It’s interesting that, for most people, affiliation with a sports team isn’t really something that one chooses, but rather, a decision that one is born into. If you’re born in Alabama, you’re automatically a fan of the Tide, unless your family doesn’t like winning as often, in which case you pull for the Tigers. If you’re born in Ohio, you have the unfortunate inheritance of being a Cleveland fan, while birth a few miles to the east allows you to relish in all things Pittsburgh. No matter who you are though, it is likely that your favorite sports team was decided for you, long before you were capable of making such a choice for yourself. It’s sort of like eye or hair color, though in the case of the latter, even more permanent.
My family was no different. We are Florida fans, through and through.*1* Several members of my family went to school there. My uncle David was a star nose guard *2* in the seventies, my grandparents went to all his games, my grandmother still goes to an occasional game…we are Gator fans. Growing up, I was probably 7 or 8 before I realized that the other teams in Florida didn’t exist solely to play when the Gators couldn’t make it to the game. *3* Being a Gator fan was my birthright, one that I’ve embraced with all my might.
All of my sports-related energy is directly tied to the Gator football team. I’ve contended for a long time that merely pulling for a team doesn’t make you a fan of that team. Rather, you’re only a true fan if it bothers you when your team looses, and by this matrix, I am a Gator and only a Gator, for life. I hate to admit it, but it bugs me when the Gators lose. Not for long, and I don’t scream and curse or anything like that, but I definitely loose sleep after a Gator loss, especially if I’ve been forced to watch it live. *4* Because of this, I barely even like to watch the Gators play any more, and have, on several occasions, gone to see a movie or taken off to the mountains on days when I think our chances of victory are pretty slim. *5* Should Florida manage to surprise me, I can always catch the highlights on ESPN.
In conversation, when I tell people this, I’m often told that this means I’m not a true fan, apparently, to some, I really do need to watch the Gators loose if I’m going to be counted among the faithful. But I disagree. Watching the Gators loose makes me unhappy, and athletics are supposed to exist for the exact opposite reason. Plus, my wife hates all sports in general, but especially football, and so to watch football means I’m using up serious marriage points to do so. So, I don’t watch, at least not live on TV. *6*
A by-product of this is that I’ve become a huge fan of professional sports, and especially pro-football. (I’m using the term “fan” in a looser, more general sense, in that I love to watch but it doesn’t bother me a bit when a team I like looses.) Because we usually don’t turn the TV on on Sunday afternoons, one of my favorite fall traditions over the last few years has been to come home from the Sunday evening service, put my family to bed, and to then turn on Sunday night football right at halftime, so I can watch the day’s highlights and enjoy the second half of the game in quiet bliss. And even though I have teams I pull for more than others, should one of those teams loose I’m still able to turn the TV off and get a good nights sleep. *7* I love this arrangement, and as far as I’m concerned, I have no reason to want to mess with a good thing.
As this relates to missionary life, I’ve been thinking about all the things I have to offer our team as we head to the mission field. What are my gifts, my talents, my abilities, my likes, my passions, etc? I don’t want to sound self-centered, because what we’re going to do in France certainly isn’t all about me, but a lot of missionary work seems to fall into an undefined category of ministry, and most often, this is defined by who you are and what you can do.
What I mean is this. A big part of our job is to meet people, to build relationships with them, get to know them, build friendships, etc. This can sound simple enough, and for some people it may well be. But, if you’ve ever moved to a city where you don’t know anyone, and don’t have any real ties, this can be a more difficult task. Through in a language barrier and suddenly this is no easy task. As for us, we are certainly going to a city where we don’t know anyone, and even after language school there will still be a language barrier for quite sometime. But it’s our job to meet people, it’s what we’re there to do, and so we’re going to need to find ways to overcome some of the obvious disadvantages if we’re going to do well in our ministry. This is why I’ve been thinking about what I have to offer, because I need to know what I can do to help break through some of these barriers.
And I’m convinced that my peculiar love of sports is going to help me in this matter. All of my sports angst is tied to the Florida Gators, and there is no possible way that anyone will be able to turn this against me. The SEC has expanded into Missouri and Texas, but something tells me we’re still a long way away from the French border. *8* France is a nation of professional sports, and I’m admittedly fickle with my professional allegiances, and I think this is going to come in handy when we get over there. We currently don’t even know which city we’re going to end up in, be it Lyon or Toulouse or some other city, but it doesn’t really matter, because wherever we end up will likely have a professional sports team, which means I will be able to pull for that team with full abandon, and not betray my inner roots one bit.
This matters because, while it’s good to be familiar with the likes of Foucault and Derrida, discussion with the average guy I meet is much more likely to be centered around France’s chances of winning the next world cup. *9* Sports are an easy way to get to know people, or at least a good way to get a friendship started. We’ve got other means for meeting people too, everything from cooking to kids, but if past experience is any indication, a love of sports is as good an in as any. I’m going to learn to love football, even if it’s played the communist way. *10*
Thank you all for your support and your prayers. This month is shaping up to be pretty calm, but starting next month we’re going to be doing some more speaking and traveling, so please pray that all goes well. God bless!
*1*For those of you who aren’t from Florida, or follow college athletics as much as my wife does, by Florida I do not mean all things related to the state of Florida, but rather, all athletics, and particularly the football team, connected to the University of Florida.
*2*For Donnette, and those like her’s sake, that’s a football position denoting someone who plays on the defensive line, directly over the center…the guy who snaps the ball.
*3*Though, at least in the case of FSU, that would be far better than what they actually are…
*4*This is why my job as a restaurant manager was so taxing. Once, in 2007, I had to close the bar the night UF played LSU in Baton Rouge. Florida hardly ever wins there, particularly at night, and we’d lost the week before so my expectations were pretty low, and my only hope was that the late kickoff would mean that I could shut down the place before the game was over. To my surprise, Florida led most of the game, and had everything gone according to plan, I would have locked the doors before I could see the Gators inevitable collapse. Unfortunately for me, a guy game in about 45 minutes before we closed, and his purple and gold jersey indicated he wanted to stick around till the end of the game. So I had to sit there, past closing time, with a LSU fan, to watch the Gators lose a game they’d led in for all but the final two minutes. Not only did I not sleep that night, I don’t think I slept well the next night either!
*5*Sadly, I’m rarely wrong.
*6*This used to mean I would wait on my mom to call me with good news, but with the rise of the internet and smart phones, I am usually following along to the games, casually updating my phone every 30 seconds or so.
*7*There is one other caveat to my rule of fan-dom, you may casually pull for any team you like, but you may not talk trash to someone who is a true fan of another team. For example, out of loyalty to my buddy Nik, I’ve pulled for the Steelers over the last few seasons. However, this in no way entitles me to mock Cleveland fans, especially since being a Cleveland fan is, in itself, enough of a mockery already.
*8*Plus, it’s worth noting that collegiate athletics do not exist in France.
*9 Pretty good, from what I understand.
*10* My best friends wife’s dad is a football coach who calls soccer “commie ball.”