Frank Deford at Sports Illustrated has an article up about the role of sports in holiday celebrations. “[S]ports are pretty agnostic when it comes to religion,” he says, and he has a point.
From Thanksgiving football to the five games the NBA has scheduled for Christmas Day this year (to begin their shortened season), sports are making inroads as yet another secular focus for traditionally religious holidays.
All that old-fashioned Currier and Ives/Norman Rockwell stuff — with the family gathered around the turkey and then the Christmas tree — is nice, but winter holidays are now primarily for gathering the family around whatever games are on television.
The occasional conflict occurs for observant athletes, as when Sandy Koufax famously sat out a World Series game on Yom Kippur or when Brigham Young University women’s rugby team said they wouldn’t be able to play for their sport’s championship because a vital postseason game was scheduled on a Sunday (a day of rest). But from the fan perspective, these games are one more way to celebrate that doesn’t involve sectarian beliefs. (Religious ones, at least. I can’t speak to any differences in college football loyalties.)
Is the shift a symptom of an increasingly secular culture or one of the causes for it?
I’m inclined to say it’s a bit of both, a feedback loop probably initiated by league bigwigs hoping to pull in more advertising money. And while I don’t exult in the stress placed on religious athletes who may have to choose between job and faith (even if I think said faith is silly), I’m all for more secular ways to celebrate the holidays.