“It’s just a game.”
I can’t tell you how many times I heard that phrase from my Mom growing up, especially after heated contests with my younger brother in the driveway with the hoop lowered to six feet so we could dunk.
It was just a game.
But for kids pretending to be Grant Hill and Reggie Miller, it was also so much more.
A case study from two football games
The football season brings us all another opportunity to face the question head on—and hopefully come up with an answer. Is football just a game? It depends who you are asking. Let’s look at what New Orleans Saints kicker Wil Lutz and Wisconsin safety D’cota Dixon have to say about it.
After a week two victory, Lutz made his way to the sidelines to console the opposing kicker, Zane Gonzalez. Gonzalez missed two fields—and two extra points. The Browns lost the game by three points.
Online trolls tried to downplay this moment of sportsmanship, insisting that football is “just a game” and Lutz should have enjoyed celebrating with his teammates. Lutz took to twitter to respond:
At the end of the day it’s not “just a game” to us, this is our livelihood. Our careers rely on personal performance, as does everyone else’s. I will never pull for someone to fail, as I know I will too. I hope to see nothing more than Zane have an amazing career going forward. https://t.co/sSurZwjEKb— Wil Lutz (@wil_lutz5) September 16, 2018
Lutz is absolutely correct. In this moment, fans needed to understand that football is more than just a game. This is their career and it is dependent on their performance.
The same weekend Wisconsin, who was ranked #6 in the country, lost at home to unranked BYU as kicker Rafael Gaglianoni’s game tying kick sailed wide in the final seconds. The Badgers lost by three.
Many analysts chose Wisconsin to reach the four team college football playoff. The early season loss could hinder their chance at achieving that goal. And that was not lost on the local fans. Amidst fans clamoring for a new quarterback and new coaching staff, D’cota Dixon, addressed the local media responding to fans who were “jumping off a cliff” after the loss.
At the end of the day, it’s just a game.
D’cota is absolutely right. Fans need to understand that football is just a game. There are bigger things in the world going on right now than the home team suffering a loss.
D’cota Dixon is right, it is just a game.
Wil Lutz is right, it is not just a game.
How can they address the same question with polar opposite answers and both be right?
We need to start by admitting how easy it is to drift towards binary thinking. Binary thinking forces you to take complicated questions or issues and think that there are only two possible solutions. Right or wrong. Yes or no. Binary thinking does not have categories that involve context or complexity. And we need them to see why both answers to the “Is it just a game” question are appropriate. Right thinking will always flow from proper perspective.
Pro and college are different
Let’s start with the obvious. Lutz gets paid to play football. Dixon does not. And spare me the “scholarships count as getting paid” argument. I agree, they do. But if Dixon misses a few tackles in a game, at worst, he will get benched. If Lutz misses a few field goals, he could lose his job. That’s exactly what happened with Brown’s kicker Zane Gonzalez. He was cut from the team the day after his poor performance. That context is important and it’s why Lutz can say football is more than a game and Dixon can admit there is more to life than football.
They responded to two different fan stereotypes
Another factor we need to consider is that both of them are responding to a certain type of fan base. Lutz is responding to fans who downplay the importance of sports by failing to see what is at stake for the players. Lutz’s answer swings the pendulum the other way to help give them perspective.
Dixon is responding to fans who overplay the importance of sports and seem to let it affect their everyday life when the home team loses. Dixon’s answer swings the pendulum the other way to help give this type of fan the perspective they need.
Wil was responding to a crowd of people telling him to relax and not to console the Browns’ kicker. They needed a dose of perspective—and Lutz gave it to them.
D’cota was responding to a fanbase who had “championship or bust” mentality. They needed a dose of perspective—and Dixon gave it to them.
A perspective for Christ followers
So, is football just a game? Here is my answer. It depends who is asking. Football is just a game—for the fan. Football is more than a game—for the athlete.
As an individual fan, I do not influence game at all. It’s something to watch and enjoy. If the result of a game determines the tone I use with my wife or kids, I lack maturity by letting something I cannot control guide my behavior.
Fans need to, in the words of Aaron Rodgers: RELAX. Dixon is right, at the end of the day everyone is safe. You’re going to be OK. YOU did not lose. The team you cheer for did. Enjoy the game for what it is. Don’t let a negative outcome ruin your day (at best) or ruin a relationship (at worst). James 1:20 tells us that “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
Athletes have more at stake in the game. To tell an athlete it is “just a game” insinuates it has little importance. Many of them have worked their entire lives to get to where they are at and the outcome of their performance not only validates that effort, it also opens up new opportunities.
Athletes would do well to not take it lightly, but not hold it too tightly.
Prepare and play like it’s more than just a game. That’s what God wants in everything we do (Colossians 3:23). When it’s over, win or lose, have a perspective that shows you understand there is life—and purpose—beyond your sport.