By Michael LeCompte
Recently professional sports in America have developed into a quasi-religious experience. As church attendance continues to dwindle the new cathedrals that are modern sports stadiums are packed to capacity with a different kind of zealot. The interpretation of sport as religion is not a novel one. As the Rabbi R. Brasch explained in his 1970 book How Did Sports Begin, “in the beginning sport was a religious cult and a preparation for life.”
Throughout much of its history America has had a complex relationship with the religious cult of sport. Initially sports were considered base undertakings that diverted humanity from doing God’s work on earth.
Of course sports persisted, first as recreation and then professionally, and were eventually embraced by mainstream religion around the turn of the twentieth century as a central component of “Muscular Christianity.”
Today religion, or at least the personal faith of individual players, permeates professional sports. It’s common practice for a baseball player to make the sign of the cross on his way to the plate or to point to the heavens after hitting a home run. Football players continue to thank their “Personal Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” in postgame interviews and we all remember the brief phenomenon that was “Tebowing.”
Given the connections of sport and religion, for fans and athletes alike, it is not surprising that there is a Ten Commandments of Sport. This unofficial document, dating back to 1921 was compiled in American Magazine by the sportswriter Hugh S. Fullerton (who was one of the prominent writers who helped break the Chicago Black Sox scandal in 1919).
Despite their rather tedious title Fullerton’s Ten Commandments are themselves simple, succinct guidelines that could just as easily apply to the athletes and sports of today as they could of 1921.
“The Ten Commandments of Sport, and of Everything Else: For These Principles Apply in Business, in Work of Any Kind, in the Home, in Friendship, in Our Struggle against Circumstance, against Luck, in Fact, Everywhere.”
1. Thou shalt not quit.
2. Thou shalt not alibi.
3. Thou shalt not gloat over winning.
4. Thou shalt not sulk over losing.
5. Thou shalt not take unfair advantage.
6. Thou shalt not ask odds thou art unwilling to give.
7. Thou shalt always be willing to give thine opponent the benefit of the doubt.
8. Thou shalt not underestimate an opponent or overestimate thyself.
9. Remember that the game is the thing and he who thinks otherwise is no true sportsmen.
10. Honor the game thou playest, for he who plays the game straight and hard wins even when he loses.