Is the ‘Madden Curse’ true?
WHAT MIGHT THE ACCURACY OF THE “MADDEN CURSE” TELL US ABOUT SPORTS AND FAME?
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If you’re not familiar, the “Madden Curse” is a suspicion in the sports world involving the video game series Madden NFL. The belief is that the player who appears on the cover of Madden will be cursed with either an injury or poor performance the following season.
And while it might be easy to laugh and say it’s all crazy talk, the fact is since Garrison Hearst broke his ankle in 1998 shortly after starring on the cover of Madden NFL 99, most of the players who have starred on the game’s cover have crumbled or suffered an injury the following season.
According to Steven Petite, “Of the 22 players who have been selected to grace the cover of Madden games through this season, 16 have had troubling or abruptly-shortened seasons following their cover debut — including several who suffered season-ending injuries shortly after their game hit shelves.”
I think the “Madden curse” can teach us all something about what happens when we begin to idolize someone.
So is there truth in the curse? While the pinnacle of the sports world is to be the “greatest of all time” (GOAT) and make the cover of Madden, it actually seems like a very dangerous place to be. However, the even scarier part may be that we might have more to do with the curse than we think.
Whether you’re an athlete feeling the weight of pressure or a fan/parent/coach who is intentionally or unintentionally putting on the pressure, I think the “Madden curse” can teach us all something about what happens when we begin to idolize someone.
1. Worship crushes people.
Most of us can understand that putting all our hope in another person is dangerous because no one is perfect and we will be disappointed. However, we don’t often talk about how putting all our hope in someone is not just dangerous for our own hearts, but also for theirs.
If we were created in the image of God, to love and glorify Him, then, as pastor and theologian Tim Keller puts it, that means, “If you love anything at all in this world more than God, you will crush that object under the weight of your expectations, and it will eventually break your heart.” Our world has crushed athletes with the weight of our expectations and worship.
For everything comes from Him and exists by His power and is intended for His glory. All glory to Him forever! Amen.
Romans 11:36 (NLT)
Romans 11:36 (New Living Translation) says, “For everything comes from Him and exists by His power and is intended for His glory. All glory to Him forever! Amen.” Only God is worthy and can bear the weight of our utmost love and admiration, and if we continually give it to someone else then we will crush them as a result.
If your love is ordered properly and God’s love is the most important thing to you, it is only then that you will have the freedom to love and help others around you grow without crushing them.
2. Perfection is not possible.
At our core, every human being has a desire to be fully known and loved for who they are. So what does it mean if I am being told that “who I am” is the GOAT? It’s hard enough to separate who you are from what you do, but for athletes, especially those on the cover of Madden or the face of the Olympics, it seems nearly impossible.
Athletes are constantly weighed down by the expectation to perform perfectly, a bondage often made worse if they see themselves platformed to the world as the GOAT. Whether an athlete can sense it or not, that cover is telling them if they are not perfect then the world is going to be disappointed. This often leads to unrealistic expectations on themselves, failure to acknowledge physical limitations, and ultimately a spiral away from a strong healthy performance and relationship with their sport.
"They need an unwavering and permanent love that will not go away based on their performance."
All of this means that when someone gets on the cover of Madden or is ascribed the title of GOAT, what they really need is someone who can truly and fully know him or her to their core without the fame. They need someone to love them better than their coach, significant other, closest family member, or even themselves. They need an unwavering and permanent love that will not go away based on their performance.
And there is only one person that can do that for them and for all of us. That type of love can only be found in the grace and person of Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2:8,9 (English Standard Version) says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Christ says you are accepted as a result of His grace and nothing else. His life, death, and resurrection destroy the need to prove your worth to anyone.
So is the “Madden curse” real? To some degree, I think so.
Trusting that truth leads athletes to be able to compete from a place of acceptance and freedom instead of for acceptance and freedom. Then and only then is there a healthy gospel distance between who athletes are and what they do.
So is the “Madden curse” real? To some degree, I think so. But I don’t think there’s as much “bad luck” involved as we believe. If we’re honest, the curse is actually us, the fans, the coach, the parent, the athlete. With our misplaced love and expectations we continually push ourselves or the athletes we love to have unrealistic expectations for themselves, and we end up crushing them in the process.
May we instead point our own hearts and the hearts of the athletes around us to the security found in Christ where the weight of the pressure to perform can be lifted and they can play their sport freely again.
Lauren ran cross country and track at DePaul University. She graduated in 2017 with a double major in communication and journalism. She is currently a staff member with Athletes in Action in Chicago.
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