As the sweltering days of summer give way to the cool, brisk evenings of fall, one thing you can expect in the weeks and months ahead is that on every Saturday and Sunday from now until December, millions of Americans will be tuning in to their television sets to support their favorite football team.
Among other things, what that means is that millions of Americans, for hours on end, will be throwing back beers, slamming down brats, and pigging out on their favorite nacho dip while gathered at their local watering hole or sprawled out on their couch.
Monday through Friday, these same people, instead of talking about the sermon they heard Sunday morning – that is, if they even went to church – will spend countless more hours discussing ad nauseam the latest fine-inducing hit and how well their Fantasy Football team did.
Football, it seems, is everywhere. And it’s about to take over our lives.
If you caught the NFL’s season opener last Thursday between the Baltimore Ravens and the Denver Broncos, chances are you saw country music artist Keith Urban’s special pre-game kickoff concert. To most of the viewing audience, the celebration was probably nothing out of the ordinary – just another electrifying performance by one of the nation’s most popular musicians. I, on the other hand, was left scratching my head. What are all these people so excited about? I thought to myself. All this for football? It’s just a game. Fewer Americans associate with organized religion, right? Maybe this is their new god.
In many ways, Mr. Urban’s uninspiring lyrics, the audience’s hypnotic behavior, and the fireworks display at the end of the show served as the embodiment of the larger spiritual lobotomy taking place in America today.
Now, to be fair, football (and sports in general for that matter) can build character, instill a hard work ethic and teach self-sacrifice. But my goodness, can anyone deny that football has become an inseparable part of America’s civic religion and that it has had a caustic effect on our spiritual well being? Seriously, it seems like more and more people are dedicating inordinate amounts of time to this stuff. It’s not uncommon, for instance, to witness our neighbors spend hours upon hours shopping for and making sure that their fifteen dollar steak is cooked to perfection before reclining in their favorite la-z-boy for a twelve hour NFL triple-header. Nor is it out of the ordinary to see folks spend all day running around looking for the perfect combination of craft beer, pizza rolls and tortilla chips to satisfy the urges they get while watching those enticing commercials. Talk about profligacy.
Moreover, look at how much football franchises spend on their cathedral-like stadiums and how NFL broadcasts rely on catchy songs and slogans to get their viewers excited for the onslaught of half naked women that are about to appear on their screen. Barely anyone in the mainstream media raises an eyebrow about any of this. It’s business as usual to them. Yet, Catholics are constantly criticized, even by some within the faith, for building ‘extravagant’ churches, not selling the Church’s highly-prized possessions, and holding (at least in the past) lavish, time-consuming ceremonies. Please. The Catholic Church has every right to be triumphalistic. Pop culture and its false gods do not. They drag us down into the abyss by elevating the frivolous to the divine.
So, as football season heats up, keep in mind that Catholics are required to keep holy the Sabbath. To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying sports in moderation. Anything beyond that, though, is idolatry. You cannot serve two masters…God and football. America, it seems, has already made up her mind.