Christians who like sports are right to enjoy football, but should know it is affected by the fall.
Football is not impervious to the effects of the curse of Genesis 3. This game is subject to fallenness as all of life is. Perhaps this sounds basic, but remembering this simple truth will help us to distance ourselves from an uncritical approach to the game. We are those whose thoughts have been transformed in every respect, not just in terms of momentary conversion (Rom. 12:1-2). It should not escape our notice that football fanaticism often gets described as "worship." This doesn't mean it's disqualified for Christian consumption; it does mean we approach it thoughtfully and reflectively.
Christians should think hard about involving their children in such a violent game.
This will sound heretical to some, I know. It is not my intent to "wussify" children. As a father of two, however, I would have a hard time sending my son into a sport that is leaving 40-year-old men with dementia. There are other contact sports that can help produce character in our youth. The NFL's settlement may justifiably lead Christian parents to steer away from football. Atlantic columnist Ta-Nehisi Coates and New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell have both suggested that football must drastically change or else be banned. Many parents, still believing firmly in the goodness of athletics and the cultivation of character, may leave the game behind.
Christians should think hard about the extent to which they support football.
A sizeable portion of evangelicals do not follow boxing or mixed-martial arts due, in part, to their violent nature. Many believers may not be ready to immediately swear off their college football team or favorite pro franchise, but the NFL's concussion settlement may cause an increasing number of believers to feel less comfortable with the violence of the game and to distance themselves from it until it is reformed and made safer. There is no reason it cannot be.
I myself feel conflicted about football. I don't want to be legalistic. I'm not a medical researcher. I don't have all the answers. Some conscionable, God-fearing Christians may strongly disagree with me. I know that football affords joy in a world in which it can be hard to find. I know that it brings people together. I know that common grace is just that: a form of grace.
But at the end of the day, the punishing nature of the game concerns me. I am not a wilting flower; I'm not a hulking lineman by anyone's standards, but I've snapped my Achilles tendon in two playing high-intensity sports, sprained my ankles countless times, and nearly lost my front teeth in a basketball game. I love sports, teamwork, and the physical nature of our society's most revered games.
Football, though, seems to ask too much of a good number of its players. It has left many of its stars hobbled. No one has to play it, true. Many of the Roman gladiators were also volunteers, though, and that didn't prevent Christians from speaking up then. At the time, gladiatorial violence was not only considered tolerable, but fun. Christians, at great personal cost, spoke up, and testified otherwise. The Greco-Roman world was never the same.
Might it be time for a similar moment of conscience for many evangelicals?
Owen Strachan is the author of the forthcoming Risky Gospel: Abandon Fear and Build Something Awesome (Thomas Nelson, Nov. 2013). A sports aficionado, he has written on football for The Atlantic and The Gospel Coalition. He teaches theology and history at Boyce College and is executive director of the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood.