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Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Gregg Easterbrook

My "hero" of sports columnists is Gregg Easterbrook. Read his weekly NFL column (Tuesday Morning Quarterback) here.
The following is an extract from this weeks post-superbowl column.

On media day before the Super Bowl, Terrell Owens declared, "I think God put me on this stage for a certain reason. ... I think God is using me [and] put me on a platform to really show the world how great he is. God has put me in the position, and I'm welcoming that challenge. Just by the timing of me getting hurt, he had to sit me down and put things into perspective for me. And that's what he's done. He put me on the biggest stage of my life to show people how great he is." Many commentators ridiculed the notion that God would allow 150,000 people to die in terror in the Indian Ocean tsunami, but intervene in Owens' football career in order to bring him more publicity. As a churchgoer, I add: If God cares who wins football games, we are all in worse trouble than we thought. Whether God intervenes in daily life is a complicated question in theology. But supposing there is divine influence in events, God help us, as it were, if it's used up on touchdown passes.

Owens may have summoned a higher power, but it didn't help the Eagles.
Owens may have summoned a higher power, but it didn't help the Eagles.
There's a second problem in what Owens said, and in similar, though less extreme, statements that athletes sometimes make -- that their victories are really victories for God, or that Allah or Jesus helped them prevail. Praising God for success in sports can be a form of self-flattery. When an athlete says God helped him win a game, he's saying that in a world of poverty, inequality and war, the Maker believes the athlete's touchdown or interception was more important, and thus worthy of divine intervention, than the active suffering or quiet unhappiness of billions of human beings. "God wanted me to win" is an awful lot like saying, "God cares more about my sports career than about the 20 million people who have died of AIDS in Africa."

Of course, many athletes who praise God after victory do so because what they want to express is humility. But it just doesn’t work. The way to express humility after a sports victory is to praise your teammates, because they actually had something to do with the victory. Don't praise God, because God had nothing to do with whether both your feet came down inbounds.

At this point, the athlete who is sincerely religious might respond, "What I mean is that if I live a moral life and then prevail at the Super Bowl, this gives glory to God, and shows people that if they live a moral life, they will be rewarded, too." That sentiment is admirable. But sometimes athletes who are completely contemptible human beings prevail at the Super Bowl, and then what is the message? Observing the world, we don't see much relationship between those whose for whom virtue comes first and those who get on magazine covers or receive megabucks bonuses. Living a moral life is a goal unto itself, and is its own reward: The reason to live morally, regardless of whether your inspiration is faith or secular philosophy, is that living morally is the right thing to do. As for giving glory to God -- when you help your fellow man or woman, this gives glory to God. Sports events are only games.

Gregg Easterbrook Gregg Easterbrook
Special to NFL.com
Gregg Easterbrook is a senior editor of The New Republic, a contributing editor of The Atlantic Monthly and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. His latest book, The Progress Paradox, was released in December, 2003 by Random House. He will contribute his Tuesday Morning Quarterback column to NFL.com readers each week during the NFL season. He will also appear on the NFL Network, providing weekly commentary on NFL Total Access.


Mike said...

That Gregg Easterbrook column is fantastic! You wouldn't see Eric Young writing (or speaking, or whatever the hell he does) about how the universe is shaped like a jelly doughnut in one sentence, then expounding on what plays the Eagles should've run and when in the next. Brilliant.

whitejacket said...

Do you see the totally strange bit during the second half (I think) of the superbowl when they cut to a shot of a statue of Terrell Owen? The statue, we were told was commisioned by Owen himself and kept in his house. Then a topless Owen joined the statue and showed off his admitedly impressive pecs. What a wank.