What SportsCenter Taught Me About God

by | May 10, 2023 | Spirituality, Sports

Growing up, my breakfast usually consisted of Cream of Wheat with sugar while watching ESPN. The small television on top of the fridge was essentially always tuned to that channel, especially for SportsCenter

It is the sort of show that can be enjoyed while only listening to it except for when the highlights came on. My spoon would have to be put down so I could give the television set my full attention. This is when ESPN showed the “Top 10” moments, selected from a wide array of different sports. I always enjoyed these highlights, especially since I could never watch every inning, every down, every serve, or every shot of every sport. There are just so many of them. The highlights, though, display the most extraordinary moments of the past day or week.

Highlights often come from the team or person that wins, but not always. No one wins all the time. From the snapshot of a highlight, the final score is almost an afterthought. The highlight provides the frame to share a particularly successful feat – like a grand slam or a great out, a touchdown pass or an interception, an impressive serve or return, a fadeaway jumper or a block. While stats make up so much of sports, especially baseball, the data itself is not what gets people out of their seats to scream, shout, or even sometimes cry. Instead, it is the pregnant moment when something extraordinary happens. Highlights create memories.

I think “highlights” are actually the lens through which God looks at us. After all, we are God’s creation.  Rather than a God who keeps a tally of my every move, as if he was an assistant coach keeping the stat book, I believe God loves watching our highlights more than anything else. Even if he knows all the hairs on my head (and all my daily mistakes), I don’t think God is fixated on my daily stat book. He’s more like the coach that brings out the best in me, not by studying stats, but by his persistent commitment, encouragement, and care.

Stat keeping requires an eraser, but I don’t think God uses erasers. God only needs a highlighter. Like the “Top 10,” God looks for the best in us, wants the best for us, and is thrilled when we succeed. He celebrates with us. No need for God to erase any part of ourselves or our past. In this way, SportsCenter reflects what is at the very center of God.

As humans, perfection has never been an expectation, that is not our nature. When Christ speaks of being perfect as our heavenly Father, the reference is to love as our Father loves, not just to not make mistakes. Our goal should be to love, and when we fall short, we commit to repent and do better the next time. 

A coach cannot lose his cool with every dropped pass or missed shot, but he certainly might if a player puts forward anything less than what he or she is capable of on the field or the court. That is precisely what we do when we neglect the Sacraments, God’s own playbook for success, instituted by Christ and carried out by the Church. Like a coach who puts in more hours than his players, God has been working since before we were born so that we can give life our all. God deserves that from us, and we owe it to ourselves to do the very best we can. The sacraments of the Church help us do just that. That’s why God gave us them—to provide us grace and strength to “run the race so as to win,” as Saint Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians. Perfection belongs to God, not humans, but that does not mean our performance should ever be half-hearted.

I may not have the opportunity to play organized sports or coach again, but I hope to shift that attention I once provided to sports highlights to future students I may teach, a parish where I preach, or somebody being overlooked by others. Maybe I ought to pray for that loving gaze that Christ must provide us whenever we turn to him in prayer. Perhaps that precious attention that once got me to drop my spoon, could now get me to drop my cell phone, all to better recognize the highlights happening around me every day.


Patrick Hyland, SJ

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