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Keeping football, religion in proper perspective

By Robert Wilkerson

Football has become the religion of the South.

It has thousands of followers who eat, sleep and breathe it. They make pilgrimages to their shrines in Bryant-Denny, Jordan-Hare and Tiger Stadiums. They love their high priests, Saban, Malzahn and Miles. Once their services (the games) start, they yell, scream, shout, wave their hands, and some even dance. Their emotions range from sadness and depression to the highest expression of joy and delight. Recently, the gods have approved of their zeal by giving them miracles.

Why do Southerners take football so seriously? Since I am not a mass psychoanalyst (if there is such a thing), I can’t say with certainty, but I can take a few guesses. It may be that football has become a part of Southern culture—it is what we do down here. For some, it can serve as a safety valve, a substitute for violence. For many, it is an escape from reality. The Roman games involving gladiators, slaves and wild animals were funded and promoted by the government to entertain the masses, keep them from serious thought, and from rebelling against their corrupt officials. Even though our government doesn’t promote football, the games have the same effect on many people.

The zealous devotion to football often goes too far. It has produced fringe group radicals who hate each other, get involved in shouting matches and occasional fights. It has produced an individual who poisoned the trees at Toomer’s Corner in Auburn, and people who have threatened to kill a young field goal kicker at Alabama.

We need to wake up. Football is just a game—no one wins all the time. There have been thousands of games before the ones we are watching, and there will be thousands of games after. Most people quit playing games when they become adults.

There is nothing wrong with football if we keep it in the proper perspective. However, it is a terrible substitute for true religion or good stewardship of life.

Dr. Robert Wilkerson is a minister, writer and founder of People for the Christian Way, an organization whose mission is to encourage all people to practice Christian principles in business, politics and every area of life.

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