I’ve given a few reasons why I do not think Christian athletes should use their well-knownness as a “platform” to speak about Christian faith.
I think that well-known athletes ought to embody Christian faithfulness by participating in their sport in redeemed ways.
First and foremost, they ought to be serious about having fun. They should enjoy the games they play. Sports should be considered Sabbath activities, God’s gift to humanity meant for our enjoyment and pleasure. Sadly, people play sports for a variety of corrupted reasons: to dominate others, to establish value as individuals or prove their worth, or to somehow earn others’ approval.
Having fun in sports represents God’s reclamation of creation, including the redemption of sports as Sabbath activities. It may sound mundane and unremarkable, but Christians should be serious about having fun when they play games.
Second, Christian athletes should be good teammates, provoking the best performances from others and playing in ways that make others better. Biblical values of community can be actualized within games in an endless variety of ways, such as blocking for others, passing on a fast break, or playing to teammates’ strengths in other ways.
Sports are corrupted by the varieties of selfishness that destroy teams. Being purposeful about being a good teammate, provoking others to greater joy and better performance manifests God’s reclamation of sport.
Rather than using sports as a “platform,” Christian athletes should focus primarily on honoring the games they play and embodying Christian faithfulness within the sport. And because sports, according to creation, are Sabbath-oriented activities, Christian faithfulness is embodied by being serious about having fun.
Now, as I mentioned previously, I don’t think that Christians must be silent about their faith.
They should, however, consider very carefully the dynamics of celebrity in contemporary American public life.
Fame, well-knownness, celebrity, or whatever we call it—and whatever “it” is—is unpredictable, fleeting, and subject to endless distortion. The blindlingly fast paced flicker of images and micro-half-thoughts on TV and computer screens re-packages everything as superficial and banal by the time it ever reaches whatever counts for an “audience” these days.
Consider once again Tim Tebow. I’ve been surprised at how reflective his comments have been about the relationship between his faith and his performance on the field.
But because it takes real work to find the transcripts, watch his complete press conferences, or find accurate reports, few others have caught his intended nuance.
Talk show hosts need material so that they can just keep talking. TV hosts need to fill time and make discussion topics as sensationalized as possible just to hold on to audiences. And comedians will do whatever it takes to get laughs.
Far from accurately representing what Tebow has said, it is actually in their interest to distort his words.
Because of the corrupted and distorting dynamics of public discourse and the layers of media between athletes and audiences, I think that considering wisely how to act toward outsiders (Col. 4:5) may well mean that Christian athletes be far more reserved in speaking about Christian faith.
In a culture of noisy blah blah blah, we may do well to give renewed attention to Paul’s instructions to the Thessalonians: “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life” (1 Thess. 4:11).
The corrupted character of audiences and the perverted cultural contexts we inhabit must shape the nature of our Christian witness. In a subsequent post or two, I’ll elaborate on this from two narrative devices in the Gospels—Jesus’ “hour” in John and the “Messianic secret” in Mark.