Many of the sports we play today expose the participants to physical dangers they would not otherwise have been subject to. Examples could be skiing, surfing, high speed car races or stunt biking. Other sports even put the lives of opponents at risk at the hands of the players as a direct result of the nature of the sport. Boxing would be one example.

How do Christians tend to view participation in these sports? Are there any current or historical statements where a particular Christian tradition has taken a stand one way or the other on participation in such sports? If so what traditions and what did they base their belief on?

Are there any other doctrines that play into this? Does holding a particular belief on a different issue tend to correlate with a particular stance on this one?

  • 3
    What about driving to work? That's pretty dangerous, too.
    – Narnian
    Aug 1, 2012 at 18:14
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    Why are people down voting a legitimate question. If a father died from boxing would his children not partially blame their father? It deserves a Christian response other than down voting. I actually like the question and will readthe answers.
    – Mike
    Aug 2, 2012 at 5:40
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    @Mike: The problem isn't whether or not the question is legitimate, the issue is whether or not it is a useful question to address in the SE format. Of course it's an interesting one that Christians should wrestle with, but is it framed in a way that makes it a good SE question? Can it have a canonical answer? Or is it just going to be a personal opinion magnet?
    – Caleb
    Aug 2, 2012 at 8:27
  • @Narnian Driving to work does not apply in this context because you can actually avoid risk. You could drive slowly and more carefully. But in sport e.g. F1, you always want to win and would do anything to be first. That's what am referring to. Aug 2, 2012 at 18:22
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    Please note that I cast a final vote to close this question on the basis of it being worded in a way that was answerable with anybodies undefended opinion. I then re-wrote it in an attempt to call for answers that are defensible using Christian doctrines. I have re-opened this version. What do you think?
    – Caleb
    Aug 4, 2012 at 9:09

4 Answers 4


I have tried to answer this question by showing some Christian teaching on the "extreme sports" of previous centuries, which are pretty extreme by modern standards too.

Jousting was very dangerous and many people were killed and injured; other tournament sports such as the melee also had a high casualty rate. In the twelfth through fourteenth centuries, the Catholic Church tried to discourage jousting, partly because of the possibility of these sportsmen killing themselves or others. The following is typical - Canon 14 of the Second Lateran Council (1139):

We entirely forbid, moreover, those abominable jousts and tournaments in which knights come together by agreement and rashly engage in showing off their physical prowess and daring, and which often result in human deaths and danger to souls. If any of them dies on these occasions, although penance and viaticum are not to be denied him when he requests them, he is to be deprived of a church burial.

Similar prohibitions were stated in the Council of Clermont (1130), of Rheims (1131), Lateran III (1179), and Lateran IV (1215), and in Papal decrees (eg of Clement V, Pope from 1305 to 1314). They were annulled by Pope John XXII (reigned 1316-1334) because the penalties were felt to be too harsh, and were catching too many people. Some effort had also been made, in terms of technique, better armour, etc., to make the sport safer for the participants. (Jousting in medieval and renaissance Iberia, Noel Fallows, Boydell Press 2010, p173-4.)

This is certainly in line with Catholic / general Christian thinking on the value of human life, including one's own life; deprivation of church burial was also characteristic for suicides. However, these decrees do not impose a penalty of, say, excommunication; and it was accepted that jousting was legal under the civil law. So this attitude towards jousting doesn't seem to me to be so "strong" - it's just that the particular way the sport was practiced at the time was felt to be excessively dangerous, and a later pope ultimately rescinded the decrees. Modern sports, even the ones you mention, are far, far less risky. There is also a strong ethos for safety and responsibility among the participants in extreme sports, including use of proper equipment, having plenty of training, and so on. This reduces the danger and the moral objection.

Other considerations might include the frivolous nature of these events. Football, for example, was banned by the Puritans in England for this reason, in addition to the violent way the game was played, and its connection with betting. The objection on the grounds of danger is basically similar to the jousting case. Philip Stubbes wrote (Anatomy of Abuses, 1581):

As concerning football playing, I protest unto you it may rather be called a freendly kinde of fight, then a play or recreation; a bloody and murthering practise, then a felowly sport or pastime. [...] hereof groweth enuie, malice, rancour, cholor, hatred, displeasure, enmitie, and what not els; and sometimes fighting, brawling, contention, quarrel picking, murther, homicide, and great effusion of blood, as experience daily teacheth. Is this murthering play, now, an exercise for the Sabaoth day? is this a christian dealing, for one brother to mayme and hurt another, and that vpon prepensed malice, or set purpose? is this to do to another as we would wish another to do to vs?

Again, modern sports are a bit better at avoiding brawling and homicide. It's true that the objections other than danger still apply - on that basis, someone could argue against tiddlywinks - but if participants are being responsible about threats to life and limb, it's harder to say that a sport should be considered immoral in itself.

  • I can't help but wonder what the difference between "murther" and "homicide" was to Mr. Stubbes...
    – Mason Wheeler
    Aug 6, 2012 at 22:17
  • @MasonWheeler Murther is an archaic term for murder. In context, it's probably safe to say that 'homicide' is similarly archaic for manslaughter. Perhaps it's a good question for English.SE.
    – Kaz Dragon
    Aug 7, 2012 at 7:04

I like this question.  Basically this is asking about the morals related to risks that we take.  For example when we drive without our seat belt, or choose to ride a motorcycle, we may cause irreparable harm to ourselves when we could have easily avoided it.  If we are single, than the consequence might not hurt to many but as a Father supporting a family who depend on your simple wreck less ness can cost many people great pain.   So the ethics turns into How much risk can one take before it is no longer loving to those that might be affected by a negative outcome.

To provide a biblical answer we must focus on love as this is always where the Bible focuses its ethics on.  A little consideration will quickly make us realize that this must be evaluated by each individual because only they know the risks that they are taking.  For example a very coordinated athlete might play a sport that could be very dangerous but the truth is that they are so skilled that the risk of serious injury is quite small.  In addition the benefits in what they can provide their family is quite large, so the ethics are largely removed.  For another person, the risks of injury is high and the level of benefits are low.  At some point the risk outweighs the gain for all concerned and love would back away from a harmful choice.

We face risks everyday in our life.  We may start speeding in our car and our conscience is saying slow down, but we might be angry with traffic and frustrated so we risk our life over nothing.  In another case a taxi driver may always speed a bit but is a very good driver and has never had an accident so their conscience does not bother them. No matter how we look at it, this is about personal 'risk analysis' considering all those that are affected by the choice and doing what is most loving to ourselves and our neighbor. It not a place to make up legalistic rules to be placed upon another persons's conscience, but a subject for personal and sober choices. 

However, on the extreme end of negligence we will probably find greedy sports franchises that intentionally put players at serious risk, all to fill their deep pockets full of cash.  For example, I am sure Christians on football teams in America,  if pressured to play while injured, would have to face this unethical aspect of sports first-hand. Canadian hockey also has had trouble in the past when it's skilled players are beaten down by strong tall players, with much less skill, using dirty techniques all which appeal to the crowd wanting to see a fight and support the profits of the owners.

  • Please note the original question was closed, underwent major revisions and has been re-opened. You may want to review your answer to make sure it addresses the current question. (And then flag this comment as obsolete.)
    – Caleb
    Aug 4, 2012 at 9:10

I think the participants in those sports do it because they like to. They don't do it because they were coerced or forced. If they want to do something else, they are perfectly free to do so. Sure, it provides a paycheck, but there are other ways to get that open to these people. Some of them even use the celebrity that sometimes accompanies the performance as a platform to help promote Christ. Certainly, at the professional level a certain amount of talent is present, and we are definitely encouraged to use our talents/gifts.

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    Please note the original question was closed, underwent major revisions and has been re-opened. You may want to review your answer to make sure it addresses the current question. (And then flag this comment as obsolete.)
    – Caleb
    Aug 4, 2012 at 9:10

I am not aware of anything in the Bible that says, "Don't play dangerous sports". People played games just as dangerous back then as those around today, maybe more so, so you can't say that it's because such a question was irrelevant in the cultural context.

Perhaps you could link it to the concept of stewardship. Several posters here have said things along those lines. But this gets very vague. A rule that said, "You can never do anything that creates danger for you or others" would simply be impossible to follow. Getting out of bed in the morning creates the possibility that you will fall and hurt yourself. You could get hurt playing checkers -- you might accidentally knock a checker onto the floor, bend over to pick it up and bang your head on the table, or some such dumb accident. (I'm sure we've all had such dumb accidents while doing some seemingly innocuous activity.) So it becomes a question of balance and degree, not of absolutes.

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