Vail Valley Voices: Sack football today |

Vail Valley Voices: Sack football today

Jack R. Van Ens
Vail, CO, Colorado

Move over Santa ’cause the NFL is coming to town, strutting its stuff either on Christmas Eve or Christ’s birthday.

Games played at these times should be sacked.

Baby Jesus doesn’t look good donning a jersey with a big No. 1 splashed across his chest. Wouldn’t he appear weird with divine logos decaled on his helmet, reminders of God’s sponsorship?

The big difference between Jesus and some pro players is that they thrive on hype, whereas the baby born in a manger modestly avoided it.

Once in the limelight, some players act like rock stars. Jesus, in contrast, shied away from stardom and was born in a cow’s feedbox.

Notice how some pro linemen, who play in the trenches tackling and blocking, beg fans to laud them. In the old days, those behemoths on the line didn’t garner much press. They weren’t flashy.

Now hubris shows. It’s gotten out of hand. The NFL imposes a penalty for players who taunt their opponents after a play is blown dead. Still, getting red-flagged for humiliating the opposition doesn’t stop some players from stealing the show on the field.

When they nail a runner behind the line of scrimmage, whack the livin’ daylights out of a receiver, or grind a quarterback into the ground, some defensive linemen perform victory dances. They wildly pump their fists. Charging at a teammate, they bump chests. Some bang helmets. Others kneel on one knee and flex their biceps as if they’re competing in bodybuilding.

They cavort on the field as if the entire game is played on the 50-yard line, even when a guard or tackle levels a ball carrier in the Red Zone.

Chad Ochocinco, star receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals, flashes antics after making a circus catch. He’s more brazen then the black tiger stripes plastered on the Bengal’s loud orange helmets.

Jason Guy, reporter for The Wall Street Journal, adoringly described Ochocinco’s in-your-face play: “We’re warming to Mr. Ochocinco’s showmanship, which is generally harmless. The NFL has always been a little prissy about self-expression, and Mr. Ochocinco sits like a fourth-grader in the back of the classroom, flapping an elbow with a hand in an armpit.”

Is this what football fans applaud? On Christmas, are we forced to watch NFL stars with heads too big for their helmets act like juvenile boys, squeezing air under armpits, which sounds like passing gas?

Winston Churchill remarked of a countryman, “True, he is modest, but then he has much to be modest about.” NFL players who prance on the field don’t get the drift of Winston’s sharp jab.Jesus vacated heavenly lights for a humble stable. In a scrap of poetry worshippers sung as a Christian creed, the Apostle Paul chanted how Jesus exchanged high places for humble circumstances.

He excelled in modesty: “Though he (Christ) was in the form of God, he didn’t count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).

Jesus didn’t steal the show like some pro football players do. Listeners looked him over. Then a strange sensation repeatedly occurred. After first looking at Jesus, his followers looked through him. Without fully explaining it, they testified to a mysterious truth: These disciples saw God’s face peering at them in the eyes of Jesus.

The key to building humility lies in deflecting adoration, not aggrandizing it. Great people aren’t prima donnas. Forsaking attention, they know greatness doesn’t gather like swamp water behind a dam.

Rather, greatness runs through us like a rushing river. Greatness doesn’t build up within, but flows through us. That was Jesus’ style.

He didn’t wear God on his sleeve, but wove what’s divine in modest patterns of action.

Alex Haley, who wrote “Roots,” expressed how humility comes through backdoor entrances. A picture of a turtle perched atop a fence post hung in his office. Underneath it a caption read: “If you see a turtle on a fence post, you know he had some help.”

“Anytime I start thinking, Wow, isn’t this marvelous what I have done!” Haley modestly said, “I look at that picture and remember how this turtle-me got up that post.”

Modest people, unlike grandstanding gridiron pros, realize humility flees when we dwell on it. It’s impossible to be proud of one’s modesty. Humble folk play team ball because they know others help them scale mountains of achievement.

Modest people admit they don’t have all the answers. Their major plays don’t save the game of life. They don’t hype a playbook with their photo splashed across the first page. Modest folk reject the trinity many NFL players adore: “I,” “Me” and “My.”

Why don’t we demand that broadcasting companies cancel Christmas games?

My gripe isn’t because watching a yuletide football game keeps worshippers from Christmas Eve services.

Nor do Christians win converts trashing Christmas football games because they wreck a chance for families to gather around a festive table.

Fans rather gulp down food camped in front of a TV, grazing food on lap trays. Mixing Christmas with pigskin publicity hogs is akin to putting a humble wren in a pen with a preening peacock. They don’t fit. Neither does football played on Christmas, I modestly propose.

The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the non-profit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries, (

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