The Christ and Pop Culture 2022 sports roundup is an extension of The Coach’s Box column, where we highlight the goodness and beauty of sports and explore the more profound questions beneath the surface-level analysis of sports.
We can mark 2022 as the year of “getting back to normal,” with sports helping us navigate the inroads we were familiar with pre-pandemic. Here are some of the biggest headlines and most overlooked stories in sports from 2022’s first quarter.
Chiefs Fans Donate to Buffalo Children’s Hospital
Following what was perhaps the most fantastic football game ever played between the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills in the AFC Divisional round of the NFL playoffs, Chiefs fans showed off their generosity. The fan base collected $13 contributions: 13 representing the 13-second drive the Chiefs made to send the game into overtime. The collection, about $178,000, was donated to Oishei Children’s Hospital in Buffalo, New York.
Buffalo’s fan base, aka the Bills Mafia, is known for donating to an opposing team’s charity or cause after they win. For example, after a previous playoff game, the Bills Mafia donated to Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson’s favorite charity after they won and Jackson was injured.
For all the foolishness we see and hear from fans regularly, this behavior after games—win or lose—would be great for every fan base to mimic, helping bring humanity back to sports.
Beijing Winter Olympics Doping Scandal
Leading into the ice skating short program of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, 15-year-old Kamila Valieva of Russia put on one of the best ice skating Olympic performances of all time. Valieva showcased her talent early in the competition. However, when the banned drug trimetazidine showed up in her system, her performance was quickly disputed and many wanted her removed from the competition altogether.
Coupled with Russia’s history of doping scandals, it was not unfair for most to draw the logical conclusion that Russia was up to its unethical ways again. However, when a panel of arbitrators cleared Valieva to continue the competition, it attracted the ire and derision of many in the sports world.
When ethical controversies occur in sports, it’s challenging to decipher grace, mercy, forgiveness, and justice. With a country like Russia that’s had more than its fair share of deliberate rule-breaking controversies, it seems that Valieva shouldn’t have been able to skate.
Britney Griner Arrested in Russia
Speaking of Russia, Brittney Griner, a world-renowned WNBA basketball star, was arrested in a Russian airport on drug-smuggling charges in February. (Griner had vapes containing cannabis oil.) Griner, who played on a professional Russian team, fled the country as President Vladimir Putin began an assault on Ukraine. According to reports, Griner was ultimately tried and sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal work colony.
It was obvious that Griner’s indictment was never really about the gram of hash oil she possessed. But in addition to its geopolitical implications, her detainment drew attention to other hot button issues in the United States.
The injustice of Griner’s sentence was noticeably related to the unequal pay of women in professional sports as well as her sexuality. The fact that Griner was in Russia to play professional sports in the first place was problematic for many. Given Russia’s track record of anti-LGBTQ policies and sentiments, many questioned if an openly gay African American woman could be fairly judged in a Russian court.
We’ve received the answer to that question, though the jury is still out on whether Christians can treat athletes as people, as image bearers of God. (As of this writing, Brittney Griner is free due to a prisoner exchange with Russia.)