The Problem With Idolizing Sports Stars

Over the last two weeks, I’ve been following an unfolding court drama in South Africa. The South African case involves global Paralympian sprint runner Oscar Pistorious, who not only competed and won against able bodied men in the 2012 Olympics, but had fought and changed sprint racing rules for all paralympic competitors after him.

He has been accused of premeditated murder in the wrongful death of his South African model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, who died at his home from multiple gunshot wounds, following what Pistorious described as an accidental shooting during a suspected break-in. Prosecutors disagreed.

Since his arrest the media have spun what might have happened a thousand different ways, and Pistorius’ fall from public grace was so rapid one could barely keep up with it. Not only had women’s groups emerged, protesting violence against women and children, in front of the court house where Pistorius’ bail hearing was held in South Africa, but Nike, who had ironically dubbed Pistorius “the bullet in the chamber,” were now ripping down roadside banners of Pistorius, in reaction to public opinion.

As astounding as the events were, I couldn’t help but consider why we seem to always idolize sports stars. We are mesmerized by their talents and delighted by their strength. They inspire us, guide us, and act as role models for our kids. We continue to put faith in the body that beats the odds, even though the past has taught us that humans are full of weakness. Haven’t we learned not to put our trust in people that often end up in disgraceful situations?

We have idolized football stars, Joe Namath, OJ Simpson, basketball’s Kobe Bryant, bicyclist Lance Armstrong, golf pro Tiger Woods, all falling short of our expectations. We saw their talents and our affections for them fall beneath the scorn of alcohol and drug abuse, gambling, womanizing, scandals and murder trials.

And yet we reached again to idolize exceptional talent and ability. In Pistorius we found the perfect hero, seeming more like a modern day David, undamaged, perfected; strong. He had defeated his giants. He was a double amputee who had overcome his disability, along with overcoming the effects of a broken home, an estranged relationship with his father, the death of his mother, still bearing the tattoo of her death on his forearm, racing against able bodied men and winning time and time again.

The world loved him.

Standing on his cheetah running blades with clouds rolling behind him one could almost imagine a superhero, protector, above human frailties. But behind this market image was a different story.

And now, that hero seemed far away; life changed forever. And innocent or guilty, what remains, at least for this moment, is a shattered, broken life; a man left to pick up the painful pieces created by a reckless decision and face God, as we all have to.

All of our sports star worship revealed yet again that people are not Gods, nor are they to be worshiped. They are human, exactly as God intended. It is only God himself who is capable of answers for our lives, or perfected strength. And it is only from God, not ourselves, and not from others that we are made strong.

Whenever we take our eyes off God, and admire men with exceptional God-given abilities, idolize the riches and wealth that accompany them, or glamorize their lifestyles or positions, we worship the creation instead of the creator.

As tempting as it is to pay attention to all the glitz and glamour on our television screens, and become engrossed in the obsession with Hollywood stars, entertainers and exceptional sports heroes, we are called to put our trust in God.

When we put our trust in God we understand that people will always be imperfect, and offer the opportunity for disappointment. We can feel safe in the fact that God never changes, and is the same yesterday, today and always.

We may not always think about celebrity worship as making an idol for ourselves, but anything that we set above God is our idol. Worldly idols will always lead us to the same unfulfilled place resulting in emptiness, anger and disappointment. People are only human, with the same weaknesses, human emotions, affinity for messing up, and with the same problems we have. Their exceptional ability doesn’t make them any more unique or perfected than you are.

And as Paul explained to men in Athens, Greece, “Since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone –an image made by man’s design or skill.” Acts 17:29

We should remember to immolate or lives after God. God reveals our unique qualities in God’s special gifts when we seek him, but if we are so busy immolating other people, and modeling their gifts, we are bound to miss our own.

Understanding that taking our eyes off of people and surrendering our will to God’s purpose allows us to open ourselves spiritually to God’s gifts and his calling.

We don’t need to model other people, seek to be like anyone other than ourselves, or feel the need to idolize the abilities of others. God created each of us with exceptional talents, gifts and affinities for Godly living if only we will seek him. Thank God his grace will always sustain us and his forgiveness and endless love never fails.