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Attention ESPN: Fantasy football as a metaphor for life

Observer Viewpoint | Wednesday, September 16, 2009

“Write about fantasy football,” my 13-year-old told me, with all the confidence that comes from being an eighth grader with his own team in his uncle’s fantasy league.

“Fantasy football? For the Faithpoint column?” I’m sure I sounded as doubtful as I looked.

Undeterred, he continued. “It’ll be great, mom. You can write about how your team needs to be balanced, just like your life. How you can’t only care about one position, or one part of your life. You have to take care of it and pay attention to it.”

So I did a little research. I checked out NFL.com and ESPN.com. It became clear to me that for some, fantasy football has become a way to address seemingly endless amounts of free time apparently begging to be sucked away by blogging about positions, trades, breakouts and projections.

Now here I am, pretending to write a column about sports to try to grab readers who would usually breeze right past a column about faith and spirituality. But as my husband pointed out to my son, such a column still isn’t going to interest everyone – what about the people who don’t care about fantasy football (insert blank look of 13-year-old incomprehension here)?

Whatever the reason you’re still reading this, as my son pointed out, your team needs to be balanced, so I propose that you ask yourself this question: “What, in my life, seems to take up inordinate amounts of my time right now?” The answer may be fantasy football, or it may be something else. Maybe, after you finish studying, you spend your free hours exercising, or playing internet poker, or volunteering, or texting, or visiting with your friends, or going to parties, or a little of each of these. Maybe – hopefully – you spend some of your time attending to the call of your faith in Jesus Christ, through service, worship, private prayer or study. Time itself is a gift from God – just look at the way we talk about it. We “spend” our time, as if it were a valuable commodity to release with care. We lament the events which “waste” our time and seek out many varieties of “time savers.”

However it’s disguised, this truly is a column about our faith in our lives, and because I really do believe it’s true, I can tell you that believing, practicing and participating in a life of faith is the most valuable way we can spend our time. At Notre Dame, we do that primarily through the Catholic Christian tradition, while we welcome and support anyone of other faith traditions in their spiritual growth as well. Does this mean that all we do with our free time is pray, or read the Bible, or go to Mass? No, but if I’m going to balance my team (or my day) I need to make the important stuff my top priority. Our prayer, our reflections on and study of Scripture, and our participation in the Eucharist should deeply influence the choices we make throughout each day.

So if prioritizing and integrating our faith into our daily choices is so essential, why does it seem so easy to get hooked on Wii games, or reality TV, or fantasy football, while reading the Bible or going to Mass or participating in faith-sharing groups can seem … well, boring? Without getting into the ways the entertainment industry has managed to drown out all the other sounds of our environment, I would challenge you to remember that the easiest, most obvious options before us aren’t necessarily the ones we’re called to choose. Try walking over to the Grotto or having a serious conversation about your faith with a person you admire. It may provide a surprisingly welcome hit of instant gratification, one which will last longer and affect us more deeply than we had imagined.

If we really can make any significant connections between fantasy football and life (and I’m not sure that I’m convinced of that), then as my son told me, “you have to take care of it and pay attention to it.” Our Lord is waiting to help us attend to every aspect of who we are, what we hold dear, and how we spend the valuable gift of our time. And that’s not just a fantasy; it’s the most important reality of our lives.

This week’s Faith Point is written by Kate Barrett. Kate Barrett is the director of the Emmaus program in Campus Ministry. She can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.