Should Christians Watch American Football?


Tonight, the National Football League (NFL) begins its official season.  But, there have been a variety of news reports about permanent injury from playing that sport lately.

Should Christians support violent sports like American football?

The late Herbert W. Armstrong wrote:

All Sports Not Wrong

Competition and not cooperation, is the attitude which Satan inculcates human minds. But that does not mean that all sports are wrong or to be banned. The law of God is based on the way of righteousness…The basic law is love, out flowing toward God above all else, and secondarily, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

To harm the other fellow and to gain by doing so for self is a kind of competition that is wrong. Hostility toward the other is sin…

Boxing at Ambassador College is definitely banned. God did not create the human brain and head to be pummeled and knocked senseless by an antagonist.

Wherever a game in sports involves antagonists–in hostile attitude to harm the other and/or to “get” from the other–to get the best of the other then a harmful, satanic and evil attitude enters in, and the sport is evil, not good…

Football (American football) is a violent body-contact sport. It is often played with an attitude of hostility and is dangerous and is fraught with physical injury. (Plain Truth, July-August 1984)

Jesus, of course, taught “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39, NKJV, unless otherwise indicated), while the Apostle Paul wrote “no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it” (Ephesians 5:29).

After seeing the injuries that some of my high school football-playing colleagues suffered, I could not reconcile the scriptures with American football.   There are better ways for Christians to learn principles like teamwork from other sports or activities than watching actual violence.

John the Baptist taught, “Do violence to no man” (Luke 3:14, KJV), so what about violent sports?  The New Testament also warns Christians against being violent or approving of those that are (Romans 1:28-32), while history records that early Christians would not watch violent sports (e.g. Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus).

Years ago, Dr. Roderick C. Meredith wrote that avoiding bodily harm was an important health law (Seven Laws of Radiant Health).  Since it is best to avoid bodily injury, should Christians encourage others to put themselves in harm’s way?

Herbert Armstrong also wrote:

At golf the one who wins is not the one gets the most by taking it away from the other…So golf is not a wrong competition–nor is any race at a distance, or hurdle race, or long jump, high jump, pole vault or other field competition in a track and field meet…

Soccer does not embody the same evils {as American football}. Baseball, softball, volleyball, while competitive, do not necessarily involve hostility, harm to others or trying to prevent the opponent from doing his best. When played in God’s attitude towards others these are acceptable and not prohibited. Satan is the author of competition based upon hostility, harm to the opponent, getting by taking from an opponent–to his harm or loss…

The very name Satan means “adversary.” Satan is an evil adversary, who desires to harm, who has a spirit of hostility.

And yes, some people do sin watching and/or playing soccer. But soccer does not have to be played in a hostile manner that is evil.

Unlike stories of violence in books or movies, American football involves actual violence and often physical injury–including brain damaging ones that are often not obvious for years:

According to the folks at TMZ, 75 former NFL players have sued the league for concealing the risks of concussions.  The plaintiffs include former Dolphins receiver Mark Duper (pictured), former Giants and Cardinals running back Ottis Anderson, and former Giants running back Rodney Hampton.  Helmet manufacturer Riddell also is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, which was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

The challenge for the plaintiffs will be to prove that the NFL actually knew, or reasonably should have known, the chronic, long-term risks of concussions.  Clear links between concussions and long-term health problems have been established only recently, and the league has responded fairly aggressively (especially after a shot across the bow from Congress) to the problem. (Florio M. Report: NFL sued for concealing brain injury risks. NBC Sports, July 19, 2011.

Before the former American football player Dave Duerson killed himself, he asked that his brain be left to researchers studying head injuries among athletes. What it revealed shocked the scientists… The lapses in memory, the mood swings, the piercing headaches on the left side of his head, the difficulty spelling simple words, the blurred eyesight. And hanging over it all was his fear that both his material and physical decline might not be coincidental, that they might have been caused by injuries to his brain suffered playing the game he loved so much – football…

McKee takes a deep look at the cross-section of this brain and momentarily appears sad. “This is a brain at the end-stage of disease,” she says. “I would assume that with this amount of damage the person was very cognitively impaired. I would assume they were demented, had substantial problems with their speech and gait, that this person was Parkinsonian, was slow to speak and walk, if he could walk at all.” (Pilkington E. The NFL star and the brain injuries that destroyed him. The Guardian, July 19, 2011.

Now how widespread brain damage from playing football is can be debated (and probably will be). But everyone has to know that crashing into other human beings in order to knock them down and/or stop them from running or throwing is not harmless.

While “love does no harm to a neighbor” (Romans 13:9), what do sports like American football and boxing do?

This is something that Christians, and others, should think about.

For more scriptures, as well as the position of early Christians and others on watching violent sports or participating in other violent pursuits, please see the following:

Is American Football Evil? Is the most popular spectator sport in the USA something that Christians should watch? What do the Bible and early writings show?  This is the first time I have announced this article on this new page and it contains not only my views, but many quotes that Christians, as well as people who claim to be, should think about.  Do you really want to know the answer to the question the title asks?  If not, why not?
Military Service and the Churches of God: Do Real Christians Participate in Carnal Warfare? Here are current and historical perspectives on a matter which show the beliefs of the true church on military participation. Is war proper for Christians?

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