Bringing out the worst in sports

by Barnabas Piper

Posted on Friday, November 6, 2015, at 5:09 pm

The essence of sports is the pursuit of excellence expressed as competition. Athletes compete against opponents alongside teammates and under the guidance of coaches. They compete on behalf of one another, themselves, and their fans. Athletes push to master their minds, bodies, and an array of skills.

The benefits of sports are not found in isolation or in short order. They are communal, a group of people training, practicing, and working together toward a common goal and against a common opponent. This takes time. Goals take time to achieve. Obstacles are not quickly overcome. That’s part of the gratification—the effort and progress over an entire season. Sports teaches so many lessons about sacrifice, perseverance, depending on and defending others, setting and pursuing goals, having fun, and so much more.

But you know what is diametrically opposed to of all this? Those one-day fantasy sports leagues with the obnoxiously ubiquitous ads on TV during every sporting event, with DraftKings and FanDuel being the most prevalent. They promise instant gratification and financial reward. They emphasize how you don’t have to be committed or stick with anything. It’s so easy and with such a huge chance for payout too.

Everything sports offers, one-day fantasy leagues undermine. They are quintessential American indulgence—isolated, instantaneous, easy, selfish. Unlike traditional fantasy sports, contestants don’t even play with or against anyone else. There isn’t even a draft day, where one can talk trash and crack jokes with league mates. There is no league at all.

It would be unfair to say there is no skill involved. Top players can win enormous sums of money. The problem is that only a tiny percentage of players are actually winners. Most lose, and if they do win they lose their winnings in short order. Sounds very much like a casino, except without the added benefit of being able to join one’s buddies at a table for some poker or blackjack. Instead, contestants lose all their money from the loneliness of their own laptops.

Activities like one-day fantasy sports leagues take all that is good about sports and competition, strip the value, and leave only the vice. Instead of community and teamwork, faceless participants compete in cyberspace against strangers. Instead of working together toward a common goal, the only goal is financial gain. Instead of seeking to better one’s self and pursuing something bigger than one’s self, participants only chase the almighty dollar. Even the seemingly noble effort to improve one’s abilities only benefits one person, and in benefiting it feeds on the losses of others.

True competition can and should be done for the glory of God, but this kind of mutation of it makes that nearly impossible. We can make anything greedy, even the noblest opportunities. We can remove the communal aspect. We can take something full of life and make it the undead. In so doing we lose so much, and in the end we lose even if we win. 

Barnabas Piper

Barnabas works for Lifeway Christian Resources and is the author of The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity and Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not the Enemy of Faith. He and his wife live in the Nashville area with their two daughters. Follow Barnabas on Twitter @BarnabasPiper.

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