intellectuals of what they do know. The Atlantic‘s Ta-Nehisi Coates declares that “it is the repeated ‘minor’ hits that cause CTE. The enemy is the game itself. And it is killing men.” The Frontline documentary based on the Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru League of Denial book speculated that every football player may develop the debilitating brain disease. The New Yorker‘s Malcolm Gladwell, somewhat more restrained in his forecast, told an audience of Ivy League students that whenever they watch a football game “chances are that someone on that field is going to die a horrible death well before their time because of playing football.”
Who needs to be right when serving a cause so righteous?
But let’s assume that those who play football may suffer (and probably will) physical problems in relation to their voluntary sports activities and life choices, even if CTE isn’t quite the boogeyman we think. Here are some statistics for you.
The top 10 most dangerous jobs in the United States include (1) loggers (2) fisherman, of the deep-sea variety (3) pilots and aircraft engineers (4) roofers (5) trash collectors and garbage men (6) iron and steel workers (7) roofers (8) agricultural workers, farmers and ranchers (9) conventional construction and (10) heavy machine, earth-leveler and ground maintenance workers.
Coming from an agricultural community, I’m surprised farmers and ranchers aren’t close to the number 1 position. There’s hardly a rancher I know who wasn’t hospitalized at one point or another by livestock. I know many who have been kicked in the head by cows or horses, and some who have almost died from it. My father-in-law was a logger and was killed by a run-away piece of machinery. The first deacon that ever served under my pastorate died from asbestos poisoning he picked up in the Detroit construction industry decades prior. And more than one of my pastor-friends have lost church members due to the “black lung” of the coal mining industry.
Unless one is a pastor or blogger, professor or academic, they take physical risks to feed their families (and one might argue that those in more “intellectually laborious fields” are more prone to heart disease and diabetes than their peers). Welcome to The Fall. It’s a consequence of sin.
It’s here the critic might claim that these fields are necessary for human flourishing, but football is not. First, I would tell you to tell that to the hundreds of thousands who depend upon the sports industry to make a living. Secondly, the same argument might be said about coal mines and crabs fished off the dangerous coasts of Alaska. We could get by with other forms of energy and do without our crab legs. But, in what field will you ultimately be safe?
At the end of the day, choosing to voluntarily engage in a sport or a physically-demanding job of any kind has consequences. Calling it unchristian or anti-gospel is only a claim that can be made in an alternate reality where people make a living teaching in seminary.
While The Gospel Coalition claims that they’ll present an opposing view in a different article, it leaves us with an example of what happens when everything becomes a “Gospel issue,” and that is runaway absurdity.
[Contributed by JD Hall]