The illusion of football


By Father Joseph Breighner 

So what is your favorite distraction? Mine has mostly been sports. Over the years I’ve lived and died witht the Orioles, the then ‘Baltimore’ Colts, and now the Ravens.

Football has also been the source of my greatest pain. Old Baltimore Colt fans never recovered from the “bad call,” when Chandler’s missed field goal was called good! It cost the Baltimore Colts a championship. Had we won the game, we might be giving out the Weeb Ewband trophy at Super Bowls instead of the Vince Lombardi trophy. I went so far as to visit the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame in Wisconsin. Even there, the replays show the field goal was bad. My childhood sports heart broke! Later, my sports heart would break again when the Jets beat the Colts, but that’s another story.

Now, in my wiser old age (at least I’m older), I realize that sports, and so much of life, is all illusion. Sports is a great distraction, entertainment, a chance for lots of money for players, coaches, and owners, more money for sellers of apparel and memorabilia, money for bars and restaurants, and on and on.

It’s a great distraction, but it is only illusion. For example, to stay with football, we call them Our team, or My team! They talk about being a football family. Yes, a few players do stay around for longer periods of time, and, yes, a few players even live in the area.

But mostly, the players are all from out of town. Most aren’t from Baltimore! They play for money, obviously. However, as soon as the team can get a better player, a member of the “family” is immediately cut. As soon as a player can get a better deal from another team, he’ll leave the team. In other words, it’s all pretend. They pretend, and we pretend, that they are “our team” or “a family,” but everyone knows better. I’ve noted to a friend of mine that after virtually every Super Bowl victory, a coach, or an owner, will say something like: “This is the best bunch of guys in the world!” So I suggested to my friend that every Super Bowl winner should be required to field exactly the same team the following season! No new draft choices. No new players from other teams. After all, if this is the greatest bunch of guys wouldnt’t we want to keep them forever?

The great sports commentator summed up the illusion of sports best when he said: “Basically, we fans are cheering for laundry!” We cheer for those wearing our laundry, our team colors, and against those wearing different laundry or colors.

I’m obviously talking about football in this column, but the point I’m making is that most of life is illusion! Our various addictions, – sports, gambling, alcohol, drugs, shopping, etc – are all illusions. We chase after something to make us happy, or at least distract us from our misery!

By contrast, Jesus said the “Kingdom of God is within you!” All the joy and happiness and love in the whole world is inside of us. And how many of us ever get quiet enough to look inside? I don’t always do it either. In the words of the monk and mystic, I too am a “guilty bystander.”

But what if we took Jesus as seriously as we take sports? Jesus promised in John’s Gospel to feed us with his own flesh and blood! Jesus would literally feed us with himself to let all of us know where God is – inside of us!

And, yet, John’s Gospel tells us that when Jesus finished talking about his flesh as food and his blood as drink that “many of his disciples followed him no more!” Jesus then turned to the Twelve and asked: “Do you also want to leave me?” Peter replied for the 12: “Where shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life?”

I sometimes wonder where the other disciples and crowds went when they stopped following Jesus? Did they go to a wrestling match? Did they go to a chariot race? Did they go watch an execution? As we know from history, in those pre-television days, executions were actually a form of entertainment. Yes, we the Sports Industry is a vast improvement!

So, yes, I’ll be cheering for our local laundry in its various forms. But I will only look as a distraction. I won’t look there for happiness. That’s found only and permanently in Jesus: “Unlike your ancestors who ate manna in the desert and died, the one who feeds on this food will live forever.”

Copyright (c) Sept. 14, 2012 



Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.