The theological debate was kicked off by a receiver for the star-crossed Buffalo Bills dropping a pass. When Stevie Johnson dropped a sure touchdown pass on November 28th, he also dropped a chance for his team to upset the fearsome Pittsburgh Steelers. And as a result, Johnson did what hugely disappointed men have done for millennia. He cursed his God, albeit not in a particularly vulgar way, unless one considers the mode of the curse. Stevie Johnson addressed his God via Twitter, texting the Lord: “I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!! AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! Moreover, having plenty of characters left, he went on: “YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO…”
That “THX THO…,” perhaps, predicted Johnson’s reversal about a day later – and in the sort of elegant Twitter prose that would have made St. Augustine or Martin Luther jealous: “learned A lot Within 24hrs. Saw Both Sides.(Ups&Downs) I AM HAPPY & THANKFUL 4 YESTERDAY! w/out Sunday I Wldnt have grew closer w/ The Lord!!” In further tweets on the matter, Johnson admonished tweeting correspondents not to judge him for his error, explaining that “I Simply Cried Out And Asked Why?”
All of which inspired Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Michael Smerconish to deliver himself of some theological thought after mulling over Johnson’s “tracts” for a week. He came to the shocking (I say, SHOCKING!) conclusion that God has nothing to do with athletic success or failure. Part of his rationale was as follows: “[A]cknowledging God’s hand in both wins and losses would undermine any need to actually play the games.”
(Yawn.) Maybe Theology (or Epistemology, or rationality) isn’t always Smerconish’s strong suit. Why wouldn’t the games be played, given that there is disagreement about an active hand of God in anything? Even if the people who firmly believe that game outcomes are predestined withdrew from the NFL, couldn’t a “free will” faction continue to schedule contests and sell souvenir jerseys? After all, the Lord isn’t tipping his hand about tipping the scales. Indeed, since the time of the Old Testament, he’s been pretty quiet, and even when he was talking, he gave people, among other things, some really goofy instructions. (“Kill my own son because, um, you say so?!?) And what was with that business of people living to be 800 years old? Even Connie Mack didn’t make that – although he did look it.
Then again, maybe it isn’t about rationality, or evidence, or whatever 21st century term might apply. After all, despite his silence, God himself is firmly supported in belief by the vast majority of Western peoples. Poll after poll verifies this non-rational viewpoint, so who is Michael Smerconish to say that God doesn’t stick his finger in front of a goalpost here and there for his own entertainment? Is that notion any stranger than the notion of a virgin birth or Jesus’ resurrection? Oh surely, those matters were all related to saving man from his sin (a big deal, surely), but who’s to say that God doesn’t like sports, one of the creations of his creation, Man? After all, he hasn’t drowned any Super Bowl crowds in a deluge, right?
Let’s suppose, then, that God is a fan, and largely a laissez faire fan, but that, now and then, he indulges himself in tilting the playing field a bit. What can we infer about God the Fan?
First and most obviously, God is clearly a Yankees fan. Do we really have to lay out the statistical argument here? I think not. Moreover, a corollary to this induction has to be that God likes those old school uniforms. Why do you think those ’80’s Astros never got anywhere in their clown jerseys? In fact, God’s preference for classic uniforms is probably why the Tigers stomped the Padres so badly in the ’84 Series. Yep, the Lord likes the Bronx Bombers and their threads, but Lou Gehrig’s early death and how it fits into all this remains a real puzzle.
Second, God pretty obviously likes the great NFL teams of the ’70s. How many Super Bowl wins do the Steelers and Cowboys have between them? Enough said. Corollary: the Lord likely doesn’t go much for steroids. Evidence? 1) Google “Lyle Alzado’s grave.” 2) Jose Canseco has to make money by fighting Danny Bonaduce? And they “fight” to a draw? Sometimes the Lord works in mysterious ways; sometimes he’s pret-ty obvious.
Next, there seems to be some evidence that the Almighty changes his mind as a fan. How else do we explain his allowing the Philadelphia Phillies to pile up 10,000 losses, then to win four straight divisional titles, two N.L. titles, and a World Series. My guess is that God started to think about cutting the Phils a break when they finally ditched those powder blue and maroon road uniforms in 1992.
Finally, the Big Fan in the Sky really does seem to have something against the Cubs, Pirates, and Royals, as well as Stevie Johnson’s Bills, the Lions, and the Bengals (to hold the discussion to baseball and football only). Fans of all these teams say as much frequently, but they may not fully appreciate how right they are.
I mean, which would you rather have to face – a plague of locusts or suiting up in the same uniform as T.O. and Chad 85?
Smerconish, Michael. “God doesn’t pay attention to the game.” The Philadelphia Inquirer 5 December 2010: D1.