After the brutal beating of the New York Giants’ fan at the Los Angeles Dodgers stadium earlier this year, it is clear that Americans take sports very seriously. In my life, sports have become so important that I don’t even think of Sunday as the Sabbath, but as game day. In fact, being a sports fan has completely overcome my roll as a Catholic believer. At one point in my life, God inspired me, but now I find faith in the Cleveland Browns. And when I began to compare the similarities between sports and religion, I found the results shocking. The similarities, though somewhat farfetched, have given me reason to believe that sports are becoming a new form of religion.
In this era, it has become more common to idolize the New Orleans Saints than actual saints. Sports figures are a source of inspiration for millions of Americans and in many cases, give people hope and a reason to live.
Religious followers worship their god(s) and usually attend services where they chant and sing in order to strengthen spiritual bonds. This practice is not far off from going to a game and rooting for your team. Ohio State University fans, for example, have specific cheers and songs such as “Carmen Ohio” to strengthen their role as fans and to encourage the Buckeyes to succeed. And if they don’t participate in these hymn-like cheers, they are deemed bad fans.
The Christian religious calendars are similar to many sport cycles. In the Catholic sect, for example, followers go through a cycle that consists of Ordinary Time, Lent and Easter. Ordinary Time is comparable to the NFL’s regular season as it is the longest part of the cycle and is not as crucial as the other parts of the year. Next comes Lent, which, to me, relates to the NFL playoffs because it leads up to the most important part of the religious year, Easter. And Easter, the day Catholics celebrate the most, is like the NFL’s most celebrated day of the year, the Super Bowl. And after both the Super Bowl and Easter, the cycle begins again and each fan or believer has another shot at a better year.
Philip Wise, leader of the Board of Directors for Christian Ethics Today at Baylor University believes that “sports, like many other practices can work like a Rorschach test for Christian Character. Do we quit too easily? Are we resistant to discipline? Are we too individualistic?” Wise is saying that like religion tests our faith in god, sports test are faith as fans. Similar to being a devout follower, being a good fan means that you take part in the weekly rituals and attend each game. In addition, fans wear team gear as part of their commitment to their team just as many religious followers do by wearing religious jewelry and clothing.
Despite rapid population growth in the 20th century, the Official Catholic Directory claims the amount of Catholic priests in the United States has dropped from 58,632 in 1956 to 39,466 in 2011. However, the US Catholic population was 45.6 million in 1956 and grew to 65.4 million in 2011. But if you consider that the US population has nearly doubled since 1956, the growth in US Catholics is declining.
The NFL, however, has experienced quite an opposite fluctuation in followers. In fact, the National Football League announced in July that the NFL Network has had double the amount of preseason viewers in 2011 than in 2010. The NFL also announced that in the last year, the official NFL website has had a 143 percent gain in web traffic.
Both the undeniable similarities between being a fan and a religious follower and the recent growth in sports popularity have me wondering if one day we’ll be worshipping teams instead of gods. But until then, I will continue to pray for a long overdue Super Bowl appearance by the Cleveland Browns.