Sports Help Make A Difference

The Latest Word from John Ed Mathison

A survey revealed that 70% of people read about, watch or discuss sports every day. Only 3.7% say their lives are untouched by sports.

Sports have influenced my life. I played several sports in high school. I was able to get a full-ride basketball scholarship for college. I also began playing tennis, which I continued until recently. When I was selected to play with Venture for Victory Basketball (now called Athletes in Action), we played and beat Olympic teams in Japan, Korea, Philippians, Taiwan, etc. and gave a Christian witness. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes has had a big influence on my life.

Here are a few examples of the influence of sports on today’s culture:

1. Race Relations. I remember when the schools were first integrated. There were a lot of challenges. The one thing that brought the different races together was cheering for their high school team. When parents had a child playing in a high school game, playing together and trying to win that game was more important than the color of skin. Sports played a huge role in fighting racism.

A great Methodist layman, Branch Ricky, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, wanted to bring the first African American player into the major leagues. He selected another Methodist, Jackie Robinson. He knew that he was a great ball player, but also could withstand a lot of the racial slurs and discrimination that would come against him. When Jackie Robinson was introduced at Dodger Stadium, there were mixed reactions. A white shortstop named Pee Wee Reese walked out on the field and placed his arm around Jackie Robinson, and told him he was glad to be on his team. That made it ok with most folks.

I had an opportunity in the fall of 2018 to speak at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes conference honoring leaders in the past 65 years who made a difference with the FCA. I stood by the podium that Branch Ricky used when he addressed the first FCA National Conference at Estes Park, Colorado. He told of how he selected Jackie Robinson and how together they made a difference in race relations.

2. Gender Participation. Sports affected the rise in gender participation in all levels of sports. Sports gave girls the opportunity to prove that they were tremendous athletes, competitors, students, etc. Sports helped eliminate the disparity in pay for women when many professional sports began giving equal prize money to women.

3. International Relations. Youth soccer is helping to ease tensions between North and South Korea. Even though official communications have been cut off since 2016, both Koreas are participating in the Ari Sports Cup, an eight-team soccer tournament for Under-15s being held in Kumming, China. Sports are becoming a great opportunity to enhance international relations.

4. Christian Pulpit. Sports are a high profile pulpit for a Christian witness. In the recent national championship football game, Alabama quarter back, Tua Tagovailoa, and Clemson quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, both talked about their faith in Jesus Christ and what was most important to them. Coach Dabo Swinny is one of the strongest Christian witnesses. You will often hear him share the Gospel when being interviewed. Christians in all sports are given a platform in which they can share their faith.

Sports do make a huge difference. Paul used sports to teach great lessons in life – like boxing (Read 1 Corinthians 9:27) and running (Read Hebrews 12:1-3). Sports are very important – but they should be something we allow God to use for His glory rather than worshiping sports (Read 1 Timothy 4:8).

How can you use sports, or some other interest, to make a difference?

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