Sports fans and idolatry

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Conrad M. Cariño

Conrad M. Cariño

Perhaps no other Pope in modern history has been able to attain “Rock star” popularity like Pope Francis, who is visiting the Philippines from January 15 to 19. And as the Pope gets a lot of attention to the point that his well-wishers and followers are being alleged as being guilty of treating him as if he is the savior himself, it is also high time we reflect on how fans adulate or admire sports heroes.

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First things first—Pope Francis is worthy of veneration, and is not supposed to be worshipped. Veneration is derived from the word venerable. When I Googled for the meaning of venerable, I was surprised that it is actually a title given by the Catholic Church to a “deceased person who has attained a certain degree of sanctity but has not been fully beatified or canonized.” But what the heck—Pope Francis is still worthy of veneration. When I Googled veneration, I got this in return: “great respect, reverence.” Well, isn’t Pope Francis worthy of “great respect” and “reverence?” No question about that.

Many people have already gone somewhat gaga over Pope Francis, and we could not blame them because the highest official of the Catholic Church has a winsome smile, a humble demeanor, a resolve to correct what may be wrong in the Church, and the aura of a living saint.

Admiring or even venerating popular people like the Pope is a human trait, and to me Pope Francis is one person that is worthy of admiration and veneration (though not strictly from a Catholic standpoint).

But when it comes to admiring and venerating people, many sports fans (and even writers) can go overboard to a point that they treat sports heroes like a demigod or someone larger than life. And that could border on idolatry or is idolatry itself, which is a violation of the Ten Commandments.

I am not saying that the sports figures who put a lot of hard work behind their accomplishments are not worthy of admiration and adulation—what I am saying is we should draw the line between being a genuine sports fan and one who “idolizes” a sports figure.

A genuine sports fan may always be ready to buy a ticket to a fight or game of his or her sports figure, and watch over 100 times over Youtube the videos of the best moments of his or her sports hero.

But it would be totally insane for a sports fan to be ready to die, engage in a heated debate or even harm someone just to defend the reputation of his or her sports figure. As the popular saying goes “it’s just a game.” And rightly so.

When I was not yet with The Manila Times, I overheard a male in a social gathering mocking Manny Pacquiao (who had just beaten Erik Morales by technical knockout) for not being a technical fighter. My blood boiled, because I was at that time a Pacquiao fan who followed him closely from his heartbreaking third-round stoppage loss to Medgoen Singsurat on September 1999.

But I even did not care to engage the Pacquiao critic because I was still never willing to risk getting a limb by into a fight over a heated argument of my sports hero then. Good choice.

A sports fans also knows the physical limitations of his or her sports figure, and is ready to accept the fact that all sports figures will decline in their performance because they are just human beings like all of us and not demigods.

I really do not know if the media is to blame for making some sports fans think that their sports heroes are demigods, or are worthy of “worship.” But to worship a sport hero violates the Ten Commandments because the commandments stipulate the worship of only one god and no other, including the Pope.

So as Pope Francis visits the Philippines and is accorded the highest form of veneration or admiration from Filipino Catholics, let us also reflect on how we give admiration or adulation to our sports heroes or figures. For all we know, being a “rabid fan” might be a result of a person not having any other worthy preoccupation in life. So get a life!

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