MINNEAPOLIS – Everything got crazy around 2 p.m. Saturday at the Hilton Minneapolis, just a stone’s throw away from the site of Super Bowl LII between New England and Philadelphia.
Current and former NFL greats were everywhere, as were extremely enthusiastic fans.
As a sportswriter and fan myself, I get it and understand the attraction and excitement. I stood on the second floor of this beautiful hotel and did some “people watching” from over the balcony. I had just wrapped up some interviews after the Athletes in Action Super Bowl Breakfast and needed a few moments to gather my thoughts.
A Recipe for Idolatry
There were grown men walking around in their Brady or Foles jerseys, women dressed like they were going to an evening ball or out on the town, and kids everywhere with footballs and memorabilia to sign.
Loud conversations were going on in the bar area about who is the greatest player of all time. The atmosphere was carnival-like and festive and at times, Eagles fans broke out in song while Patriots faithful grinned with confidence their team was going to win it all, again. (Wrong.)
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Hundreds of people crammed into a modest-sized five-star hotel lobby, all with their game faces on and ready to tackle anyone who stood between them and snapping a picture with their idols.
“Did you get a picture with him?” one dad asked of his son in the hallway when Franco Harris emerged. “Yeah, I did. Hey dad, who was that?” the boy asked. All the kid knew was this guy HAD to be famous.
The NFL and our society has vaulted professional athletes to an unreachable, almost god-like status.
Admittedly, I too fell into the stargazing category at times, especially when I bumped into a guy whose play I admired as the legendary quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys—Roger Staubach. I was able to snag some time with him for a brief interview, and of course, a selfie.
Chip, a father from the Twin City area, was there with his son, Rocket—love that name—and the boy’s friend Adam. Rocket is 11 while his pal is 12. They were having a blast and snapped memorable photos with the likes of Jerome Bettis, Alex Smith, Cris Carter and Dak Prescott.
“It’s amazing to see all these people here, and the kids are having so much fun,” he said. “It’s the biggest thing in this city for a long time…except for Jesus. He’s bigger.” Curiously, he didn’t even know I was a Believer when he said that to me.
But others did not have the same opinion.
“Man, I don’t know what you’re getting at,” Rodney from Chicago said with a chuckle when I asked him what he would do if Jesus Christ showed show up in the lobby to get out of the falling snow. “The dude don’t exist.”
Chip and Rodney were in the same hotel lobby at the same event, but they were miles apart in philosophy. To Chip, Rocket and Adam, God is alive, and they were excited about going to hear Tim Tebow preach the next day at a local church. I wonder what Rodney would have done if Tebow walked into the room. A picture maybe?
Converging But Opposing Storylines
Kids and adults alike pushed and shoved one another to get closer to an athlete they did not know, only to have the player ignore them most of the time.
Broadcast networks and sports outlets fuel the players’ egos, but they are also quick to pounce on a negative story. However, when a player gives glory to God, they shut off the cameras and stop the interview, unless it’s live. That’s when they send it upstairs.
“(The media) doesn’t understand it,” Minnesota Vikings Team Chaplain Tom Lamphere told me. “That’s why they turn it off. They just don’t get it that there is a higher power we serve. I’m not sure if they are afraid or it just doesn’t register.”
Thousands of people flocked to the Land of 10,000 Lakes to get a piece of history and to idolize athletes who are there simply to play a game. Eager fans make sure the players’ egos are constantly fed.
“It’s an identity thing for a lot of players here. Some think they deserve all this,” said NFL Hall of Famer Kurt Warner. “But for me, I’m here to do a job, and it also gives me a platform to tell people about the Lord at the right time. I don’t shy away from it, and this is a wonderful venue to do that.”
Who You’re Reaching Out to Touch Matters
Many believe they can fill the void in their lives by touching a famous person. Watching the fans gather around the athletes reminded me of the Biblical account concerning the woman who had bled for 12 years. She knew if she could somehow fight through the crowd and touch the Master’s clothing, she would be made whole.
The crowd she muddled through had to be similar to the one I saw in the lobby. She acted like some of the kids I saw trying to get a glimpse of Drew Brees. Some were nervous and anxious, just like she must have been.
But when she touched the Lord, He turned and told her that her faith had made her whole. But many of the autograph seekers last weekend were rejected and ignored by the athletes while others came away with a harvest of signatures to add to their memories and post on social media.
I wonder how the ones who were rejected by the players felt. All that effort for nothing.
Just know that if you chase after Christ, He will take the time to pay attention to you. He will make you feel important and will not act as though you don’t exist. Then you can try to find Rodney and tell him he was wrong, and invite him to meet God.
What It All Means
Professional sports, the spectacle of the Super Bowl and all the events leading up to the four-hour broadcast are part of a true fan experience. I loved being there and took it all in as I worked and watched.
While there is nothing wrong with being a fan of the NFL and going to the Super Bowl, beware of the thin line between excitement and idolatry, a constantly present danger when we place athletes on too high of a pedestal.
People watching at Super Bowl Weekend showed me there is so much more work to be done to spread the gospel to a dying world and get them to acknowledge the greatest champion who ever lived, Jesus Christ, who remains undefeated. I applaud those who take advantage of the opportunity to appropriately share the gospel in this setting, using their platform to reach people with more than just celebrity.
“They that make a graven image are all of them vanity; and their delectable things shall not profit; and they are their own witness; they see not, nor know; that they may be ashamed.” Isaiah 44: 9
Idolatry only leads to false hopes and disappointment. If only the world would focus on the Son of God, the real hero who guarantees victory in both this life and the next.