David Brooks has joined the chorus of pundits who are writing about the phenomenon that is Jeremy Lin. He argues that the competitive and ambitious nature of professional sports is incompatible with the great Abrahamic religions. Here is a taste:
Brooks references a 2010 Lin interview with Tim Dalrymple at Patheos in which Lin acknowledged the tension that exists between faith and sports, between winning and playing “selflessly for God.”
I have no doubt that this column will get a lot of attention. If Brooks is right, what are the implications of his argument for Christian athletes and sports programs at schools that take their religious identity seriously?
As a high school and college athlete (basketball, lacrosse, tennis) and a Christian, Brooks’s article resonated with me. How often do Christians talk about the tensions between faith and sports? No one ever told me that sports might cultivate within me a prideful, ambitious, competitive spirit that could be incompatible with my Christianity. If anything, I was told that highly competitive sports was a venue for which I could strengthen my faith. Yet I cannot ever recall dunking a basketball in a game (please remember, I am 6’8″) and thinking–“I just glorified God.” I can, however, remember dunking a basketball in a game and thinking–“I am good, I am special, the crowd loves what I just did.” The more I think about it, the more I must admit that whatever I have learned about the dangers of pride, ambition, and competitiveness did not come from my participation in sports.
Jeremy Lin is the anti-Tim Tebow. Rather than proclaiming a muscular evangelicalism that tries to baptize the pagan origins of professional sports with public prayer (on one knee) and Jesus talk, Lin is doing his best to think critically and thoughtfully about whether or not his deeply held faith commitments are compatible with what qualifies as success in professional basketball. What if Lin quit the NBA because he could not reconcile the two? Now there’s a thought.