The Cleveland Cavaliers (the city’s professional basketball team) won the world championship last week by defeating the Golden State Warriors on their home turf in game 7 of the finals. This victory is memorable for several reasons.
First, the Cavs came from a 3-1 deficit to win. No other team in NBA history had done this. Secondly, this is Cleveland’s first national championship in any sport since 1964. The city has waited 52 years for a national title. And thirdly, the star player for Cleveland and “native son,” LeBron James, came back to play for the Cavs two years ago, promising to bring a championship to Cleveland. Obviously, he fulfilled his promise—with an incredible display of athleticism, with extremely talented teammates, and with a great rookie coach.
Cleveland fans celebrated this championship en masse. The night of the final game, tens of thousands of fans gathered in the streets of downtown Cleveland to cheer their beloved team. How refreshing it was to see huge mobs of people swarming the streets and NOT fighting each other or the police, but hugging and high-fiving each other—including total strangers. The people were even high-fiving the police! The next day the police reported making only 5 arrests during the massive celebration—all for minor infractions. And on Wednesday 1.3 million people swarmed into downtown Cleveland for the team’s victory parade. They packed the streets, hung out from windows, and even climbed onto rooftops to cheer their championship team.
All of this raises the question for me: Do sports support spirituality or do they distract from spirituality. My answer: It all depends.
If you Google “sports and spirituality” or “sports and religion” (as I did) thousands of
books and articles come up. Some writers see sports (especially in the U.S.) as religion’s greatest threat. In fact some say our sports have become our new religion. They maintain that our sports stadiums are our new great cathedrals. Sports are similar to religion, they say, in so far as they demand a regular gathering together of people, a similar allegiance, certain acts of devotion (like buying sports team paraphernalia), and even specific rituals such as cheers and “pilgrimages” to sports arenas or halls of fame.
But sports support values that spirituality also supports. Sports encourage personal discipline. They nurture camaraderie—whether we are participating in sports or watching them. Sports teach us how to deal with both winning and losing. Sports also underscore the value of focusing attention. Just watch the golfer attempting a twelve foot putt or that running back clutching the football and driving toward that goal line. Isn’t the focusing of attention a prerequisite for prayer and for deeds of compassion?
Some psychologists say participating in or watching sports is one way of generating a state we call “being in the flow.” It’s really a form of transcendence where our attention is completely absorbed and our awareness of self and our surroundings fade away. Being “in the zone” is not unlike a person rapt in prayer and devotion. Sports also make individuals feel that they belong to something bigger than themselves. Ask any Cleveland fan as they watched their team (in person or via TV) returning from California with the championship trophy. Or when they experienced that gigantic victory parade for their team.
What are your thoughts on this topic? What role, for example, do sports play in your personal life? What positive or negative impact do sports have on contemporary life where you live? Do you think sports have become our new religion?
Since I am a Cleveland Cavaliers’ fan, my heart is filled with gratitude for our national championship. That’s one reason I chose a simple thanksgiving song for today, entitled “Give Thanks.”
Any further thoughts?