Are Competitive Sports Sinful?

In his massive Christian Theology, Millard Erickson notes that the first effect of sin on one’s relationships with other people is competition.  Erickson is clearly referencing something bigger than competitive sports but his point seems appropriate, nonetheless.

With the American football season upon us, I wanted to briefly explore the legitimacy of competitive sports for Christians.  Are competitive sports sinful?

1.  Is competition sinful?

Yes and no.

Yes. It depends who you are competing against.  Anytime you are doing something merely to prove your superiority, you are basing your identity on the need to win.  You are, in essence, worshiping yourself when you are trying to prove your value and self-worth by validating your dominance.

No.  Self-competition that promotes humble excellence can be positive.  Some people are never satisfied with their abilities, appearance, or the like.  Discontentment is as much a sin as arrogance.  Pursuing excellence and pushing yourself to the limit can be a very healthy activity.  Many people learn a lot about their inabilities and abilities by attempting difficult and challenging things.

2. Are competitive sports sinful?

Like most things, competitive sports can be used as an opportunity for sin and might even tend to promote sinful behavior when they overemphasize proving one’s superiority.  However, competitive sports are not, by default, sinful.  I think it is important to keep score in many games to maintain an objective grasp on reality.  The better team should, all things being equal, win the game.  Without a score a team is unable to fully evaluate their performance to ensure they are giving maximum effort.

Anytime winning, however, becomes attached to one’s value then sin has taken hold.  Whether a team wins is of no consequence as long as everyone involve is giving maximum effort.

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2 thoughts on “Are Competitive Sports Sinful?”

  1. I don’t know Mark – if Va Tech starts losing, everyone giving their maximum effort won’t be enough to keep the fans and donors happy. We will probably start looking for players and coaches whose maximum effort is a little more valuable.

    Perhaps winning and losing is of consequence, just not ultimate consequence. It does affect ticket sales, salaries, school enrollment, school endowments, and more. Those are just some of the reasons that winners are more valuable.

    Perhaps I am more a product of my capitalistic culture than I like to admit, but I like competition. I think of it in terms of Aristotle’s doctrine of the means. Competition is good, bad is an overabundance of it (vindictiveness) or a deficiency of it (complacency). But, as long as competition stays inside its boundaries, its what makes teams successful, companies successful, and, at least in part, it is what made America successful.

    1. I think basing everything on “winning and losing” is not fair to reality. Some teams have to win and some have to lose.

      America’s success is not only from competition within boundaries. Think about Native Americans or Slavery, etc…

      Losing is only a problem if it is a result of one’s lack of full effort, etc. One should never be ashamed to lose if your talent/skill is not equal and both teams play to their full potential.

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