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College football is back!

So put down your phones and thumbs

Southern California wide receiver Zachariah Branch runs toward the end zone against San Jose State on Saturday in Los Angeles. Associated Press/Photo by Jae C. Hong

College football is back!
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One of the more observable things about the last decade is the way that “Theology Nerd Twitter”—a people group eager to let you know everything it’s reading, and eager to debate the most obscure theological issues in the most banal public forum imaginable—puts down its theological guns (by which I mean phones and thumbs) in order to don the jersey of a favorite God-hating Research One university for the good old American tradition of college football.

Preemptive caveat: I love college football (even though the transfer portal and NIL is ruining it) and all football, for that matter, and have been playing and coaching it for the vast majority of my years. I hope I’m always a part of it, at some level.

I mean, it’s hard not to get romantic about Our Quarterback, who has previously played for Florida State, Duke, Central Michigan, and Arizona, on his way to a General Studies degree at age 26 and a $400,000 NIL deal.

I watch college football, as opposed to pro, because it’s purer.—Theological Nerd Twitter

It’s hard not to put down your super interesting paper for First Things about how violent sports like boxing and MMA should be verboten for Christians, in order to watch hypertrophic 19-year-olds concuss each other for fun and profit.

Christians need to really think about what they’re watching, as it pertains to sports that celebrate head trauma.—Theological Nerd Twitter

It’s fairly easy to decide that your son, little (insert boy name here: Calvin, Athanasius, Piper, Bavinck) will not be allowed to play tackle football, and will instead be encouraged to master the cello by age 7, and test out of College Algebra at age 11, while at the same time throwing a Clemson jersey on him and watching Ol’ Dabo shape the lives of young men by beating Charleston Southern 78-0 on your 215-inch $4,000 television.

Excess is something we really need to be mindful-of and guard against.—Theological Nerd Twitter

In spite of how relatively corrupt it is, perhaps we love college football for how relatively clean it is, compared to our own 185-character lives.

It’s fairly easy to press “pause” on promoting your podcast, designing your personal pastoral website logo (some version of your initials, rendered artistically), evaluating headshots for said website (arty, pensive, but approachable), and planning your speaking/travel/conference schedule, to watch Your Quarterback who is probably humble and probably a Christian because he mentioned Jesus once in an interview six years ago.

We really need to guard against Celebrity Pastorism and the Evangelical Industrial Complex.—Theological Nerd Twitter

College football is a throwback to a simpler time.

I miss “old” Twitter.—Theological Nerd Twitter

And by “old” I mean the golden age of Twitter around 2014, where we just published faux-humble images of our book contracts and promoted ourselves incessantly. Those were the days. Our exercise in narcissism was so much better then.

We need to guard against excessive competitiveness. Not everything is a contest.—Theological Nerd Twitter

(Pauses to post video of Little Piper’s cello recital, debate tournament trophy, college graduation at age 19, etc.—in addition to an image of my 29th book cover and my awesome summer trip which was more awesome than your probably-mediocre summer trip).

Of course, I’m kidding about all of the above (sort of), and am guilty of doing most of the things I just lampooned. I’m also guilty of un-thoughtfully enjoying college football for what it is: a three-hour exercise in violent conflict in which at the end there is (unlike Twitter debates) a clear-cut winner and loser. In spite of how relatively corrupt it is, perhaps we love college football for how relatively clean it is, compared to our own 185-character lives.

And of course, anything that is governed by our flesh, and the prince of the power of the air, is going to be sad/dissatisfying/broken at the end of the day. This is true of both football and Twitter. It’s why we can post the faux-humble images of our books and feel vaguely dissatisfied by it, in the same way we can watch Good Ole’ State U hang 74 points on its Week One opponent and feel vaguely bad about that, too. Those things aren’t supposed to satisfy us.

But I’m reminded of the many coaches (most of them at small schools you’ve never heard of) who do care about discipleship, and who do care about the hearts/minds/bodies of young men.

And maybe what Nerd Twitter is most deeply longing for is something that only a college football scoreboard can provide—clarity, courage, sacrifice, and victory.

Ted Kluck

Ted Kluck is the award-winning internationally published author of 30 books, and his journalism has appeared in ESPN the Magazine, USA Today, and many other outlets. He is screenwriter and co-producer on the upcoming feature film Silverdome and co-hosts The Happy Rant Podcast and The Kluck Podcast.  Ted won back-to-back Christianity Today Book of the Year Awards in 2007 and 2008 and was a 2008 Michigan Notable Book Award winner for his football memoir, Paper Tiger: One Athlete’s Journey to the Underbelly of Pro Football.  He currently serves as an associate professor of journalism at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and coaches long snappers at Lane College. He and his wife Kristin have two children.

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