The “Spirit” of the Season – Football meets the Holidays

ChristmasFootballBy Daniel Gelman

The most exciting part of football season is upon us. Interestingly it always coincides with one of our most exciting spiritual seasons. When the two combine in the form of sportsmanship, teamwork, and self-sacrifice, the joy is compounded.

Nordhoff High School of Ojai represented the county at the highest level. Oaks Christian and Westlake High School played their annual neighborly rivalry game when they walk through town to each other’s schools. At the next level, CLU of Thousand Oaks salvaged a disappointing season by winning its Homecoming game, and UCLA and USC made us all proud with valiant efforts.

Chanukah and Christmas reflect the battle between the pagan glorification of “the physical” in Classical Greece and Rome, and the spiritual, monotheistic ethos that our holidays represent. Saturday and Sundays are gladiator days in contemporary American culture, but they are also Sabbaths for millions of people. American culture is a blend of Greco-Roman secular traditions and a Judeo-Christian ethic.

Most local high schools and colleges consider it their mission to build scholars, athletes, and gentlemen and women. CLU even has a placard that says so above its locker room door.

We’ve heard recently of a Miami Dolphins football player bullying his teammate, and the accusation of rape directed at a certain southern college quarterback. With news like that it’s easy to get cynical about our sports culture and to conclude that we have embraced the pagan ethic with moral abandon. But maybe that’s too hasty. There is cause for hope.

Just recently, the Washington Redskins’ rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III embraced and smiled at his rival Eli Manning, another gentleman quarterback, after Manning’s Giants defeated Griffin’s team in a heartbreaking game. Both are known as outstanding young men.

Andrew Luck, another scholar-athlete rookie who went to Stanford, is practicing his trademark sportsmanship now in the NFL. Say what you want about Tim Tebow’s football skills,  he prays before and after games, and stays out of trouble otherwise. In the new documentary “The Making of a Champion,” Seattle Seahawks’ quarterback Russell Wilson and several of his teammates discuss their faith, which guides them on the field.

Some of us remember Bart Starr, the southern gentleman quarterback with a crew cut, who led the Green Bay Packers to so many victories in the 1960’s and maintained a stellar reputation for class and poise. Who could forget the love between black and white roommates in the true story portrayed in the classic football film Brian’s Song? There are plenty of indications that a new generation of soulful gridiron heroes will elevate our games to something higher than bone-crushing battles.

Inevitably there will be some tasteless commercials during the Super Bowl, and perhaps some less-than- wholesome musical moments. But with so many athletes embracing the “gentleman-jock” concept, we can hope that the spirit of the holidays will not be obscured by the secular ethic the holidays exist to balance.


Daniel Gelman has been a freelance Reporter/Writer for several years, specializing in News, Business, Feature, and Op-Ed.

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Stefan Djordjevic
Stefan Djordjevic
7 years ago

Yes, the football field is a unique stage. If you pray before and after, exhibit honor and compassion when necessary, and employ modesty when appropriate, you can combine the two cultural directions and make something good. Body and soul. Pagan and patriot. Savage and servant.