I grew up in a family with all boys, in a household that fostered competition and valued athletic achievement. As a boy, my father never asked me if I'd like to take clarinet lessons. Athletic participation was presumed, and sports came as natural as life itself.
Basketball became the game of choice, but all sports, including football, were enjoyed. To this day, watching college football on Saturdays is routine, and my internal clock always knows when Monday Night Football is starting.
This year, though, a funny thing happened -- I chose for my sons not to play football, and it wasn't because the sport is too violent. Though many factors played a part, three reasons in particular persuaded me to take a pass on football -- this year.
First, the time commitment was simply too much. Combined, my sons (ages 6 and 8) -- and me or my wife -- would have been out of the house nearly seven nights a week for more than three months. For college prospects, the schedule would be demanding enough, but to forgo so many family meals and moments together for boys still young enough to believe in Santa seemed a bit much.
I've read Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers," and I'm well-acquainted with his 10,000-hour rule. Furthermore, I know from personal experience that practice does indeed make perfect. My sons have already received plenty "whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus" pep talks. Indeed, there is no substitute in sports -- or any arena of life -- for sacrifice, commitment and sustained effort. In fact, that is one reason why I so value athletics.
Yet this year is different. Some may protest that not committing the time means I'm not a good father. I say, given the ages of my three daughters and two sons (ages 10 through 5), to be a good father necessitates I not yield our family structure to a peewee football league. Unapologetically, I hoard our family time like a miser, gripping it tightly and intuitively swatting away opportunities and expectations that would compromise it. This fall, football was poised to do just that.
Second, the corrupting influence seemed too intense. The sheer number of hours committed, coupled with the words and actions of the team leaders and the general tenor of the league itself, troubled me. Daily subjecting two young boys to full-throttled immorality seemed unwise at best.
In other sporting contexts, I've experienced a healthier balance. We've enjoyed a Gospel witness without undermining our children's spiritual formation. However, I didn't sense that opportunity this time.
The point is not cultural isolationism -- that never works and isn't a healthy Christian aspiration. In fact, it is a losing strategy that cuts against the grain of the Great Commission itself. Yet, in a healthier scenario, there is enough ambient morality that you don't feel like years of parental effort are being undermined daily.
I am not willing to permit such an unhealthy influence over my sons at such an impressionable age. Priority one is to shepherd my children's hearts. I can live without hearing my 6-year-old son's name called on the loudspeaker, but I can't live with myself if I lose his heart along the way.
Boys tackling girls
Finally, any remaining indecision evaporated when I realized my sons' league -- for tackle football -- was coed. That's right, boys tackling girls.
Though I'm concerned for the girls, I'm more concerned about what tackling girls might do to my sons. The boy who learns it is appropriate to pulverize the girl on the field might well become the man who's OK with degrading women in other contexts.
This is more than an appeal to chivalry. It is a reminder that God created us male and female -- boy and girl -- and to undermine or confuse those distinctions is wrong. Male and female aren't merely adjectives, they are nouns. They aren't merely states of appearance, decorum or conduct; they are states of being. Our children are confronted with enough gender confusion without it being introduced on the gridiron.
God is most glorified when we intentionally rear kids who don't add to a world of androgynous confusion. I expect my sons to love, protect and honor their sisters and other girls -- not hammer them into the ground.
I love sports, including football, and anticipate my boys playing their fair share along the way. In fact, we are picking out a new basketball goal for our driveway. But sports, like other life utilities, are only as good as our stewardship thereof. As a Christian father, I want to redeem the sport and channel it to cultivate maturity, self-discipline and virtue.
At the end of the age, though, I'll not be judged by my sons' batting averages or varsity letters, but by whether I shepherded their hearts toward Christ. Football can be integral to the shepherding process, but when it chokes out family life and undermines spiritual formation, I'll punt on it every time.
Jason K. Allen is president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo. This column first appeared at his website, jasonkallen.com. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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