As part of their series of films, ESPN showed “The Marinovich Project” on Saturday night. It told the story of Marv Marinovich’s aim of raising his son Todd to be an NFL quarterback.
Everything about Todd’s life was oriented around this singular goal. He achieved national prominence as a high school freshman, went to USC, and eventually played two seasons for the Los Angeles Raiders. The film chronicles Marv’s and Todd’s pursuit and how it all unraveled through Todd’s drug use.
What struck me most was that from Todd’s perspective, he achieved his ultimate goal when his father met him on the field after a dramatic win for the Raiders. Marv grabbed him and told him how proud he was of him. In Todd’s own words, at that point he was done. His father’s approval was the ultimate achievement.
He wasn’t playing for love of the game or for the fun of it. He was playing for his father’s affirmation and when he finally received that, he was no longer interested.
That’s a corruption of sport. We have our value as humans by virtue of our being in the image of God. Sports and games are gifts to be received and enjoyed. They are intended for fun and pleasure. Playing to establish our value as humans is a perversion.
Marinovich has become a cautionary tale for parents pushing their kids too hard to excel in sports. Sadly, this phenomenon seems only to have increased in the last few decades.
The other thing that struck me is that Marinovich wasn’t alone in his own day. He was drafted ahead of Brett Favre in 1991. Favre’s NFL career was just the opposite of Marinovich’s. He won a Super Bowl with the Packers and set just about every NFL record as a quarterback.
But he was playing for the same corrupted reasons. In fact, we might say that Favre’s career lasted as long as it did only because it shared the same motivation.
Like Marinovich, this Sports Illustrated story reveals that Favre’s father was more of a demanding coach than a father. He withheld his approval from his son, criticizing Brett even in the midst of his successes.
Favre never seems to have heard that final approval from his father, so even his astounding records remain unsatisfying. There’s nothing that Favre didn’t achieve in the NFL, but still Favre had a hard time walking away from the game. He never felt that he had accomplished enough.
As I’ve written previously, sports are fun when we take them seriously as games. An essential aspect of that is refusing to use games to establish our value or identity. We are who we are because we’re created in the image of God. Because our value is already established, we can be freed up to enjoy sports, whether we win or lose.