Posted by: Philip Rushton | June 13, 2011

Why am I so Consumed with the NHL Playoffs?

Tonight is a big night if you are from the lower mainland of British Columbia. For the first time in it’s 40 year history, the Vancouver Canucks might actually win the Stanley Cup. It has been 17 years since they had their last chance, and that attempt at the cup did not end well. Vancouver fell to the stacked New York Rangers team and the city went into an all out riot. I still remember the scenes of people trashing the shopping district on Robson street. What can I say – hockey means a lot to us Canadians!

I have to confess that I am completely caught up in this playoff run. Even though I live 300 miles south of Vancouver in a foreign country that could care less about hockey, I am securely on the Vancouver Canucks bandwagon. Whenever the Canucks score, I join the hundreds of thousands of people that are gathered in downtown Vancouver with a solitary cheer from my apartment in Longview.

What I’ve been wondering about this week is why is this so important to me? What causes us to become so passionate about cheering for our home team? At its most basic level, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. We are cheering for a group of highly paid professionals that are not even from our home town or even our country. Furthermore, these players switch teams regularly such that some of the players I cheered for last year are now playing against my team. As Jerry Seinfeld points out, we are really just cheering for a shirt, because the players wearing those shirts are different every year. A hockey fan, at its most rudimentary level, is someone who cheers for laundry as it chases around a 3 inch rubber puck with a stick and try and get it into a net.

Nevertheless, hockey continues to evoke deep passion and commitment. On the opening night of the Stanley Cup final, huge flags hung over the ice at Rogers Arena in Vancouver saying “This is What We Live For.”

I don’t think I have this totally figured out but I’ve thought of a couple reasons why this becomes so important to us.

Some of the reasons are probably pretty simple. I think part of it comes down to the fact that we like to be entertained. We spend millions of dollars as North Americans every year on movies and television. Sports are quite entertaining, and broadcasters know how to play up the entertainment factor. We aren’t just watching a game, we are watching an epic battle between two teams, which is colored with personal interest stories and off ice subplots.

However, I think there is something deeper than just entertainment going on. When I lived in Vancouver there were huge advertisements on buses that read “We are All Canucks.” I think this gets at the heart of it. I think a big reason why we get so caught up in cheering the home team is that gives us a sense of belonging. When I put on my old worn out Canucks hat it is not for the sake of fashion. This hat has seen better days, and probably needs to be replaced. Instead, when I wear this hat it makes me feel that I am a part of something – I am associating myself with a community of people that share a common passion.

Interestingly, the time when I felt most connected with my community up in Canada was during the playoffs. It was the one time of year that I could strike up a conversation with a pure stranger or honk my horn at someone waving a Canucks flag. This year my brother and I often text commentary about the game when the Canucks are playing. We are both BC boys living in America – him in New York me in Washington. Our common passion brings us together.

From a Christian perspective we believe we were created for community. We were made in the image of a triune God who by very nature is communal and inter-related. We have inherited a community gene. God pronounced at creation that it is not good for man to be alone! So this longing to belong to a community is powerful, especially when we live in a culture that often fosters isolation. Commuting, air conditioning, television, and internet shopping are just a few things that keep is indoors, and isolate us from community.

Lastly, I think there is an element of idolatry going on here that can be dangerous. Timothy Keller defines idolatry as, “anything more important to you that God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more that God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.” For some people hockey becomes an idol. We turn to sports to fill that human desire for hope, joy, or meaning in life.

Usually idolatry is more subtle in the modern world – it takes on the form of greed, romance, or the drive for power. With sports, however, we tend to revert to idolatry in its more ancient and primitive form. We bow down to a literal silver statue known as the Stanley Cup. I count myself as one of the guilty. Pictured below is Julie and I touching the holy grail of hockey this past year!

I think it is important for us to keep our passion for hockey in check. As West coast sports fans we should be well aware that ultimate meaning, joy, or hope cannot be found in local sports. We’ve been disappointed too many times! I commented on this last year in an article “Why Being a West Coast Sports Fan is Both Good and Bad For Your Soul?”

Timothy Keller reminds us that something becomes an idol when we make a good thing an ultimate thing. Idols are usually made out of good things, but they become dangerous when we start to put ultimate meaning in them. In the Bible idols become things that we love, trust and obey – they end up defining and directing our lives. I’m excited to listen to the game tonight, I love how sports can bring us together and foster community, but at the end of the day hockey cannot be “what I live for.”

So what are your thoughts? What do you think causes us to be so passionate about sports?

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Responses

  1. I think you’re right on target, Phil – it’s that sense of belonging that draws us in. It’s also a distraction from the ordinary; an excitement of focus. When I moved to Nebraska, I didn’t know what “Big Red” was…other than a pack of gum… but it didn’t take long to catch on. Nebraska loves their college football. Flags fly, people stand to salute the TV when the coach enters the scene, and whenever there’s a Cornhusker game, the “red” populace becomes the third largest city. I got caught up into the fanfare with the rest of the Huskers. Go Big Red! But you’re right again – it can’t be what we “live for.”

    • Thanks Kay, appreciate your perspective!

  2. At a Bible Study last night we were talking about contentment (Heb. 13:5) and our discussion quickly jumped to the emotional roller coaster most of Greater Vancouver and beyond has been on these last two months (we had just watched Game 6 together). We wondered, how does biblical contentment fit with the highs and lows of professional sports? I think you outline well the positive impact (togetherness) that sport can elicit, while pointing us to the danger of idolatry. Win or lose, for better or for worse, this playoff has been a test of faith for many, and not just their faith in the Canucks. Let’s hope we learn the right lessons as sports fan, and more importantly, as followers of Jesus.

    • Hey Dave. Sure miss being up in Canada this week! Tempted to drive up Wednesday to take in game 7 with friends, but I have too much going on down here. Trying to get a few people on the bandwagon down here. I sometimes wish Longview was a couple hours closer to BC.

      Hope things are well.

      • Yeah, there is a tangible nervousness/excitement in the air. Probably bigger than the Gold Medal game for most. Keep representin’ down south! Canucks nation reaches far and wide!

  3. Phil, I love your heart! God surely revels in the introspect your passion for hockey shows in your blog. He works his majestic will in things that bring people together, whether it be NHL championships or church-league softball. What matters to Him, obviously, are people’s hearts seeking His own. Thank-you for what you (including your passion for the Canucks) bring to our community. FYI, we play indoor floor hockey often during the winter months at Mt Solo Middle School and the kids absolutely love it!! P.S. You need to learn a little “Blazermania” before next season because the Portland Trailblazers played the Dallas Mavericks every bit as tough (or tougher) as the Miami Heat, and with some luck and a Healthy Greg Odin, they could be playing for the NBA championship a year from now.

    • Thanks for your comments Eric! We’ll have to get in some Blazers games together next year!

      • A pure musical phrase Eric, …He works his majestic will in things that bring people together….Ah, there in lies the rub, does the fellowship of Sunday translate to the cultural “loves” of our lives? Give us a hint of help Phil. ……………….En Cristo………


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