From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies: 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

“The Super Bowl in a Culture of Dominance”

Deuteronomy 18:15-20    1 Corinthians 7:32-35    Mark 1:21-28

2.1.15If what a nation watches on television makes a statement about that nation’s values, then Americans value their football. The Super Bowl spectacle draws huge numbers of viewers still usually the most watched tv program in US history, the television event of each year. The commercials and halftime shows certainly boost the numbers as well.

At the same time, many find it harder to watch professional football now than ever before. We know more about the damages caused by head injuries, the sport’s classic cavalier attitudes toward them, and the National Football League’s longstanding refusal to admit the problem. The franchise near the nation’s capital stubbornly refuses to engage in Debate about how to honor native peoples. Those who run the league showed themselves as ignorant (at best) or enabling (at worst) when it comes to addressing the seriousness of domestic violence committed by its members The recent DeflateGate scandal might come as a welcome distraction for league executives right now.

Football’s Values as Cultural Values

Americans enjoy football because, to a degree, football reflects the values of strength, courage, strategy, self-discipline, teamwork, and celebrity that American culture holds dear. It’s also refreshing to watch someone else get crushed by a 260-pound linebacker after you’ve had a lousy week at work.

The problem develops when we let football (or other sports, or a military, or Wall Street or the board room or other forces) define strength in terms of dominance. It has to make us pay attention when three college students beat up a man in a restaurant and then chant ‘California football rules!”

I’m not trying to dump on football. I love football. I am at times obsessed with football. I’m just noting that it’s a game largely devoted to imposing one’s will on another. That competitive value can be fine on a field, but when it seeps into our society, neighborhoods, our streets and our homes and families, we should be wary. Because when dominance is the name of the game, there will be victims.

The Super Bowl might prompt us to consider the hazards of an ethical outlook in which rewards go to those who say “We take what we want” and follow through on it. I believe that the Super Bowl and the Bible have very little in common. One thing they share, though, is an ability to make us ask the question: What’s the proper use of strength? For many Americans, football defines a notion of power and virility; its players represent the epitome of ‘manliness’. In fact, the words ‘virility’ and ‘virtue’ have come from the same latin word: ‘vir’, for ‘man’.

The Bible’s authors repeatedly talk about a God who uses power, subverts power, becomes subject to others’ power, and shares power. What do these dynamics of power look like for us, in our culture? A culture in which the strength and dominance we’re enticed to celebrate express themselves in both selfless heroism and arrogant abuses of others’ dignity?

It’s something to think about, before the fighter jets fly over the stadium, the commercials for Bud Light and American Sniper roll, the guy at the bar makes another tasteless joke about underinflated footballs, and Katy Perry and Lenny Kravitz take the halftime stage. But the truth is, as St Paul says, arrogance ‘puffs up’ while love ‘builds up’. Just think of a time when you saw concern of other people prove to be healthier that someone being right or than someone having things go his or her way.

There are ways in which strength can be a virtue for individuals and a society. But, sometimes so can weakness. Look to the cross. The real question is, what promotes unity, and what harms it, when people try to respect each other’s freedoms and moral convictions without controlling one another. That, not strength itself, shows the real presence of God.


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