In 2010, The Wall Street Journal published a study breaking down what a three-hour TV broadcast of an NFL game typically showed. They found that broadcasts included:
- 67 minutes of players and coaches standing around
- nearly one hour of commercials
- 17 minutes of replays
- only eleven minutes of actual playing time
If you watch football regularly (or most sports in general), you have probably grown accustomed to the commodification of these eleven minutes with broadcaster commentary on stats and strategy, an average of twenty commercial breaks, halftime shows, and with in-game and postgame interviews. Today, with pre- and postgame shows and the 24/7 coverage on sports radio and cable TV, football fans can easily fill the margins of their lives with talk of the gridiron’s glorious 11 minutes.
But should they? How can Christian football fans walk as God calls us to, “not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16)?
The purpose of this article is not to heap condemnation on other NFL fans. I myself am a fan who enjoys a good game. Rather, I hope to encourage you to “Not waste your football fandom” (to borrow a Piper-ism). You probably won’t wish you had watched more football in heaven. But we all will regret squandering time and emotions on trivial matters—the only question is how much.
5 Practical Strategies for Redeeming the Time this NFL Season
- Turn off the TV.
This should go without saying. Analyzing your intake of football-related media might expose deep, culturally ingrained idols in your heart. If that is the case, repent of your idolatry and pursue the Lord with all of your heart.
Some may choose to go cold turkey with sports entertainment out of devotion to Christ, others may step back their involvement, closely monitoring their hearts (Proverbs 4:23). In football and all of life, we must strive toward our chief end, “to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever” (The Westminster Shorter Catechism).
- Cut back on unimportant games.
As a football fan and sports fan in general, I try to weigh my sport media intake in relation to how important each game is (i.e. preseason and most regular season games will be forgotten within a few weeks, let alone the long walk of eternity—especially if you’re a Bears fan like me!).
The playoffs and championship games, especially when cheering for your favorite team, are typically more memorable—I can remember where I watched most Super Bowls from the mid nineties until today, along with their iconic moments. I would rather spend time watching those games than the ones I will forget days—let alone years—later.
- Let technology work for you.
Instead of watching a three hour game each week (or multiple games), DVR owners can record games and watch it at their own pace by fast forwarding. To save even more time and scratch your football itch, you might consider watching highlights on the evening news or skimming the box score online.
- Ask yourself how you can grow as a disciple of Christ through football.
We would all do well by incorporating spiritual disciplines into every area of life, including watching football. This might mean reviewing sermon notes from church, praying during breaks in action, reading a Christian book, etc. You consider praying for the gospel move in football clubhouses through Christian players and chaplains.
Maybe instead of Googling player stats or reciting every Heisman winner since 1992 during games, you memorize Scripture. Storing Peyton Manning yearly TD totals in your heart will not impact your life in any meaningful way; storing God’s Word in your heart will grow you in holiness, spiritual fruit, and love for the Lord (Psalm 119:9-11; Psalm 1); things that will increase your eternal usefulness on earth. I’ve never heard anyone say they regret memorizing Scripture, but have heard countless regret not memorizing more.
- Ask yourself how you can grow as a disciple-maker of Christ through football.
If you’re going to watch a game anyway, you might as well use your time for relationship building with your family, friends, or neighbors. Pray for spiritually significant conversations and consider using football-related storylines to steer toward gospel conversations with both Christians and unbelievers.
Storylines might include countless examples of public sin or abuse, character (either good or bad), or the fleeting satisfaction of football (like how a GOAT-candidate like Tom Brady has publicly said, “Why do I have three Super Bowl rings and still think there’s something greater out there for me? … There has to be more than this.“).
This exercise in applying the gospel to life as a sports fan should be good practice for all of life: how can we best use our time for God’s glory?
Shadows of the Gospel
Fans love football for a variety of reasons. Some enjoy the storylines of heroes, villains, and underdogs, while others enjoy being a part of the community that develops around their favorite team. Some feed on contemplating true greatness.
While pondering good qualities of things we love (like football), a heart passionate for Jesus can’t help but think of how all of our deepest longings are satisfied in Him:
- You like a good storyline? How about God creating the world, the world rebelling against Him, God sending His own Son to die a brutal death to reconcile rebellious sinners to Himself, and giving His reconciled people a time-sensitive mission to take this mission to the ends of the earth?
- You enjoy being a part of a football-related community? Think how the gospel forms churches all over the world, communities of Christ-worshippers assembling to strengthen each other and reach the lost world with the gospel of grace.
- If you enjoy contemplating true greatness, think of the One who put aside heaven’s glories and for a flesh-suit and life as a servant—for your sake. Then think how denying yourself to follow Him and serve others is the true path to greatness (Mark 8:34-37; Mark 10:43-44).
If this seems like the cheesiest “Jesus Juke” you’ve ever heard (doubly cheesy because this article deals with football), let me challenge you to make Christ your all-consuming passion in life and live every moment “to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:12).
Eternity awaits, and the words of C.T. Studd loom larger now than when you began reading this article, “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”