As we serve the men and women of sport, the words we use should be purposeful, grace-filled, loving, and helpful. There are a myriad of sports clichés which don’t fit the previous description and that we should avoid using. Some of them follow.
"It’s just a game." This cliché simply diminishes the value of every hour of training, every year of achievement, and every deep longing in the heart of a competitive sportsperson. Please don’t insult them by using this cliché.
"If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying." This would seem obvious, but many who participate in sport think it’s not wrong if one doesn’t get caught. They equate breaking the rules with maximum effort to compete and to win. Let’s not use this language and let’s not encourage its accompanying attitude.
"Second place is the first loser." This is the crass, foolish, younger brother to "win at all costs." It is more blunt and adds the label "loser" to anyone who doesn’t finish first. Let’s not fall prey to this foolish attitude which diminishes the value of everyone who competes, but doesn’t finish in first place.
"The officials stole that one from us." If we would confess, most of us have harbored this sentiment, even if it’s not been expressed openly. Too often we ascribe ignoble motives to officials, think they’re fools, or worse. If one really understands sport, he certainly knows that there are far more mistakes and errors committed by the players and coaches than are ever committed by the officiating crew. Most games are won or lost by the players, not the umpire, linesman, referee, or judge.
"You deserve this __________ (fill in the blank)." This thought has taken the USA captive over the last five years. It has polluted our sports culture with entitlement and foolishness. Parents, sportswriters, broadcasters, pastors, and even chaplains can be heard uttering this ridiculous phrase related to wins, starting positions, awards, contracts, playing time, leadership roles, coaching jobs, and more ad nauseum. Sport is the ultimate meritocracy, we win because we earn it, not because we deserve it. At each higher level of competition, it becomes more so. I am stunned at the players who arrive on our university campus and in our sports teams who seem to think that showing up is good enough. They have grown up so entitled that they assume that having arrived here is equivalent to achievement. They think they deserve to win and to be awarded just for being present. We must not feed this monster.
"God gave us this win." Please don’t say this unless you’re also willing to say, "God gave us this loss." Why would God give you this win? Does He hate your opponent? Does God think your team is holier than the others? Does He like your uniform colors or logo? Let’s give this matter more prayerful consideration than comes with the flippant use of this cliché.
"With the Lord on our side, how could we lose?" This is similar to the previous thought, but just as foolish. I have heard this more times than I’d like to recall. Usually uttered by well-meaning Christian sports people, it is a clumsy attempt to give glory to God for a victory. It would be much better to simply express one’s joy and thankfulness for experiencing God’s presence during competition and to thank Him for the opportunity to compete with an honorable and excellent opponent. We are foolish when we ask the Lord Jesus to take sides in a sporting contest.
There are surely many other clichés which are unsuitable for our use and unworthy of the Lord Jesus’ representatives. Let’s contemplate the power of our words and work diligently to find language to serve the men and women of sport with our tongues. We can have a profound impact upon their experiences in sport when we wisely speak, "the very words of God," as described in I Peter 4:1-11 (RSV; Second Catholic Edition):
"Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same thought, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer by human passions but by the will of God. The time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry. They are surprised that you do not now join them in the same wild debauchery, and they abuse you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is why the gospel was preached even to the dead, that though judged in the flesh like men, they might live in the spirit like God.
"The end of all things is at hand; therefore keep sane and sober for your prayers. Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins. Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another. Each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who utters oracles of God; whoever renders service, as one who renders it by the strength which God supplies; in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen."