The History of Sports and Religion (is the Same)


All throughout the world, sports are a religion. I think I can safely assume that there are more collective man-hours spent in the stands, at a bar or on the couch watching sports than spent hunched over in an uncomfortable pew listening to a sermon (i.e. waiting for the end of the sermon so you can go watch sports). Whether you think that’s funny or sad or just plain true, it is definitely funny and sad and just plain true. Sports command the attention of the human race, and have since the beginning of time (In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth and Football, or something like that, amen).

I’ve often heard it said that, “Soccer/Football/Baseball/etc. is a religion.” It applies to every sport, because every sport commands a faithful following of crazy fans who are more than willing to drunkenly tell you how much they love their team while simultaneously spilling beer all over your shoes, then breathing an apology into your face that makes your stomach churn. This is real sports fandom, breathe it in my friend.

But you see…sports and religion are the same. The exact same, down to the drunk acquaintance bringing it up at the bar. And if you’re here, then you’re going to spend the next few minutes reading why that’s true. Because it is true.

For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to use soccer to show you I’m right, but this analogy works with any sport. If you disagree afterward, feel free to contact me with your passive-aggressive message of, “Umm I read your article and it was pretty good I guess, but the analogy doesn’t exactly work with cheerleading, which is definitely a sport. Because, you see…”.

In the beginning, there were kids kicking around rocks and pig skulls and stuff. Then one day, some men who used to do that as kids got all nostalgic and made up a game involving their pastime of kicking inanimate objects, and they saw that it was good. They made two opposing teams, and each team’s goal was to get the ball into their opponent’s cave. This initial form of the game was fun but chaotic, so they decided that the game needed a list of do’s and don’t’s to restrict the violence and yelling and complaining. Sports is also like relationships.

It was declared to be a foul to use your hands on the “ball” or coconut or whatever, unless you’re the one person who defends the cave, i.e. the goalie. It was declared that a lion-skin-wearing team player can’t push a naked team player. Each team can only field eleven players total, or else there are too many or too few on the field, which was declared to be a certain size. Offsides was created, which I would explain to you but I’ve found that explaining offsides in soccer requires many infographics, video clips and more patience than that knight in Indiana Jones who protects the Holy Grail for two thousand years. And bad jokes. It takes bad jokes.

In order to make sure that there were no disputes over the exact nature of these rules, they were organized into a book (“Ah, I see where this is going now.” –You). Over time, it was realized that more rules were necessary, while some were not and were therefore modified or deleted. Where the rulebook may be unclear or vague, everyone felt free to interpret what constitutes a violation of a specific rule.

So these men made soccer and made a rulebook and they saw that it was good. However, these rules were still broken with no one to enforce them except the players themselves, because it’s hard to do the right thing when no one is looking. This led to only a slight taming of the chaos to which the rules were supposed to put an end. What they needed was an arbiter of the rules. Enter: the referee.

With a referee, the rules were now enforceable. A Red player shoves a Blue player in the back, whistle. Handball, whistle. Offsides, whistle. Finally, there was a sport with rules and an impartial judge to uphold them, and they saw that it was good, alleluia, alleluia, amen.

Over time, as soccer caught on, more teams were formed, each with different players, each with slightly different skills and playing styles, each with different geographical locations. Furthermore, they begin to have followings. These fans, as they became known, swore by their teams, and sometimes got drunk and yelled racist and homophobic things at supporters of other teams, because sports, hell yeah.

Anyway, over time some teams and their following grew to absolutely huge sizes, while others remained relatively local and unpopular. And every week, these teams go to battle against each other, testing their skill and their particular ideology of the best way to play the game against each other. And no matter the outcome…they do it again eventually. And again. And again. And this will literally go on forever until Monsanto destroys this planet, and then it will continue on whatever planet Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway find for us.

So that’s the history of soccer as best I can tell it without doing any actual research. And now we get to the contentious part:

That is also the history of religion. I’m going to explain this parallel, and put the sport equivalents in parentheses next to the religion equivalent. Make sense? I hope so, we’ll find out soon.

Let’s go back to those kids kicking around rocks and pig skulls. This pre-soccer era is also a pre-religion era. These kids and their parents are hunter-gatherers, living in caves and on plains. Tribes might exist as the most basic of cooperative groups, but society as we know it certainly does not. The most complex thoughts these people have is to look up at the Sun and say to their neighbor, “Nguhb rrrr ba,” which roughly translates into, “It hurts my eyes to look at that.” Then he keeps looking at it because he’s a simpleton and cause-and-effect means nothing to him. You get the picture.

Things are not organized at all. It’s pretty much every man for himself. Life is “nasty, brutish and short,” as someone famous once famously said, and was subsequently quoted by snobbish intro-philosophy neckbeards as they explain to their friends the woes of pre-society. Anyway, back to the cave-people. Murder and rape and thievery are frequent. Basically, you’re born, life sucks for a few short years, then you get torn apart by crazy-ass baboons and eaten by hyenas, and that’s it.

Until one day, something sparks in a caveman’s tiny mind: We must be here for a purpose, and this life should and can be better. Now whether that spark and everything that’s about to follow from it was his own or divinely inspired is up to you–it doesn’t matter.

The point is, he convinces people that there is a God (sports) and creates Christianity (soccer) as the way to live right and eventually spend eternity in Heaven (this equates to winning). God is good, and they should band together in His name and cooperate, leading to better and longer lives with more laughter and happiness and less death-by-baboon. Those who are smart like him band together and create rules for all the people, to help maintain order, to control the chaos and make life better for everyone. In order to make these rules clear and easy to digest, these rules are put into a book (“I was right, damn I’m smart” –You). Let’s say some of these rules are things like don’t kill innocent people (don’t handle the ball unless you’re the goalie) and don’t steal (don’t push other players) and don’t be jealous of your neighbors (offsides).

These things are pretty basic, sure, but the committee of smart guys is feeling good about themselves for officially creating and organizing morality. Everyone knows that these things are bad, but now they’re written down in a book, so it’s for real now. But for some reason, everyone keeps fucking up. People are getting killed, horses are getting stolen, and wives are being stared at when they pass by in their togas (we’ve advanced a few years now).

So the smart guys realize that they need people to enforce these rules, so Priests (referees) are invented, and young boys never feel safe again. Just kidding, kind of.

Anyway, people are now held accountable for their shit. When they mess up, these priests let them know about it (Whistle!). These guys have dedicated their lives to knowing the rules, and they aren’t afraid to tell you what jives and what doesn’t. When you botch it, you can be told to repent and assigned hail-mary’s and stuff like that (yellow card). In the old days–and in some religions today–you could be executed for certain sins (red card, see ya never).

Over time, Christianity splits into different sects (teams). It isn’t just Catholics (Chelsea): you have Baptists (Manchester United) and Methodists (Tottenham) and so on. Each of these are the same basic religion, but have slightly different styles and beliefs of how best to praise and please God, and thus get to Heaven. Each have a slightly different reputation, and vary on how they get along. If you put a devout catholic and a devout Baptist and a devout Methodist in a room, no doubt they would argue over their differences. However, put them all in a room with some Muslims (baseball fans) and Jews (football fans) and Buddhists (hockey fans) and the Christians of different denominations suddenly unite, claiming that their religion is the only one worth following.

(Also, Scientology is NASCAR, because what the fuck is going on there.)

Lastly, your religion is largely determined by geographical location (as is your favorite sport/team). I don’t care how this makes you feel, it’s true. A baby born in a West African village will probably not pick up golf, just as a baby born in a city controlled by ISIS will probably never find Jesus.

So in summary: Sports=God, Winning=Heaven, Different Sports=Different Religions, Different Teams=Different Sects, Referees=Religious Leaders, Players and Fans=Followers of Faith, Rules=Morals, Rule Book=Bible, Quran, etc.

And so it was written.




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