Thursday, October 25, 2012

Must I Love My (sports) Enemy?

There are some football teams I hate! I don't care if they never win another game! In fact, I'd kinda like if they never won another game.

In Australia, Collingwood tops that list for me, and apparently many other people. A lot of this is because MY team, The Mighty Blues, has been neck and neck with Collingwood for many years in the number of premierships won. But Collingwood has also played in an incredible 43 Grand Finals compared to Carlton's next best 29. (See table here.) It's as though it doesn't matter who else beats Carlton, as long as it's not Collingwood. (Essendon is a pretty close second though.)

In the US there's very little in the sports world that brings me more joy than watching the New England Patriots lose. Now I know that for many years the Patriots stunk. In fact, according to this table from 1960-1995 they only won their division 3 times ('78, '86, '94).

But around the time I arrived in the US the Patriots recruited Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. In the 11 years since 2001 the Patriots have won their division every year but two. This stretch has included 3 Superbowl wins ('01, '03, '04) and 2 Superbowl losses ('07, '11). In 2003 and 2004 the Patriots beat MY Colts in the playoffs. The Colts gained some revenge in 2006 when they beat the Pat's on the way to their own Superbowl victory.

The 3 playoff games in 4 years and the strong debate whether Brady or Manning is the better quarterback have solidified the rivalry between the teams. In fact, some would say that this is the greatest quarterback rivalry ever! For instance...
"Here are some of the amazing highlights (from this article):
  • Brady or Manning have represented the AFC in the Super Bowl in seven of the last 11 seasons.
  • The winner of the regular-season series between Brady's Patriots and Manning's Colts gained home-field advantage over the other team every year they've met (2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010).
  • The winner of the three post-season meetings between Brady's Patriots and Manning's Colts went on to win the Super Bowl all three times (2003, 2004, 2006).
As we said, no marquee quarterbacks in NFL history met so often in games of such consequence year after year."
As I said, I now hate the Patriots and love watching them lose. So you can imagine my horror when I watched a little of the Patriots v Jets game on Sunday and found myself hope the J-E-T-S would lose! Could I possibly hate the Jets more than the Patriots? Am I getting soft because the Pat's haven't won a Superbowl since 2004 and the Jets are just loud and obnoxious?

Anyway, it got me thinking... In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus told his followers to "love your enemies". I wonder how this applies to sports? Maybe you're like me and you create a little box that is everything sports and all kinds of things can happen within that box and it's okay because it's "just sports" not reality. I suspect we also have other similar boxes for music, movies, video games, etc. Our entertainment boxes allow us to have emotions and thoughts that we would feel guilty having or doing in "real life".

Are our lives really that compartmentalised? Did Jesus really add the fine print at the end of the Sermon "*The only exception to the above teachings are found on the sports field and other entertainment venues."

Of course, there's a line that can be crossed. Recently Kansas City Chiefs fans, unhappy with their quarterback's performance, cheered when he left the field with a concussion. Scoop Jackson provides  a good overview of the situation here. This prompted the team chairman, coach, and players to issue statements condemning the booing and defending the majority of fans who were silent.

It's one thing to long for big collisions in football and massive pileups in auto sports, but it's another thing altogether to cheer for injuries. Even if we're relieved a key player is unable to compete against us, it's still inhumane to wish them injury.

Then there's the even more extreme example of actual violence carried out due to sports results or affiliation. I think that's a no brainer for having crossed the line.

So I don't have all the answers, but I do have a genuine question. IS IT OKAY TO HATE OPPOSING SPORTS TEAMS AND PLAYERS?

PS. I only included pictures of Brady and the Magpies as a token effort to love my enemies!!!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Ball has Two Sides

I have been competing in an ESPN College Football "Pick the Winner" competition. Each week ESPN selects 10 games. The contestants pick the teams they think will win, then rank them in order of confidence. So if a team your very confident will win, loses, you lose 10 points. If another game had you flipping the coin and you lose, you only lose one point. So it's important firstly that your picks are correct. BUT if they're not, you hope that you've put them low on your confidence ranking so you don't lose many points.

I've been doing well at this game this year. I've included a snapshot of my score that puts me inside the top 10% of competitors. But this week I messed up. My ranking slipped 20,000 places when my most confident pick (West Virginia) lost to Texas Tech. I also thought South Carolina would knock off LSU, and I lost another 4 points there.  So here's the lesson I learned...

Good football teams can play both sides of the ball. Before Saturday West Virginia was 5-0 and their quarterback, Seth Doege, had become a serious Heisman candidate. They had a high scoring offense that after only scoring 14 points against the Red Raiders still ranks 7th in the nation. The also still have the 3rd most passing yards nationally.

This team can score! In their first 5 games they cleared 40 points 4 times. They scored 70 points against Baylor just two weeks ago and 69 against Marshall to start the year. But that's only half the story.

I overlooked a crucial element to their game... they have no defense! West Virginia allowed Marshall to score 34. They only beat Maryland by 10. And in back-to-back weeks Texas and Baylor combined to score over 100 against the Mountaineers. So it's really no surprise that Texas Tech put up 49 against them.

West Virginia is a one trick pony. As soon as they ran into a decent defensive team who restricted their scoring, West Virginia had no response. If they can't outgun their opponents they can't win. It's really that simple.  Texas Tech has a decent defense. According to ESPN Tech's defense is ranked 17th nationally compared to West Virginia's ranking of 112.  So in hindsight... I should have seen it coming.

The frustrating thing is that I used this thinking in picking against LSU. The last couple of years I've viewed LSU as having a stout defense, but an almost nonexistent offense. Their continued success has continued to surprise me. Any time they play a solid defensive team I pick against them. It hasn't got me very far. They keep finding ways to win.

The Tigers rank 50th for scoring and 103rd for passing yards. Yet because their defense is ranked 8th and they only give up 14 points a game they're one of the most successful teams in the country! But after losing 21-0 to Alabama in last year's national championship game they discovered the importance of scoring points.

This is really a basic rule of life. "Strengths can easily become weaknesses." In grad school I was made to read a book titled "Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership" for one of my classes. It was an excellent book that "the personal characteristics that drive individuals to succeed and lead often have a shadow side that can cripple them once they become leaders and very often cause significant failure." (p13) For example, a person who is always available to help others, may be driven by a need for acceptance or approval from others, not really by a pure Christian love.

Many Christian leaders in large, growing churches have captured headlines when they've been exposed for moral failures. They had a great offense for God. They preached powerful lessons and impacted the lives of thousands. But they had a poor defense against the temptations of Satan.

When I look in Ephesians 6 at God's description of the armour he gives us I appreciate that he gives us both defense and offense. We have both the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, and the shield of faith, which which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. It's our responsibility to keep working on both sides of the ball, not relying on our evangelistic fervor, or passive faith to get us to the victory line.

It just occurs to me. I wonder, if Paul was writing today in the US of A, would he stick with the analogy of armour, or would he refer to helmets and pads etc? Please leave a comment if you can think of some sporting equivalents to a suit of armour!

Here's an entertaining video on the Armour of God:

Friday, October 12, 2012

If Everyone Jumped Off a Cliff...

You know the scenario. You want new sneakers, a new Playstation, to attend a party and you're not getting anywhere with your parents. As the likelihood of persuading them diminishes you reach deep into your bag of tricks for the hackneyed and rarely successful line, "But EVERYONE will wear it, have it, or be there!"

At this point your parents respond with the equally overused, but almost always successful line, "If EVERYONE jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?" That's it. Conversation over. You're destined to another week of social ostracism until the next must have/do comes along.

Apparently the allure of lemmings is incredibly hard to resist. I came across this excellent BBC article summarising Tyler Hamilton's book The Secret Race which details allegations of Lance Armstrong's PED use.  Other riders on the US Postal team have also confessed to using drugs including the team captain George Hincapie. Here's a quote taken from the article attributed to Hincapie.

George Hincapie, US Postal team captain from 1999-2005, admitted doping for the first time on Wednesday, saying that early in his professional career it became clear to him "that given the widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs by cyclists at the top of the profession, it was not possible to compete at the highest level without them".
Basically they all had to take PED's because everyone else was. Of course, they had a choice. They could have blown the whistle. They could have shared all their knowledge of how drugs were taken and assisted in developing more effective testing. Instead they went along with the peloton, took the drugs, and achieved temporary success. Now they're experience the shame of that success.

I've heard commentators make this same argument for baseball players. It goes something like this. "Imagine you're in the minor leagues working your butt off, and you have more talent than Joe. Then Joe starts hitting the ball out of the park and you learn he's juicing. Then Joe makes it to the majors and six months later you're still playing minor league ball. How strong would the temptation be to also artificially improve your game? How important is integrity verses success?"

Then today I came across another article addressing peer pressure. This article focused on binge drinking in college. Apparently many binge drinkers  in college don't enjoy it or even want to participate, but do so because it increases their social status. The research found that this really was the case:
Binge drinking actually seemed to contribute to this satisfaction. High-status binge drinkers were happier with their social lives than high-status students who didn't binge drink. And low-status students who binge drank had higher social satisfaction than their non-binging peers.
However, the researchers also pointed out that "binge drinking is not the smartest way to improve your chances of college happiness. Binge drinking was also associated with higher rates of sexual victimization and academic troubles, among other nasty consequences, she said.

A final statement from this report that warmed my heart reflected the importance of campus ministries.
One glimmer of hope, Hsu said, was that students in religious organizations who did not binge drink were more socially satisfied than other low-status non-bingers.
The church provides a place of acceptance and belonging (social satisfaction), even on college campuses. Christ calls us out of the world. He calls us to separate ourselves. But he also calls us to a loving family. He calls us to be part of a body: a body that honors the least among us. (1 Cor. 12:24-26) God gives Christians the strength to resist peer pressure, because approval from others is no longer our most important desire.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Cricket Storming the US... Sort of

The United States has a strong triumvirate of major sports: Baseball (MLB), Football (NFL & College), and Basketball (NBA). Each of these sports enjoys a professional monopoly. While the NFL heads the popularity list by a large margin, each sport enjoys a significant following.

Ice Hockey (NHL) is the fourth major sport in the US, although there's little fan support outside the northern states and Canada. I didn't list it with the big three because it's my impression that nationally it doesn't even cross the radar of most sports enthusiasts. (I happen to live in a part of the country that is hockey mad! We also have a professional lacrosse team and a semi-professional indoor lacrosse team!) Additionally, the current strike / lockout is the second in 7 years which hardly strengthens the sport's appeal.

But the invasion is coming. Soccer is on the rise in the US. According to an ESPN article, "In March, a study by Luker On Trends/ESPN revealed the startling statistic that "pro soccer" trailed only the NFL as the most popular sport for Americans aged 12-24." I've recently noticed both ESPN and Fox running EPL and Champions League scores across the bottom of screens during NFL games.

Soccer is undoubtedly the behemoth of world sports and one would expect it to eventually occupy a significant place in the American sports landscape. It should continue to grow in popularity particularly as immigration continues to bring soccer fans to the US.

But other codes also seek recognition in the American marketplace. Did you know this year is the 15th anniversary for the USAFL? There might even be a team near you! Saturday October 13 the 2012 Nationals Competition kicks off near Cincinnati, Ohio, with four men's divisions and 1 women's division with 38 teams competing. In 2012 the AFL hosted its first ever combine enticing US athletes to come to Australia and play Aussie Rules. Here's the recruiting video for the combine.

Cricket is apparently also seeking to make inroads into the American consciousness. Here's an article describing the strategy that's based around the IPL's Twenty20 model. Basically, they're looking to recruit expat entertainers to support six franchises. The entertainers would serve as the public face for the competition and hopefully entice other expat Indians, Aussies and Englishmen to tune into the matches.

Some interesting snippets from the article highlight the numbers involved. "The US accounts for 15% of cricket's income, according to the International Cricket Council's global development manager, Tim Anderson." "The US also draws the second-highest number of visitors to the organisation's website behind India. The sport is followed by 15 million people in the US, according to the ICC."

What's the fuss with cricket? Here's a clip to whet your appetite!

So if you live in the US, how have you seen sports interests change over the last 10 years or so? Which "new" sport do you think is the fastest growing?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Winning by Losing

Strangely, two of MY teams made the next round of their respective competitions yesterday... even though they lost.

First, the Australian Twenty 20 team made it to the semi-finals of the T20 World Cup despite losing to Pakistan in their final round robin game. Because they had not previously lost a game in the tournament they only needed a better run rate than the other one loss teams. So after a calamitous start they focused on reaching the run rate target of 112 rather than the 150 needed to win the match.

Hopefully, it's a case of lose the battle, but win the war. Although, if their opponents keep bowling 5 spinners per match the Aussies may find scoring difficult! Next up are the West Indies. I don't imagine there's any chance of 5 spinners from the Windies.

Second, after winning the World Series from the wildcard position last year, the St. Louis Cardinals have struggled to make even the second wildcard spot this year. There are some points to admire about the team: runs differential, team batting average (2nd in NL), pitching quality starts (T2nd in NL). But they've not been able to string enough wins together to really seize their wildcard chance, or to get close to even Atlanta for the first wildcard position.

The Cards benefit from the Pirates 2nd half collapse. The Brewers chased for a while, then lost their hot streak. Finally, it was only the Dodgers two games behind St Louis. With two games to play the Dodgers would have to win their last two and the Cards lose theirs if the teams were to switch places. On Tuesday the Cards did their bit, losing (3-1)at home to Cincinnati. But the Dodgers were unable to capitalise. They lost (4-3) to the Giants, and now the Cardinals are playoff bound. I'll be amazed though if they get past the one game shoot out with the Braves on Friday.

Moral, Christians also win by losing. Jesus said in Luke 9:23-24, "If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it." (NLT) Losing isn't always as bad as it seems in the moment. Sometimes it leads to greater glory. With Jesus, it definitely does!