Posted on Jan 9, 2018 in Theology blog | 2 comments

Dear Dad, 

I just finished watching my last football game.  I came upstairs to write that this had happened and why. You died 37 years ago at age 68.  I am now 68.  You raised me to love boxing and UCLA football and basketball.  We bonded at the UCLA games and thrilled to the fights at the Olympic Auditorium. On December 15, 1966, you took me to see “The Heavyweight Championship of Los Angeles” between Jerry Quarry and Joey Orbillo.  Quarry knocked out Orbillo.  It’s what you and I shared together.

What you may not have heard, however, is that 25 years or so ago I started down a lengthy path which wound up with me reading and studying the Bible constantly.  Gradually I started to believe all this stuff.  Once convinced of the truth claims of the Bible, it became then inescapable that I had to change some things. Nothing happened over night.  But, over these years, I read, studied and pondered whether my enthusiasm for men trying to punch each other into comas (the object of the sport is to “KO”, knock out, the other guy) was consistent with the emerging worldview I had yoked myself to from discipleship to Jesus.  Eventually, a few years ago, I made the decision to give up boxing.  I am getting rid of thousands of dollars of boxing memorabilia and refuse to watch another fight.

Today, just an hour ago, I came to the same conclusion regarding football.  The intention of the game is to inflict debilitating damage on another human of youth and promise. Mayhem is inherent in the sport. This deliberative process took about a year.  I was spurred by the courageous stand took by ex-NFLer, Ed Cunningham, who made a living for his family as an ESPN football commentator. He quit because of his growing discomfort with the damage being inflicted on the players he was watching each week. The hits kept coming, right in front of him, until Cunningham said he could not, in good conscience, continue his supporting role in football’s multibillion-dollar apparatus.  As a lawyer I saw up close the lying and fraud by the NFL concerning the seriousness of the massive brain damage which was the price paid for our entertainment.

Young brains continued to slowly die, just as with boxing. College football, seeing the writing on the wall, instituted a “targeting” rule making it a penalty to use one’s helmet as a battering ram to take another human youth out of the game.  The ridiculous head football coach of our beloved Bruins keeps fuming and ranting against even this meager measure. Screw him. Every 15 minutes some brutalized kid gets carted off the field.  UCLA’s world-class quarterback didn’t play in my last-watched football game —he suffered a concussion last week. His back-up went off in the third period. Their “healthy” teammates all wear knee braces.

Mothers are no longer willing to sacrifice their babies on the altar of gridiron glory.  Football is dying. With no youth football players, there will be no high school football players and with no high school football players there will be no college football players—and eventually no NFL. Neurologists will go out of business. Two of the most prominent and respected pundits on ESPN, Steven A. Smith and Max Kellerman, publicly acknowledged this slowly-evolving objective reality (against their own self-interest).

Providentially, I just read about the little 4th Century monk, Telemachus, who according to the Church historian Theodoret, tried to stop a gladiatorial fight in a Roman Amphitheatre by running onto the arena floor shouting, “This is wrong!”, and was stoned to death by the crowd (or run through by the sword). The Christian Emperor Honorius, however, was impressed by the monk’s martyrdom and it spurred him to issue a historic ban on gladiatorial fights. I watched boxing and football alone in the seclusion of my living room. My quitting will have no affect on my fellow images of God. But I finally, and stubbornly, came to realize that it had an affect on me—and that does implicate those with whom I have intimate contact, as my church family. The Bible has taught me to abhor war or killing of any nature, cause or seemingly righteous justification.  I just can’t envision Jesus giving me an approving smile and thumbs-up to kill anyone under any circumstances. No.  God has always promised that He (not me) will get us through anything and everything, even on the other side of death. “But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats.” 1 Peter 3:14.

It is at this point that you may respond with the accusation taken from the great Christian martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who gave his life (and risked sinning against God) by trying to kill Hitler.  Bonhoeffer chided those who could only offer “Cheap Grace.”  True enough. But even if I may lack the courage to join an assassination plot against a tyrant, at least I have the ability to let some of the world-changing messages and meanings of scripture slowly sink into my thick skull and stop patronizing 21st Century blood sports.

Sorry Dad.  We had great times but New Creation is bulldozing its promised way through this world and I don’t want to get run over. I’m done. (I’ll still watch UCLA basketball—and just hope no one sprains their ankle.)

Love, Roland

PS – Quarry died six years after that wonderful fight, of dementia when he couldn’t find his way back to his cheap Van Nuys apartment. Orbillio quit boxing and is alive and in terrific health today.


  1. This is a tough message for those who love football, but there is even a tougher message you are raising. How do we use scripture to guide the way we should live as christians in the world today?

  2. OK I loved football. My high school, Serra, was second in the state in football…a real highlight of those years. I lived in the Bay Area and lived through the Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Steve Young 49er’s. Doesn’t get much better than that and in fact after those glory years I stopped watch football all together. been there done that would never be as good again.

    then I saw the movie Concussion. wow what an eye opener. here’s a link with some questions and answers to the validity of the movies “facts”.

    Here’s just one:
    Do football players really get hit with a force of up to 100 g’s?

    Yes. The movie implies it is common for football players to take hits with a force of 100 g’s. According to a study published by the University of Oklahoma, that much force is seen mainly in cases where receivers are blindsided in the open field. More common cases of football players being knocked out occur at roughly sixty to ninety g’s. By comparison, fighter pilots lose consciousness after enduring five or six g’s over an extended period of time. The study found that linemen get hit with a force of twenty to thirty g’s on every snap, mainly because they start out by ramming heads. Former Steelers center Mike Webster, Omalu’s patient zero, endured an estimated 25,000 violent collisions over the course of his career. -GQ

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