Thursday, November 18, 2021

One of the Most Powerful Influences in our Culture: NFL Sundays

I traveled to Los Angeles this past weekend to visit a sports stadium. That's right, I booked a flight, hotel room and rental car all to check out the sleek, shiny, futuristic and magnificent SoFi Stadium. This $5 billion venture, rose from the ashes of the Betfair Hollywood Racetrack. It stands but a few miles from LAX in Inglewood, California. It is the home of not one but two NFL teams—the Chargers and the Rams—and Super Bowl LVI. The entire experience was well worth it—not just for what I saw and experienced but for what it has me thinking a little bit more about, as a sports fan and a Catholic Christian.

In the article "Good Sports," Rabbi Martin Seigel writes

If a millennium from now someone were to examine the artifacts of our civilization, he or she would discover that in many places sports facilities were the largest and most prominent buildings. This discovery might lead to the conclusion that sports were one of the most powerful influences in our culture. And that conclusion would be correct.

Past civilizations left behind colossal cathedrals to glorify God because for them ultimate power resided in religion. We will leave behind colossal sport stadiums, because these are, for many, our cathedrals. Sport is our shared religion.

This truth was made self evident during my time at SoFi. Not having any particular allegiance to either team allowed me to take in the experience a with a bit of objectivity. Without any skin in the game, I need not defend my team or fan base. I didn't have to explain or justify who or what I saw or what I heard. Rather I was able to observe and take note of this "powerful influence in our culture." 

I do love this tradition at the start of the game.
Some players take a knee in the end zone as a moment of silence.

To attend an NFL is to be a part of great, grand performance. It is entertaining and competitive, ostentatious and problematic. For those who think the American football is going away or that the NFL is in a bad place right now, think again. Perhaps you haven't been to a game recently. It will speak for itself....

What happened on the field is remarkable and it should be. These athletes are professionals. The level of competition truly is elite; it is a jump from what I see weekly when I watch Notre Dame / college football. The degree of marketing and hype, as well as the army of people both on an off the field is Fahrenheit 451. It is truly a multi-million dollar adventure...from start to finish. 

I was struck by the loyalty and passion of NFL fans. The 70,000 people in attendance were loud and proud. The stadium was a sea of purple and gold vs. baby blue. I saw hundreds of others in green and gold sporting the college jersey of franchise QB and Oregon Duck, Justin Herbert. Representing what must be the tallest fan base in the NFL, Vikings fans donned shirts that said "Skol!" (Cheers) and hats with horns.  These men, women and children cheered and jeered. They stood, they sat, they danced and made friends and enemies with those around them. 

My expectations for Chargers fans were lowered since the team moved to LA from San Diego. I went into SoFi expecting 70% of the fans to be from the visiting team. I was wrong. I couldn't believe their passion. And yet, I wonder how long Los Angeles can and will keep this franchise in town.

But what might be the most striking sight at SoFi isn't the futuristic roof or the massive, double sided scoreboard. Nor is it the view of greater Los Angeles, the palm trees, or sunset on the strip. What made me pause was what I saw across the street at Kareem Court: the Los Angeles Forum. Once home of the Showtime Lakers, this venue, has hosted legendary concerts and past championship games. 

To see it through the eyes of 2021, one must wonder: Was this possibly a destination? An indoor arena without windows, it looks like a circus tent. I asked myself, Were fans in the past  content with the game and athletes alone? How our cathedrals have changed.

Following the game, Vikings won 27-20, I headed to Mass at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament, on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. I have long wanted to attend a service at this Jesuit parish because I have heard about this community and their outreach to the poor and needy, the gay community and others. 

I loved the music and the warm welcomes I received. The preaching was outstanding and those in the congregation were remarkably prayerful. I was humbled by the attention and stillness of those seated near me; I would like them to know they helped me to pray better.

This beautiful church, built in 1928 can seat up to 1,400 people. I would guess that maybe 100 were in attendance for the 5:30 p.m. mass. Given the spiritual uplift and religious boost I gained from my visit to this faithful community, I left wishing more people had availed themselves to this opportunity.

In "Good Sports," Rabbi Seigel asks, "What power does sport manifest that has made it the “religion” of many contemporary people?" He is asking the right question. In the article, he offers five answers. Following my visit at SoFi stadium and to Blessed Sacrament, I have a few of my own...and more questions. Let's discuss.

Final Thought. In the spirit of full Disclosure: I was cheering the "home" team. Why? Two former ND players--Jerry Tillery and Drue Tranquill #BoltUp every Sunday.

Photo Credits
Inside the stadium
Charger Fans
Church of the Blessed Sacrament

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