I am old. I realize this. I have even come to revel in it because, as I have learned from hard experience, getting older is better than the alternative. To illustrate my great age I offer the fact that when I played basketball for my suburban Philadelphia Christian school, only one girl on each side ran full court. Two guards and two forwards had to stay on their respective sides of the center line.
After college my husband and I spent three years teaching at a Christian high school in Macon, Georgia. We spent many Friday nights cheering for our boys. It was fun. It was also really competitive. There were some big rivalries, and tempers sometimes ran hot. It was, however, controlled and sportsmanship was enforced. There was absolute silence during free throw shooting, and cheering was a mix of positive and encouraging poetry and prose.
Next came babies and my basketball days were over for a while. When our oldest son, David started playing rec. ball in the late nineties, I had A LOT of catching up to do. What happened to all the jump balls? Why is that semicircular line painted on the floor around the key? What does it mean–“shot clock?”
Then we moved to North Carolina, the center of the basketball universe, and my kids went to school. I had more shocks coming. During free throws, people yell. Not only do they yell, but if possible they wave things behind the backboard. They shout insulting things at one another and celebrate a kid’s failure by screaming “air ball.” I have always been bothered by this. When I asked about it, people would shrug and say, “This is basketball, this is what we do.”
I also really dislike the way basketball leads people to talk to one another. It seems people think that if sport is involved, all rules about kindness and love go out the window. I have talked to my students about this. “Do you really think it was right for us to get out our keys and jingle them at the other team last night?”
“You weren’t there when they beat us, you should have seen what they did.”
“Oh, so we are supposed to treat others the way they treat us?”
“This is basketball, this is what we do.”
I am getting tired of that sentiment. I think it is a dangerous attitude. It further encourages the compartmentalization of our Christianity. We laugh at the eighteenth century British soldiers who marched in lines and wore red coats and conducted war in a “sporting fashion.” Really though, wouldn’t you prefer a nation’s sportsmanship to bleed into their conduct of war rather than their war tactics to bleed into sport? We have gone the other way. We are becoming Rome and the basketball floor is the Coliseum. It is time for our Christianity to bleed into our sport before our sport begins to bleed into our Christianity. I am afraid that is already happening.
I have a “no basketball” sign on the inside of my classroom door. It does not mean that students cannot bring basketballs into my room. It means they may not discuss basketball there. Some will assume that this is anew thing and is tied to the fact that my team had an abysmal season, but that is not so. The sign was there last year when my team won the National Championship. I hate the tension caused by the taunting that goes on between students. It is wrong. I was getting on to one student about it and the response was, “You have no idea what was said to me last year.” Again, I sighed and asked, “So we are supposed to treat others the way they have treated us?” If I hear, “But this is basketball…” one more time, I am going to scream.
I did a little research. In a quick google search, I found two recent articles in local midwest papers about the conduct of students at high school basketball games. They talked about the problem of students yelling during free throws, chanting “air ball,” etc. They were talking about public school games and how the rules needed to be enforced. It is nice to know that there is some desire for civility somewhere in America. I also found an article from the New York Times in which fans were instructed in how to make a difference in the outcome of the game by being as obnoxious as possible behind the backboard. This leads me to believe that this behavior started somewhere on the east coast (perhaps I should more appropriately say Atlantic Coast) and is working its way into the heartland.
But really, what would Jesus do? Shouldn’t our Christianity impact our conduct and our speech no matter where we are or what we are doing? Last year as I watched my team’s arch rival lose their last game, a part of me was sad for those students of mine that I knew would be broken hearted, and I told them so the next day. If they win the championship this year, I will congratulate them. The scripture tells us to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. We don’t get an exemption for basketball.