Since television’s invention and the first sports event to be broadcast, it has had a tremendous amount of influence in the world of sport. I can recall watching sporting events like ABC’s Wide World of Sports, Olympic Games, boxing matches, and Major League Baseball on a black and white TV with a grainy and sometimes rolling picture, from the earliest days of my youth. When ESPN began broadcasting in late 1979, everything changed. Sports on television became a much greater economic force and is presently a remarkable cash cow for ESPN, ABC, and Disney. Add in the factors that we can now watch football (soccer) live from Europe, South America, and most anywhere else, it is a world-wide industry of immense proportion.
As of today, sport on television is primarily a television production, with the contest, the sport, the competitors, and the officials being purely coincidental. Cash runs the machine and television producers and directors make the decisions about how the game is played. The tail is violently wagging the dog. The dog seems to be going along with the wagging rather compliantly because the dollars are piling up greatly. This symbiotic relationship presents some issues for us who serve in this environment. Let’s consider a few of them.
Given that most of us are volunteers in this world, we are not paid directly by the sports organization we serve, we are one step removed from the money machine. We are, however, affected by it. We can see how greed, instant wealth, instant financial loss, and other financial factors impact those we serve. We are charged with helping them navigate these shark filled waters and to help them see the Lord’s way in dealing with all these financial pressures. One of the greatest tests of a person’s character is the rapid accumulation of wealth and power. Let’s commit to helping our friends pass the test.
Come to grips with the reality that cash makes the machine run and serve in light of that fact. It does little good to complain about it, but we may be the ones who can help others deal with these factors. It may assault your idealistic notions about the purity of sport, especially amateur sport, to concede that financial matters have this much power, but a realistic, non-cynical view of sport can be most helpful in serving those who live in its grip.
Don’t let this aspect of sport shape your values for ministry. I am aware of some in sports ministry who try to take advantage of the wealth those they serve have gained for their own advantage. Put more simply, some of our sport chaplain colleagues solicit donations from those they serve. This creates a real problem for all those concerned. Some of our wisest, longest serving colleagues have told me very clearly that they never seek contributions from those they serve. If a player or coach offers, without solicitation, to make a donation, they receive it gladly. The obvious point is that if the sportsperson sees me walking towards him and thinks that I’m here to ask him for money, I have already forfeited my opportunity to serve him well. Don’t let the power of money, the culture of wealth, shape your values for ministry. Serve wisely and beware the demonic power of greed.
Beware the allure of the camera. For many the prospect of being seen on television, alongside the high profile sportsperson is a very seductive thought. We can even rationalize and justify our camera chasing as a way to promote our ministry, to raise the profile of our service, to bask in the reflected glory of the star player. Such thought is folly. Serve wisely, humbly, and don’t worry about whether you are on camera. Be who you are with integrity. It may be that some of your friends see you on TV, but I pray that it is in the context of extravagant love for and selfless service of sportspeople. To turn the television camera into your personal, high definition, full color, live action, selfie device would be a terrible tragedy.
The relationship between sport and television is complex and full of perils for those who serve in its shadow. Beware the foolish and corrupt values it brings with it. Look for wise and pure avenues of service with the men and women of sport. They will find your attitude and values to be an oasis in the desert of televised sport.