KSR Voices: Can Sports Heal Our Land?

Robert Cunninghamalmost 3 years

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Aritcle written by:Robert CunninghamRobert Cunningham

To call our world divided has become inadequate. We are utterly estranged, entrenched behind fortified walls of raging partisan spin.

Recently, local columnist Paul Prather wrote an uncharacteristically alarming piece suggesting that we may be past the point of no return with a new civil war perhaps looming on the horizon, not between north and south, but left and right.

The day after Prather’s column, The Wall Street Journal published an essay by Nebraska Senator Benn Sasse, where he likewise wondered if we have reached our breaking point. As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which recently became ground zero of our nation’s hatred, Sen. Sasse is uniquely qualified to speak on this issue. I’m a huge admirer of Sen. Sasse, and he has become my go-to example of a Christian politician and public intellectual.

Sasse’s essay (adapted from his newly released book Them: Why We Hate Each Other—and How to Heal) rightly points out that politics itself is neither the source nor savior of our political divide. Instead he points to the epidemic of loneliness. We are relational beings, which means isolation is unsustainable, and we will inevitably seek out community in some form or fashion.

But what happens when traditional communities built upon faith, family, and friendship suddenly collapse beneath the pressure of our secular technological age? We go searching for new tribes. And for a variety of reasons, politics has become our newest tribe. Politics is no longer something we do, it is now something we need. We have turned to political ideology to satisfy our fervent relational longings, such that our political party has now become the basis of community that we all desperately need, the thing we choose to fellowship around.

As a pastoral aside, this may be the greatest tragedy of modern American Christianity. Our faith convictions no longer transcend our political convictions. In other words, we find more commonality with those of the same political persuasion, regardless of their beliefs (or lack thereof) in God. Likewise, we alienate ourselves from those who share a common faith but disagree with our political persuasion, even viewing them as our enemies. Politics, not theology, tends to be the primary shared belief within congregations these days, which is very tragic.

I fear Sen. Sasse is correct. I fear communities that have historically held us together are disintegrating, and in their absence, we are turning to politics for community. Simply put, there is now no tribe greater than our political tribe.

With one exception.

There is one point where I find disagreement with the senator. He says, “Americans have always had political disagreements with their neighbors, but in the past, political differences could disappear when Friday night ballgames rolled around and the whole town turned out wearing the same colors and cheering for the same team. Today our towns are hollower, and we’re not on the same team anymore.”

I disagree. I believe the exception to our partisan divide is precisely the ballgame. Sports remains the one tribe that still transcends our political tribe.

The KSR phenomenon is a perfect example. How is it possible that Matt Jones, a very outspoken Democrat, has risen to become one of the most popular and influential figures in our deeply Republican Commonwealth? The power of sports. So united are we in our love for the #BBN, that we can even love a stinkin’ liberal like Matt!

Our world needs sports now more than ever. It may very well be America’s final respite from our angry estrangement. Let me be clear, sports fandom is not enough to sustain us, and I have written about that before on KSR. But it’s far better than the toxic vitriol of political tribalism, and right now, we just need something, anything, to bring some healing to our country. 

This weekend, hallowed stadiums across our land will once again be filled, not with blue Democrats or red Republicans, but with one color of one team. We will gather, not to vilify one another, but to join one another in sacred traditions that span generations. Together we will chant and cheer, boo and curse, high-five and awkward-hug, and for a few brief hours of sobriety from FOXNEWS and MSNBC, we will forget just how much we hate each other. 

There is a lot on the line this gorgeous fall Saturday in the Bluegrass. Bowl eligibility, holding on to first place in the East, and keeping hope alive of perhaps the greatest season in history. But there’s more at stake than even that. We will gather, not just in praise of our beloved wildcats, but in protest of our bitter divide. So let’s pack the stadium and get wild together.

Not just because our team needs it, but because our world needs it.


Rev. Robert Cunningham is the Senior Pastor of Tates Creek Presbyterian Church. Follow him on Twitter @tcpcrobert and send any comments or feedback to [email protected]

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2021-09-26