Monday, October 29, 2012

The Championship Myth

by Ben Howard

Even though I grew up in central Ohio about an hour outside of Columbus, I've had a circuitous root to my Ohio State Buckeyes fandom. When I was little (read: until college), I was defiantly anti-Ohio State. I mean, everybody at school was a fan of the Buckeyes. Everybody at church was a fan of the Buckeyes. Everybody in my family was a fan of the Buckeyes. I had to be an individual. So I told people I rooted for Michigan, but I actually just rooted against Ohio State.

You must be saying to yourself, “I can't believe it! I've never known Ben to be calculatingly opposed to something just because it's popular. I've never known him to be stubbornly iconoclastic! This must all be balderdash!” It's a surprise, I know, but it's true.

I didn't really start rooting FOR the Buckeyes until I went to college. Somehow through a combination of reactionary state pride (Oklahomans and Texans are crazy annoying about college sports) and trying to find a reason to hang out with a girl from Ohio who happened to be an Ohio State fan (I have done many stupider things for a pretty girl's attention), I became a real true Ohio State fan.

I'm glad I became a fan, because this season Ohio State has made me realize something that's fundamentally true about sports. Championships don't matter. At least, they don't matter as much as you think they do or as much as you're told they do.

You see, this season due to a scandal involving players exchanging memorabilia for tattoos (a NCAA no-no) and a respected head coach then lying to cover it up (a major NCAA no-no), the Buckeyes find themselves banned from the postseason. However, I still find myself finding a way to watch the game every Saturday and I'm still enjoying watching my favorite team go undefeated to this point in the season. According to what I've always been taught by sports writers, announcers and the like, I'm supposed to care less because my team can't win a title.

But it's just not true. I care the same amount.

In fact, I assume most people who watch sports really only care about the one game they're watching. They want their team to win that game. They want to be entertained and happy about that one game. For instance, the Premier League is huge in England. 44 teams compete in the two highest levels of English soccer. 20 of those teams compete in the highest level, which is one of the most popular and lucrative sports leagues in the world. Of those 20 teams, 6 have won a championship in the past 20 years and maybe only 3 or 4 teams are legitimate threats to actually win the title on a year to year basis.

If the myth of the championship holds true, then the fans of all those other teams shouldn't care at all because they can't win the league. They can only achieve different levels of mediocre.

But that's not why fans watch the game. They watch to see their city, state or alma mater represented. They watch because they enjoy the style, the strategy and the athleticism of the game. In the same way that you don't read a novel or watch a movie because it has a good ending, you don't root for a sports team because they win a title. You enjoy the story, the thing itself.

The Christian story falls victim to this myth of the championship, this myth of victory. It's not just the conservatives or the liberals, it's everybody. Whether the “championship” in question is saving the lost, getting to heaven, eliminating poverty or maybe destroying some disease that causes suffering all over the globe, the church has become obsessed with winning. We have to achieve the “big goal” at the end of the road.

Here's the problem: that understanding of Christian achievement, of winning, fundamentally misunderstands the reason for faith and the reason for the church.

Faith isn't about winning. It's about the process of belief and doubt, the ebbs and flows wherein we encounter God and then find ourselves at a distance. It's about the dynamic relationship with the God who created us, whether it's good, bad, or confusing.
You see, there's another flaw to the championship myth. It ends. And as St. Benedict so beautifully said, “Always we begin again.” There is always another season and another champion.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't aim for these lofty goals, but I am saying they do not define our faith. We are simply called to do our best in the next play, the next game, the next season. We are called to encounter the task set before us. If we win, we learn and if we fail, we learn as well. The process is not about being perfect, though it is something we hope to achieve and something we aspire to, even if only for a moment.

So dream your dreams and aspire to your goals, but if you find that you cannot reach them, do not fear. Your live is not measured in your championships, it is measured in your quests.


You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenHoward87 or email him at benjamin.howard87 [at]

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