Christians debate their role in NFL in wake of documentary on concussions

Published: Thursday, Oct. 10 2013 4:55 p.m. MDT

Players, fans and the league aren't the only ones suffering from the NFL's recent concussion issues. People of faith, too, are wrestling with the issue, according to a recent USA Today column.

Gene J. Puskar, Associated Press

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Players, fans and the league aren’t the only ones suffering from the NFL’s recent concussion dilemma.

People of faith, too, are wrestling with the issue, according to a recent USA Today column.

“In recent generations, evangelicals have used football as a huge platform to promote their religious values,” wrote Tom Krattenmaker in his column. “And why not, you might ask? The qualities of football closely align with Christian virtues such as sacrifice, discipline and courage.”

But those virtues aren’t standing the test of recent times, Krattenmaker argued. He said Christians are conflicted about continuing to watch football and attach a religious connection to it.

“How much longer can the good Christian men in and around pro football continue cozying up to the NFL and treating it as an ideal venue to promote faith and morality to the sports-consuming public?” he asked.

The discussion arose after PBS released an exclusive documentary on the NFL and its concussion issues, titled “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis,” which aired on Oct. 8.

But what "concussion crisis" is PBS detailing? In recent months, concussions and head trauma have been discussed at length in the NFL, which even led to a lawsuit this past summer.

And one study, which Krattenmaker mentioned in his column and PBS used for its documentary, looked at 46 brains of ex-NFL players and found 45 of them had chronic traumatic encephalopathy — “a degenerative brain disease associated with head trauma,” according to the study.

The Atlantic Wire published a response to the documentary, too, detailing the winners and losers in the aftereffects of the piece. One loser, the article said, was the everyday football fan.

“After watching, it's hard not to feel conflicted about the sport, particularly after hearing about Pittsburgh Steelers lineman ‘Iron Mike’ Webster, whose football-caused head injuries led to an early death,” wrote Eric Levenson. “And as a fan,” Levenson wrote, “it's hard not to feel a little responsible for that.”

For Christians and fans, this conflict about whether to favor the NFL or not may continue, especially when considering damaged football players.

An article in September by Christianity Today asked whether Christians should step away from the sport, too. In the article, writer Owen Strachan said Christians reconsider whether to follow the sport or not, and if they should let their children play.

"It should not escape our notice that football fanaticism often gets described as 'worship,'" Strachan wrote. "This doesn't mean it's disqualified for Christian consumption; it does mean we approach it thoughtfully and reflectively."

But another article last month by The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention praised football and its connection to Christianity. Even if the sport is a little violent, the article said, something similar would eventually pop up, as it's needed to promote Christian virtues.

“We need to be reminded that we do not just surrender our brains to Christ, we surrender our very selves, including our bodies,” wrote David Prince and Jimmy Scroggins in the piece. “If football did not exist in modern America, some Christian man would need to invent it. Our Christian worldview and ethics demand the proving ground of football or at least something like it.”

Email: hscribner@deseretnews.com

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