The sanctification of violence in America’s football is traceable to the Muscular Christianity Movement in the 1980’s. Muscular Christians promoted fierce athletic competition as a positive manly trait building not only strength but also character.
“There is a precious discipline in danger … I consider no man educated who is not educated to meet danger, grapple with it, and conquer it. And any system of gymnastics which leaves out danger is an emasculated system,” an American Muscular Christian wrote in 1868.
Aaron Hernandez was a great football player. He was a member of the BCS National Championship, was given the honorific title of All-American, and as a college junior given the John Mackey Award as the nation’s best tight-end in 2009.
Some might argue that Hernandez was the embodiment of the game of football whose violence on the field didn’t have an immediate kill switch for when he was off the field. Because of his suicide Hernandez’s family wants him examined for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerative disease due to head injury that comes with the game as an occupational hazard.
I still don’t know why so many conservative Christians embrace and cheer the violence of this sport in light of the many devastating outcomes. However, in a May 2015 article in the Guardian, Jack Moore in “Muscular Christianity and American sport’s undying love of violence” wrote not the reasons why Americans love this sport but rather about its dire consequences:
As long as sports fans believe brutality creates nobility, the NFL will leave broken bodies and minds in its wake.”
I think Hernandez came to understand he was a broken man and perhaps irreparably. And, I believe in his last moments of life with the clock ticking and time running out John 3:16 was Hernandez’s Hail Mary Pass asking for forgiveness.