Book Review: Love Thy Rival

Love Thy Rival: What Sport’s Greatest Rivalries Teach Us About Loving Our Enemies, by Chad Gibbs

As someone who has occasionally pondered on the relationship between sports and religion [1] and who comments more frequently about the moral corruption within sports that springs in large part from idolatry and greed, I thought this book would provide a thoughtful perspective on the subject from someone who may have less of a historical perspective but could offer useful insight. Truth be told, this is a bit more lighthearted and self-effacing of a book than I was used to, from an Alabaman with a witty sense of humor and a tendency to make light of himself, but it was an enjoyable read nonetheless and also provided a look at someone who was interested in seeing a bird’s eye view of rivalries from someone who was sometimes and insider but mostly an outsider to those hostilities.

The rivalries discussed in this book span two continents (though rivalries for both Asia and Australia are talked about in the appendix), and sports from baseball to (American) football to soccer to hockey to field hockey. The author looks at rivalries on the prep level (Glencoe vs. Hokes Bluff, a local Alabama high school rivalry that led the author’s father to an act of unintentional arson), on the college level (Alabama vs. Auburn, Texas vs. Oklahoma, Army vs. Navy, Michigan vs. Ohio State, Kentucky vs. Louisville, North Carolina vs. Duke), to the level of professional teams (New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox, Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders, Rangers vs. Celtic (Scottish Soccer), St. Louis Cardinals vs. Chicago Cubs, Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers, Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Montreal Canadiens, Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers). No national rivalries are discussed until Pakistan-India, briefly, in the appendix, though some of the rivalries (like Celtics-Lakers, Maple Leafs-Canadians, and Rangers-Celtic) take on ugly ethnic hatreds as an aspect of their rivalries, which adds some danger to the mixture.

The author, in seeking not to condemn sports while showing the excesses of fandom and the fact that the love of many for sports, and their sports teams in particular, amounts to a form of idolatry (and that the conflict that results from rivalries is the result of hating those who attack our idols, the sort of matter that ought to be of great concern to anyone who professes to love God with all their heart, all their mind, and all their soul and love their neighbor as themselves). As I have commented elsewhere, all too often becoming a fan of a particular sports league is like participating in the small time local paganism of the ancient world, with local gods that were in rivalry with the gods of other cities and other societies, and this book exposes that in even more detail. Some of these rivalries are between people who others view as nearly identical, proof that human beings can divide over the smallest of perceived differences, and then imbue them with all kinds of seriousness that such initial distinctions cannot hold without violence.

Those readers who consider themselves Christians and passionate fans of sports would do well to read this book and ponder on its very clear and not particularly subtle message, taking the author’s suggestion to work against the division and hostility that our culture tends to imbue sporting rivalries with. If we can view rival sports fans as our neighbors, and to not take their (presumably local) loyalties personally, and avoid hating those who are people like ourselves, and instead love them and build them up and work with them and understand them, then we can all become better believers who are less divided by the sin and hatred that so greatly mars our world. If we can do that, we would all be much better off to realize that sports is just a game and not something worth getting worked up or hostile about, as we have often done in our worse moments.


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Christianity, Sports and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Book Review: Love Thy Rival

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