When looking at almost any sport in America today one cannot avoid the conclusion that athletics are just another platform for self-promotion and self-glorification. The defensive lineman, after a routine tackle, who rises from the pile thumping his chest and strutting in the open field for all to see. The tennis champion who can only congratulate herself for winning; cheerleaders who pose for pin-up posters and wall calendars; and basketball stars who appear to be trying to outdo one another for having the most tattoos.
What has been lost in our hyper-narcissistic times is the virtue of sportsmanship and the concept of the noble champion. As a result the wisdom and beauty of athletics has been lost.
Christian schools celebrate and promote athletics because they are a platform for developing mature, humble, and gracious men and women who understand that their gifts are not for honoring themselves but for serving others—the very opposite of self-promotion and self-glorification! Borrowing a phrase from a former football player, Joe Ehrmann, the football field, and by extension, the basketball court and outdoor track, serve as “the last classroom of the day,” meaning they are moral and educational environments as well as athletic.
Athletics are a training for life. Just as in life we find winners and losers, leaders and followers, those giving commands and those who must obey them. We find champions and heroes, underdogs and difference-makers, dynasties that rise and fall.
In sports, as in life, we can observe mistakes with terrible consequences and plays executed to perfection. We see people who panic and players who persist through pain, teammates who are tested and trained to give everything they’ve got for a cause that is just. We see teams who lost but should have won and teams who deserved to lose but won anyway.
In sports as in life we find a concentrated focus toward a common goal, plans of attack and defense, times of holding the line or pouring it on; we find virtues of hard work, self-sacrifice, personal responsibility and fearless courage. We see perfect equality and fierce competition, talent that disappoints and average ability that breaks games wide open.
In sports, as in life, there are lost chances and missed opportunities, surprises, turnovers and reversals of momentum. We see first-hand, confidence and intimidation, fear and faith, grief and exaltation. In sports as in life we learn that sometimes winning comes at a very high cost or in losing we are sometimes honored even more.
Christian schools run sports programs intentionally, not because everyone else has a program but because school leaders understand how athletics can accomplish their mission which is to build character, promote virtue, change lives, and help young people come to a proper and sober knowledge of themselves as men and women, as future husbands, fathers, wives and mothers. Christian schools teach identity, virtues, teamwork and sportsmanship and in doing so try to model a view of the athlete, the coach, and athletics in general that is redemptive and kingdom oriented.