Guarding against false idols

Frequent CV readers know that I have a tendency to write about the Catholic faith and the world of sports (see here, hereherehere and here). As a former high school athlete who played baseball, football and swimming, I naturally admire those folks who can perform at the highest levels.

But there is a big difference, for example, between bonding with your son while watching game 6 of the World Series and spending inordinate amounts of time and money on athletic events.

Sure, sports are a fun escape – one that I often indulge in myself – and they can teach us important life lessons. But when we are nearing our own death, are we really going to think back to how we felt after our team lost the championship game? Or about whether or not a certain pitch should have been called a strike instead of a ball?

No. We’re going to look back at the time we spent with our families, friends and whether or not we followed God’s commandments.

Unfortunately, the cult-like mentality professional athletics can engender robs many of us of the opportunity to do these sorts of things. Thus, it is of the utmost importance to be on guard against making sports a false idol.

As the old adage goes, a picture is worth a 1,000 words. And with the NBA’s regular season having just commenced this past week, some of the pictures that have been floating around the internet reminded me of how the sports world thinks of itself, and how it seemingly enjoys mimicking the imagery of the Catholic Church.



Could such pictures be any more devoid of substance? The first one shows LeBron James, arguably the NBA’s best and most well known player, throwing up chalk in the air as if what he’s about to partake in is some sort of ceremony. Like what he’s about to do is a type of sacrament to the gods of pop culture.  The second picture borders on idolatry, reminding us about how fortunate we are to be alive while Mr. James roams the earth.

Some will surely say that I’m making a big deal out of nothing. The “Together We Rise” picture is something LeBron has been doing for years. It’s really just an innocent Samsung marketing ad. Moreover, the “Witness” photo has been around for quite some time and it has nothing to do with glorifying Mr. James.

Fine. If you want, look at it that way.

As for me, I couldn’t help but think of the similarities between those pictures and the ones below, which remind me of how much more beautiful the Catholic faith – which focuses on sacrifice, humility and submission to God’s will – is than the fruitless, individualistic values of American culture:

roman-catholic-mass (1)

Jesus crucifixI think you know what I’m trying to get at here. Now, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, sports can and should be enjoyed. But only in moderation. To that end, Catholics must be vigilant in their efforts to not fall into the trap of treating professional sports as false idols. They must, as Pope Francis has remarked, “always be on guard against deceit and the seduction of evil”…no matter what form that evil manifests itself in.



  • MD

    Having lived in Cleveland during James’ rise, I can remember coming to the end of I-77 and being faced with the Witness sign. I shuddered each time I had to see it – and it was prominent so Clevelanders saw it daily – the Chris-like pose was not even slightly camouflaged. But sports aren’t the only place we take advantage of Christian images. Look at lines like “I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free. And I won’t forget the man who died who gave that right to me.”

    • Abby

      *men who died… as in, the soldiers who died for our freedom. Not Jesus.

  • Fernando

    I would use Derrick Rose’s commercial in your article where he says his idol and his only “everything” is basketball.

  • Fernando

    While I agree on your Idolatry points, I would disagree on using Lebron as an example of it and perhaps use him as an example of how Athletes and all of us in general, put family first. Lebron before he is an Athlete is an amazing father, note his last commercials include his children. I live in Miami and he is always with his kids. He rides a bike to every game, he is far from wanting to be idolatrized. He may not be a Catholic as you and I are but he sure is a role model for kids and more so ADULTS to see that Family comes first.



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