Editor's note: Starting this week, Play Ball will become a weekly feature on Christianity Today Online, and will be written by an extended team of writers. This week we welcome Mark Moring, a former sportswriter who now edits Christianity Today Movies and Christian Music Today.
I like to win. I've always been competitive, though here in my mid-40s some of that edge has dulled. I'm finding joy more in the game itself than in the final result. (Still, I did hate losing a recent marathon game of RiskLord of the Rings versionto my 12-year-old, whose impromptu and snarky Mount Doom Victory Dance only rubbed it in.)
When the Olympics roll around, I tend to examine my own competitive spirit, and that's certainly been the case the last couple of weeks as we've watched the eventsjoyful, painful, and even controversialunfold at the Winter Games in Italy.
I watch a fair bit of sports on TV, but nothing seems to trigger this self-examination like the Olympics. Why? I think it's partly a result of the way most of the media handles Olympic coverage. Open any sports section and right there, front and center, you'll see it: Medal Count. Or Medal Tracker.
Sure, I'm interested to see which countries are winning the most medals, but it's given far too much weight. I mean, when it's all said and done, do we really expect headlines that read, "Norway Wins Winter Olympics!"? I think not.
But more than the team medal count is the media's overemphasis on individual awards, as if the colors gold, silver, and bronze were all that mattered. I'm not aiming for a simplistic "it's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game" message here. I'm not launching into a "whatever happened to the real Olympic spirit" rant.
But I am taking aim at much of the media here. And though my colleague Mark Galli singled out Chicago Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey in last week's Play Ball, I'm afraid I'm going to pick on Morrissey too. To be fair, Morrissey is only one of many I could point to; the attitude seems fairly prevalent across the sportswriting board. But in back-to-back columns last week, Morrissey managed to highlight exactly what's wrongnot with the Games themselves, but with the Western media's coverage of them.
In a February 12 column titled, "Brash, loudand 5th," Morrissey ripped U.S. downhill skier Bode Miller, not so much for not winning a medal, but for the way Miller was dealing with it. Miller, arguably the face of the American contingent in Turino, gracing several major magazine covers as the Games began, was an overwhelming favorite to win the men's downhill but finished fifth. After the race, Miller, known for his rebel spirit and outspokenness, simply said, "You have a moment of disappointment, but after that, what can you do? My subjective criteria was satisfied."
Morrissey retorted: "A rebel does not say things like, 'My subjective criteria was satisfied.' So what do you call it when the wild child stays the course and follows it with statements about being pleased with a fifth-place finish? Boring, yes. But something of a cop-out too."
Miller: "I raced hard. I was super-happy with the effort."
Morrissey: "Sorry. Not buying it. Putting things in perspective is fine, but Sunday wasn't the time for that."
So, when is it the time? The guy said he raced hard and was happy with his effort. He apparently competed with joy. Who's Morrisseyor anyoneto diss him for that?
Speaking of competing with joy, Morrissey came back the next day with a column praising another U.S. athlete for doing just that. The main difference? She won gold.
In an article titled, "Like, they're golden," Morrissey gushed about Hannah Teter, who'd won the women's halfpipe snowboarding event. Morrissey was tickled with Teter's fondness of the word "like" and phrases such as "super-good" and "super-strong." Morrissey seemed to be, like, super-excited about sharing in Teter's bliss.
"She is full of a kind of impervious joy," Morrissey wrote. "Her impishness, her unbridled enthusiasm for a sport that prides itself on being different, and her fierce desire to be beholden to no one is an interesting, endearing combination."
Hmm. So Bode Miller finishes fifth, is cool with it, and even "super-happy" with his effortand that's a bad thing. Hannah Teter finishes first, is cool with it, calling it "super-good"and that's a good thing. Sounds like medal madness to me.
Paul wrote, "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize" (1 Cor. 9:24). Good words, those, and not just for the spiritual race. Those words apply to the Olympicsindeed, to all competitive venturesas well.
Bode Miller and Hannah Teter both "ran in such a way as to get the prize," but as Paul notes, "only one gets the prize." Paul doesn't say how we should act if we don't win, only that we should run "in such a way" that gives us a chance. And he'd certainly encourage us to be joyful (see Philippians 4:4) regardless, medal or not.
Miller and Teter may or may not know those verses, but they sure seem to get it. If only much of the media would follow suit.
Mark Moring was a newspaper sportswriter before coming to Christianity Today, where he is managing editor of Christianity Today Movies and Christian Music Today.
Copyright © 2006 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Other Play Ball columns include:
Opening Ceremony Blues | The Olympics is symbolic, but not of world peace. (Feb. 16, 2006)
Punches, Smashes, and Bombs | Boxing gives us a window into the violence inherent in all sports. (Nov. 11, 2006)
Should We Ban Boxing? | The usual arguments against the "sweet science" cut many ways. (Oct. 28, 2005)
Something Noble and Good | Professional sports is often boring, but real sports is not. (May 13, 2005)
The Lovely Paradox of NFL Draft Day | It's an event of biblical proportionsand wisdom. (April 29, 2005)
Negotiating Sunday Sports | This culture war was lost long ago. Now what? (April 15, 2005)
The Prodigal Sports Fan | There is hope for the idolater. (April 08, 2005)
The Thirst of the 24/7 Fan | Understanding the idolatry in sports. (March 01, 2005)
March Madnesses | The layers of insanity know no endthank God. (March. 18, 2005)
Spectating as a Spiritual Discipline | For those who have eyes to watch, let them watch something more than highlight films. (March 11, 2005)
The Grace of Sports | If Christ can't be found in sports, he can't be found the modern world. (March 4, 2005)
Baseball Isn't Entertainment | The sooner we stop thinking sports are about the spectators, the more enjoyable the games will be. (Feb. 25, 2005)
Rooting for T.O. | Why Terrell Owens irritates most of us most of the time. (Feb. 11, 2005)
Freedom Between the Goal Posts | Sports is much more important than our culture lets on (Feb. 4, 2005)
Salt and Light in the Arena | It's going to take more than a few good Christians to clean up sports. (Feb. 18, 2005)
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