A Football-Season Reminder: Life Just Isn’t Safe

I love football. Each fall, I look forward to Sunday afternoons with my husband, watching our beloved Denver Broncos grit their way through the professional season. But I love college football more. I spent some formative years in Nebraska, where the whole state halts for a few hours on Saturdays and the population inside Memorial Stadium makes it the third-largest city in the state.

This year, enjoying the first week of a fresh college-football season and eagerly watching Peyton Manning and the Broncos crush the Baltimore Ravens in their home and season opener, I’ll admit I’ve have some reservations. The sport is battered by recent scandal and statistics. Atrocities at Penn State. Junior Seau’s shocking death. New Orleans’ brutal “bounty system.” Revelations of brain damage to longtime players. National unease over a game that just is not safe.

I hope football will get reasonably safer. I hope teams will tighten penalties for players who hit harder than they need to, or who play with the intention of hurting others. I hope the game will reward those who play with sportsmanship, rather than those who play with bloodlust. But the truth is, football has never been safe. While we might have new evidence regarding the extent of the damage to players, we are not discovering this truth for the first time. What fans like me love about football–drama, unpredictability, a clash of strength on strength–is not safe. It’s risky, and that’s one reason so many people love a sport so often used as a metaphor for life. High risk, high reward.

In life, as in football, perfect safety is impossible. Yet we seem obsessed with trying for it. This wave of concern over football’s risks, while legitimate, also reflects a societal obsession with safety: Layer upon layer of insurance. Warning labels on everything. Security systems, metal detectors, and cameras. Tamper-safe packaging. Seatbelts for dogs. Hand-sanitizer dispensers next to the liquid soap and the bathroom sink. We believe we should be able to keep everyone safe, and we assume safe is the ideal way to live.

But we forget: with little risk comes little reward.

Safety is important. All lives are valuable. Risk only for the sake of risk is–well, stupid. Risk to someone vulnerable for your own selfish pleasure is inexcusable. But sometimes, if you want to do something that matters, you have to give ground on safety.

Ironically, with our children we celebrate heroes of our faith who took great risks in service to God–Abraham, Noah, Esther, Mary, Abigail, David, Ruth, Paul. Then we make sure those same children are wearing helmets and pads and carrying a cell phone every time they leave the house. We teach teenagers about Jim Elliot and friends, Billy Graham, Amy Carmichael, and Mother Theresa but make sure their own outreach experiences happen in a very controlled environment.

Jesus never told us to pursue safety. In fact, he warned against living for our own longevity: “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it” (Luke 9:24). “If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine,” he warned. “If you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine” (Matthew 10:37).

Paul knew about this. “Everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him” (Philippians 3:8-9a). How many of us are living for what is essentially worthless garbage?

True life is an inherently unsafe activity. As Christians, when we value our own safety above God’s mission for us, we fail the mission. We must be willing to risk ourselves for the sake of God’s greater purpose. This is not because our lives aren’t worth protecting, but because true life begins when this life has run its course–why not spend this one well?

  1. I love your comment, “with little risk comes little reward”. That is so true! I agree that our culture is obsessed with safety. How often I wonder if other mom’s think I’m crazy for still abiding by the “God made dirt and dirt don’t hurt” rule when eating! However, as in all things, there is a balance between living risky and rewarding lives with wisdom versus foolishness. Living in a bubble accomplishes nothing, while unwisely putting ourselves in dangerous situations (either physically, emotionally, or relationally) is not beneficial either. We must strike the balance of living with healthy boundaries and caring for ourselves, while also having the courage and willingness to take risks when possible. Thanks for your post Amy!

  2. Kelley says:

    Amy, I have begun praying recently that God would fill in the gaps of my parenting — all those things I do wrong or forget about completely that my kids really ought to know about or experience or see me doing differently. Your topic of safety is another element I’ll be adding: that God would show me how to teach my kids about living all out for Him, being wise in how they spend their energies and make their choices, and that He would help me let go in the right moments so they can fly with Him, doing His thing (not mine). Thanks for the good word. And I LOVE that you couched it all in football terms 🙂

  3. It is what it is says:

    I just found your site and I love your writing and the help you offer to those who so desperately need a voice. I have to part ways with your a bit on this one for a couple of reasons.

    1. I’m a man who grew up in the 60s and 70s. If you knew what we boys got up to in our perfect freedom, you’d be appalled and terrified for your sons! I’m not exaggerating! And none of us wore seat belts either. It should not be that way. “Perfect safety” is an exaggeration and really, things are not nearly as bad as people complain. I raised two boys and believe me: they and their friends had plenty of dangerous physical activity. And it isn’t just them: good grief, am I the only one who’s noticed what kids do on skateboards, skis, bicycles, motorcycles, snowmobiles, and just their bodies?! These kids do INSANE things with all of these things that we never would have even dreamed of! I think we mythologize the past and in the process, I think this bubble boy thing is a bit of a myth as well. I hardly see any kids at all wearing helmets on their bicycles after the age of 6 or 7. Yes, there are some parents who are over-protective, but I’m inclined to wonder if there haven’t always been parents who’ve been that way all along.

    2. Football. The head trauma is devastatingly serious business. I know, because I have the same kind of brain damage and it has ruined my life completely. What makes it so dangerous is that, like mental illness, it’s invisible and intangible. This is why few young players are concerned about it. Like Christians who think you can just pray away mental illness, people think they’ll be able to just think their way through these sorts of problems or at the least ignore them. You can’t. You can’t function intellectually like you used to, you can’t control the depression and anxiety, and the people around you WILL lose patience and blame you for trying harder. I came within a few minutes of killing myself last year, yet people still don’t take my situation seriously. I can’t even begin to tell you that absolute failure of virtually everyone in my life to help in any way. I can very patiently explain my limitations one minute and the next minute most people will get frustrated for my not living up to my former abilities. And Christians are probably the worst, because those same Christians who think you can just pray away your mental illness? You got it: they tell me to pray to God for healing and I WILL be healed. My failure to heal is just that: my failure.

© 2013 Amy Simpson.