Sports on Sunday

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In my experience, there are different levels of acceptance regarding sports on Sunday in the LDS church. 

Growing up in my family, we weren’t allowed in the back yard to play on the swings or jump on the trampoline if it was Sunday.  No play dates with friends either.  BYU teams do not play or practice on Sunday.  Using examples like those, it would seem to be pretty clear that honoring the sabbath day means no sports or anything like unto it.

That is, unless you get paid millions of dollars for playing a sport, or coaching a professional sport, or perhaps you are competing at the olympic level.  In that case, you may get talked about in General Conference.  The Ensign and New Era will do articles on you.  You will be asked by Stake Presidents and bishops around the world to give firesides on your experiences. 

Thing is, you don’t get to compete at that level unless you spend some serious time practicing and playing your sport.  And most of the time that means practicing or playing on Sunday.  On the official church web site, the newsroom routinely showcases LDS olympians and other professional athletes who have spent much of their life tuning their craft at many a Sunday tournament or practice. 

Sure, playing sports is one thing, but how about watching?  My experience teaches me that it’s frowned upon to actually attend a sporting event on Sunday, but watching on T.V. seems to be acceptable.  That is, unless the olympics are being held in Salt Lake City.  Then you need to go volunteer and help run the event so things go smoothly.  Regardless, would sporting events even be held on Sunday if there was no audience to watch?  I’m sure some would, but I also bet that many wouldn’t.  Even still, our sacrament meeting attendance seems to be a little thinner on Superbowl Sunday.

So, dear readers, what is it we should tell our young members of the church when they ask if it’s OK to play sports on Sunday?  Does the answer change if they have potential as a future olympian or NFL quarterback?

26 thoughts on “Sports on Sunday

  1. Those who become professional athletes are actually paid to play sports on Sunday so the question then becomes is it alright to work on Sunday.

    This is interesting for Olympic athletes who are supposed to be amateur. Maybe they should watch Chariots of Fire?

    I would hate to tell anyone what to do but…

    Too many LDS don’t play enough sport and eat too many refreshment at socials and baptisms and are a little pudgy. How does that work with the word of wisdom?

    Interesting observation about how we love our LDS celebrities. In my experience though it is usually not wise to hold these LDS celebrities up too high because they often let us down.

    We are a strange brood…

  2. I teach the yw in our ward what the Church teaches about the Sabbath. I also told them about how years ago, when there were several members of the church on the 49ers, they had special permission to observe the Sabbath on Saturdays. I told them sometimes it’s necessary to work on Sundays (esp, dr.’s, police, fire, etc.). When they ask those types of questions I tell them they are entitled to revelation and it’s between them and the Lord.

  3. I’m calling baloney on the 49ers bit. Sounds like something made up by someone who was both devout and a big fan and had a hard time reconciling the two.

    Just sayin’

  4. It’s in the book “Why I Believe” (don’t know how to underline here), in the chapter written by Steve Young. Apparently, there were 5 (4 players, 1 was a coach) members of the church on the team at one time. I’ve also heard him speak about it in firesides. Do Andy Reid and Reno Mahe of the Philadelphia Eagles do the same? No idea. I try really hard not to perpetuate Mormon urban legends, especially to the youth. And by the way, I’m a Cowboys fan.

  5. Can’t argue with being a Cowboys fan! The story just made me wonder…especially since this was during the time period where Ezra Taft Benson was in charge, and he wasn’t exactly a sports fan, or inclined to change rules. But it may not have gone that high, it may have been a stake president being reasonable about the needs of a few people in his stake, that sort of thing. Also, if they had a game on Sunday, wouldn’t they be working, preparing on Saturday as well?

    It contrasts with stories I’ve heard of a BYU player or two getting drafted and then deciding not to play professionally because of the Sunday thing. I’m an air traffic controller and have to work about every other Sunday, so around 26 Sundays a year. I’m guessing that’s more Sundays than a pro football player would have to work, but I’m also guessing that I wouldn’t be able to get a pass to observe the Sabbath on a different day.

  6. HeidiAnn,

    Lets assume that “special permission” was given to these players. I’m curious to know when that permission was granted. Was it when they played peewee as a kid? In an elite club league during high school? College games?

    If “special permission” wasn’t given at every stage of their development, then I see this as being inconsistent.

    However, I do like your approach in teaching the YW of your ward. It’s a personal decision for them and their family to make. Teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves.

  7. I doubt it went as high as the First Pres, but of course, I don’t know. I think most of the players went to BYU, hs games are almost always played during the week, with no Sunday practice, and there are still many peewee leagues that don’t play on Sundays (though many do). I don’t think it’s inconsistent, especially as that was probably the only time they sought “special permission.” The point I tried to most emphasize to the YW was that you do the best you can in your own situation-you live in such a way to be able to receive revelation from the Spirit and you make every effort to keep the commandments. Some people will have to work on Sundays, and we should only judge those we have stewardship for (usually that’s just ourselves). Each of us need to live worthily and counsel with the Lord in “all our doings.”

  8. HeidiAnn’s suggestion regarding personal revelation is something we have tried to instil in our children, and not with just sports.

    Mostly it is just our daughter who has had to deal with social/church conflicts, but we believe we have taught her enough over the years that she has sufficient capacity to make the decision on her own.

    I mean, a prime example, is that this year her ballet class finishes 15 minutes after Activity Days class. She was more than willing to completely throw away 7 years of ballet so she could attend Activity Days, which kind of saddened me actually; I was hoping she could do both (and we found a way to do just that this year).

    Even so, it was her decision. I suppose one could look at Mary and my finding a compromise as a way of not supporting fully her decision. We’ll see how things go in September when ballet presumable runs almost the entire time as Activity Days.

  9. Kim, what you describe certainly fits within the scope of the discussion.

    I would argue that ballet for your daughter probably provides experiences and social needs that she has that she cannot get in a church sponsored activity.

    Is Activity Days really an essential meeting? Or is it provided for kids as something to do when there’s nothing to do?

    In our family we look at competitive sports the same way. Sports is teaching our children things they just don’t get at church, but very necessary to cope and survive in society. So as a parent, I look at the cost / benefit and make a decision that way. What is the cost of having my child miss an activity / sunday verses miss the practice / event? What can we do to mitigate any negative effects of missing one or the other?

    1. I would argue that ballet for your daughter probably provides experiences and social needs that she has that she cannot get in a church sponsored activity.

      I have been thinking some more about this statement. I have to agree that ballet does provide experiences Activity Days does not. They aren’t better experiences or worse experiences, just different ones.

      As far as social needs go, I don’t know that ballet meets any social needs she might have. I suppose being in a class with others all following the same instructions may be considered a social need, but there is very little opportunity for getting to know one another. Activity Days, on the other hand, provides a lot of opportunity to get to know each other on a personal level, both through visiting and presentations. In addition, her Activity Days class is larger than her ballet class, so time and effort invested into Activity Days has a greater return on her social network than ballet does.

      I still wish there will be an opportunity in September to do both though.

  10. Is Activity Days really an essential meeting?

    It is for Sinéad, and since it affects her the most, what she wants is more important than what I want.

  11. It’s interesting how in some parts of the country people can be as passionate about sports as they are about religion. That can certainly create these interesting debates.

  12. welcome to the world of parenthood.. always comprising..always wondering if you make the right decision.. always wondering if you should let them make their own choices and when they don’t, that backfires on the other children in the home, always caught between wondering are they old enough and mature enough (not always the same) to make their own decisions.. always wondering what are they basing their choices on.. always wondering whether or not they are making it for the right reasons or because they want to be cool with their friends, do the same as their friends, be a part of a group.. in this case.. A.D. is going to be more “fun” then lessons in ballet which is like homework.. a necessary evil..necessary for a parent’s mind, an evil in a child’s mind..kind of like school work.. we know in the long run it is for their better good but children rarely think that way.

    When are children old enough to be able to decide for their own? What if they do decide and as parents we don’t like their decisions or we know it is so wrong it will harm them in the long run whether spiritually, emotionally or physically? Do we override their decisions? And because all children mature at different ages, what happens when a younger child (who isn’t nearly as mature or able to make the same decisions says “well you let so and so do that?” Then what happens?

    Perhaps you can find a different ballet group that meets on a different night?

  13. That is a very interesting question, double standards aren’t really good to throw into society as it can down right lead to hypocracy, let’s face it that’s the real reason for this discussion. The way I see it is that although most kids do have fun playing sports, we have to keep in mind that in school it’s also part of phys-ed right? Well there you go, it’s necessary exercise, I do believe God intended for us to keep ourselves healthy while at the same time keeping vigilance in our religious duties toward him. If there is a game going on maybe parents can organize that it be held after services instead of before or during.

    1. How does needing exercise or being healthy have anything to do with sports on Sunday? Even athletes take a day or two off from their routines to let their bodies rest. If one is exercising throughout the week (through sports or otherwise), I don’t see the necessity of doing it on Sunday, too.

  14. Sunday sports for me raises an even bigger question: Why does the LDS Church declare Sunday to be the Sabbath? The Sabbath was always Saturday for the Jews, who, afterall, started the recognition of the Sabbath. Only the bogus Catholic Church changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. I don’t question the true church nature of LDS, but why do we follow the Pope on this one rather than the Jews who still regard Saturday as the Sabbath because, well, it is.

  15. During the early days of the Christian church, there were two Sabbaths: the traditional Jewish Sabbath (Fri sunset to Sat sunset) and Sunday (or the Lord’s Day), commemorating Christ’s resurrection (see Acts 20:7). Over time, Christians gave more prominence to the Sunday Sabbath and eventually dropped the Jewish one altogether.

  16. to #18, Acts 20:7 says that they were gathered to break bread, it doesn’t say to keep Sunday holy.
    Second, why do people call it the Jewish sabbath? Adam and Eve weren’t Jewish. If we say the 7th day Sabbath (which is the 4th commandment) was for the Israelis, then the whole ten commandments were for them. Why all the Bible authors refer to the 7th say as the Sabbath and the 1st day as just 1st day? Even the Apostle Luke who was a gentile referred to the 7th day as the Sabbath even after Jesus death. Do not let any one deceive you, read the Bible on your own. Let God teach you the truth and not your church leaders.

  17. Seriously we are going to question the sanctity of the Sabbath here? I believe we all know whether we are keeping the Sabbath day holy or not. Just because we do or do not live by it doesn’t change how we keep it Holy. Should we participate in Sports on Sunday is for each of you to decide. If my opinion were asked I would say no, if you asked the leaders of the LDS church the answer would be no. Do we deamonize people who do participate in sports on Sunday again no.

    Also what difference does it make which calendar day we have it. What if Sunday is actually Saturday and the Gregorian calendar which was introduced in 1582 was wrong on which day was actually Saturday. It is a day people, make it Thursday for all it matters, just honor it and you will be following God.

  18. I played for the BYU rugby team. We’ve always been one of the best teams in the country (we won the national championship last year), but for years we were not allowed to compete due to the national championship game being played on Sunday. Eventually, the league changed to allow BYU to play. Of course, it won’t always happen like that, but I am proud of the team taking on a stand on their values.

  19. We are faced with this right now with our 16 year-old son. He plays soccer and he is really good. He is headed down the path to play on a college level and is being watched by numerous teams right now. We have strived through the years to avoid the Sun. play, but we have now hit the dreaded wall. He can join a club team that plays their league games on Sun. evenings and be seen and scouted by coaches all over the country, or he can not join a club team and possibly not reach his dream and goal of playing at that level. Let’s take it one step further: There are 3 schools that we know of that don’t play their games on Sun.: BYU, BYU Hawaii and a church school in Virginia. If he doesn’t get on one of these teams, does that mean that he gives up playing college ball all together? The question I am posing is to all of those LDS athletes that have been faced with this. I know that in the end it is really between the Lord and my son, but any advice would be nice. :)

    1. I know this conversation happened 5 years ago, but my son is now faced with the same choice. So I am curious what route you guys took?

  20. Thanks for stopping by, Katie. Sounds like you already know the answer. :) I am sure you will do the best you can as you try supporting your son in this grown-up decision of his.

  21. Hmmm, well no working on Sabbath Day although Catholics really doesn’t mind about it. There are Catholics who wouldn’t work but most does work.

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