Saturday, September 20, 2014

Faith, Family, and Football

Many of my peers would read the title of this post and say, "Yep, those are the three most important things to most southern Christians."  In fact, as I type this blog post, I am working on my sermon for tomorrow and listening to College Gameday in the background, occasionally flipping to watch for a few minutes.  As for the family part, I have never had a lot of family, and at the moment I am not close to any of them.  I have therefore extended family to include the family of God, my fellow Christians with whom I work, attend church, and do other things.

The real reason I am writing this post is to talk about rivalry--particularly the Auburn-Alabama rivalry.  As most people who might read this know, a large percentage of people in our great state have a strong allegiance to one side or the other.  You either yell, "War Eagle," or "Roll Tide."  And you especially yell your phrase of choice when confronted by fans of the rival school.  Perhaps the worst thing I have done in this regard happened a few years ago while driving on the interstate.  

It was 2010, the famous $cam Newton, Camback, Auburn national championship year.  There was a truck in front of me with some sort of Alabama "A" or Roll Tide sticker, I forget which.  As I prepared to pass them, I looked over in the passenger's seat and saw my orange ballcap with the embroidered navy blue "AU" symbol.  As I went past them, I held up that symbol, so that the driver in the other lane could clearly see it, and I silently mouthed several times, "War Eagle!  War Eagle!"  Here I was, a pastor and teacher, setting such a good example for future generations.

While I do believe a good natured rivalry and "ribbing" are harmless, I think we sometimes take it too far.  Growing up, many of my friends were Alabama fans, and they were the first to let me know if Auburn lost.  In return, I hated all things Crimson and moved elephants WAY down my list of favorite animals.  It was all tigers and eagles for me.  My favorite teams were Auburn and whoever played Alabama any given week.  I even stooped as low as to root for LSU.  

This brings me back to the family part.  God has a sense of humor.  He put a die hard Auburn fan and Auburn graduate in the middle of a crimson sea.  While there are a few more of us orange and blue faithful in my part of southwest Alabama, we all swim against a strongly represented tide.  Over the past few years, I have learned to love many of these crimson-clad people.  They are a majority of my coworkers, my parishioners at church, and my good friends.  I have taught many of their children, some for all their years of high school.  And some of them have even gone on to attend that university in the sky, the dream of many Alabama children.

It is for that reason that I can now put two words together that I once considered off-limits.  It is a phrase that has given me more pain than anything physical.  It has been hurled at me in abusive tones, mocking tones, and even children are taught to say it before they can say "mama" or "dada."  Yes, I, Kenneth W. Bowen, orange and blue, through and through, say Roll Tide!  

How? My fellow Auburn fans may ask.  "Traitor!" you are screaming.  It is because in faith, family, and football they are for me in that order of importance.  And since I established that faith and family go hand in hand for me, I can say those words when I am proud of one of my students for making 100 on his first college precalculus quiz.  I can say "Roll tide," when one of the sweetest Alabama fans I have ever known, Mrs. Christine Bryars, also wishes my Tigers well.  I miss her greatly, but there are many others like her who pick up the flag of good sportsmanship.

Don't get me wrong, you still won't find me wearing crimson.  You won't find me yelling "Go Bama!" when I'm watching them play.  And I might still give a little tease if they lose.  But I promise I won't hold up an Auburn emblem and yell War Eagle if I pass you on the interstate.  I won't wish bad things on your team.  I can wish a school well because I love the people affiliated with it.  So for that reason, I say Roll Tide.  But I still shout WAR EAGLE!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sports, Humilty, and Trash Talk

Richard Sherman and his comments following last Sunday's 49ers vs. Seahawks game have been one of the major topics of discussion in the sports world this week.  While every side of the story has probably been analyzed multiple times, I would like to add my own point of view on the situation.

1. Sports - What are sports, especially professional sports?  I would argue that their main purpose is entertainment.  It is a multi-BILLION dollar enterprise that frankly has way too much money involved when we have hungry and homeless people around.  However, with moral problems aside, most of us enjoy a good sports contest.  We watch and hope that our favorite team wins.  Admittedly, many people allow sports to reign a bit higher in their lives than entertainment (this Auburn fan has been guilty of that), but ultimately it is a show whose purpose is to entertain fans.

After Sunday's game, I was disappointed that my favorite NFL team, the 49ers, had lost the game, especially on a play that was so close to being the winning touchdown.  However, a guy named Richard Sherman made the play of his life to tip that ball and his teammate intecepted it to end the game.  I was not happy.  I was mad at the referees for all the bad calls.  And then they let Sherman have a microphone...  He called Michael Crabtree a "sorry" receiver and bragged about being the best corner in the game.  This brings me to my second point.

2. Humility - Most of us appreciate and expect humility from sports figures when they give interviews.  I appreciated this year when any Auburn player or coach was interviewed about his success, he immediately gave credit to his teammates and coaches for his own success.  I believe that is the Christ-like thing to do and in most cases the right thing to do.  I was not happy with Sherman's comments and I quickly joined the bandwagon that said Sherman had no class and was a thug.  Most people don't like trash talk.

3. Trash talk - I know from hearing players and coaches talk that trash talk happens quite often on the field, most likely every single play.  And we are okay with that.  It's part of the game, right?  But when those players have a microphone shoved in their faces only minutes after making the biggest plays of their lives, which also involved a player on the opposing team putting his hand to your facemask and shoving you backward, then maybe some of that trash talk bleeds over to the interviews, and suddenly it is not okay.  He crossed a line.  He was supposed to give everyone else credit.

I used to watch the WWF (yes it was WWF back then).  The best wrestlers were not the strongest or fastest but the ones who could trash talk the best.  Think about it.  The Rock, Steve Austin, Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Mick Foley... all masters of the mic and trash talk.  Why are we okay with our favorite professional wrestler making a career out of trash talk, but we want our favorite NFL player to give Tim Tebow answers?  Ultimately, Richard Sherman is like a WWE wrestler.  He understands that if he wants the most attention, then he needs to trash talk the best and then back it up on the field.  So far he has done it.

I switched sides on the Sherman debate when I read about who he really was.  He's a very intelligent guy (degree from Stanford), very generous guy (runs charities and donates generously to them), and his teammates love him.  I think Sherman is an actor playing a part to increase his popularity.  As an entertainer, isn't that what he should be doing?  If he is then giving more and more to good causes, then why should we be concerned?  I know there are many viewpoints on this issue, but this is mine.  Richard Sherman is a professional entertainer who uses trash talk as a means to improve his brand, and by the way he backs it up with his play on the field.  If you don't like it, then as a wise man once said, "Don't hate the player, hate the game."