Should Christians watch the NFL?

by Nick Eicher

Posted on Friday, September 19, 2014, at 3:45 pm

This week, I talked with John Stonestreet of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview about how Christians should react to the National Football League’s troubles with domestic violence cases.

NICK EICHER: On Tuesday night, the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) officially appealed the indefinite suspension of ex-Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice. It wants to find out what Commissioner Roger Goodell knew about Ray Rice’s attack on the woman who is now his wife in an Atlantic City elevator. Now we can add to that the case of the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson, who was indicted for reckless injury to a child, and the Cardinals’ Jonathan Dwyer, who was arrested on aggravated assault charges. You say we should ask ourselves some long-overdue questions about how we play and watch the games we do. What are those questions?

JOHN STONESTREET: I think the primary question is: What does the lordship of Jesus Christ have to say when it comes to our leisure activities and even the games we play and watch? The idea of being amused, turning our brains off just to veg out, is something that Neil Postman has written about and we’ve talked about here before. But there’s more to that. Look back at the gladiators, where people were killing each other for fun and for entertainment. Of course, this isn’t the same thing, but once you start getting into mixed martial arts and some other stuff, you have pretty significant hand-to-hand violence. What do we think about that? Beyond that, there are all of these other scandals. We want to separate these individuals as football players from their lives off the television screen. Somehow, their lives on the screen should overwhelm what we are learning to be true about their lives off the screen. Christians didn’t want to do that when it comes to movie stars or Ted Kennedy or anything else, but when it comes to our athletes, somehow we maybe look at this a little bit differently.

NE: I think it’s safe to say, the NFL wouldn’t be the NFL if it weren’t for very big dollars. It’s one thing to raise ethical objections to player behavior, it’s another thing when to do so has an economic cost. You’ve got advertisers like Pepsi, whose CEO professed to be deeply disturbed by repugnant behavior and the way the league is mishandling the cases. 

But then in The Wall Street Journal, one major NFL advertiser said, “In a world where you can’t get a big audience anymore … where are you going to go? Obviously, we don’t condone violence against women, but how is it the right thing to do for our shareholders to pull out of the NFL?” Then there’s the issue of Adrian Peterson in Minnesota. The Vikings pulled him off the roster for one game following his indictment, then reversed course. The governor of Minnesota got angry about that, then the team’s front office reinstated the suspension. You might ask, what does the governor have to do with this? The governor is backing a $500 million state contribution to the building of a $1 billion stadium, so there you have it.

JS: I think the question of how the government gets involved is entirely a question of prudence. I don’t think that’s the primary way that a Christian should express their conviction, by calling the government in. Clearly, the government’s motivated by different things, as the story with the Minnesota Vikings portrays. All of this goes back to … the profound dehumanization that takes place in our culture. We put price tags on people, and then we weigh out the price tag. Is standing in defense of human dignity worth the Pepsi contract? What Christians have to ask is even much simpler than that. Is it time to rethink our habits? I love the NFL! I’ve always loved to watch football.  I really love to watch college football, and I think it’s a great game. But, at the same time, there comes a point where Christians have to weigh in. What are we  tolerating in the name of our entertainment and enjoyment?

NE: Ought Christians to watch the NFL, given everything that’s happened? You seem to be saying it’s a tough call.

JS: You know, I don’t. I’m not sure I know the answer to that, honestly. I’m not sure I’m ready to say, yeah, it’s OK to watch it, or it’s not OK to watch it. If you pick up a normal ethics book in a Christian college or a seminary or go into the normal Sunday school class, this is not a conversation even being had, and it’s time that we had it. I don’t want to indict an entire industry because of folks like Adrian Peterson or Ray Rice. … If that were the case, we’d have to stop watching politics, too, right? … But the point is that we’re not even having the conversation. We’re not even allowing our Christian worldview to touch our choice of entertainment and leisure. That’s something that has got to start being a part of the Christian conversation when it comes to culture, given that this is such an important part of it.

Listen to Nick Eicher and John Stonestreet’s Culture Talk segment on The World and Everything in It:

Nick Eicher

Nick lives in St. Louis, loves the Blues (as in the NHL), is executive producer of WORLD Radio, and co-hosts WORLD's radio news magazine The World and Everything in It. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickEicher.

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