Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Commentary on Nike's "Football is Everything" Commercial

Last Thursday night kicked off a new season of NFL football and also a new round of commercials that merchants hope will catch your eye.

One that caught mine was Nike's "Football is Everything."

The setting is Briscoe High School and what typically happens across high schools in America on Friday. Football players wear their jerseys to school, daydream about the game in class, and then go out and play the big game in front of the home crowd.

The commercial features "Ryan," an ordinary high school student. But Ryan's teammates are hardly ordinary--they're a whole bunch of NFL players, like the Atlanta Falcon's QB Michael Vick and the Chicago Bear's LB Brian Urlacher. On the last play of the game, with Briscoe down 4, the San Diego Charger's LaDainian Tomlinson tosses a halfback pass to Ryan in the end zone. Ryan catches it and the Briscoe Hawks pull out a big 16-14 win.

I really like the commercial. It's fun and very clever. Through Ryan, all of us regular folk get to be the hero among NFL superstars. How often does that happen? It's every athlete's fantasy.

The musical soundtrack for the commercial is Norman Greenbaum's catchy 1970's hit, "Spirit in the Sky." Having worked in a music retail store for many years, I recognized the song immediately.

The musical intro plays in the background of the commercial's opening scenes. Then after Briscoe's football head coach, (played by NFL Hall of Famer Don Shula) says in the locker room after his pregame pep speech, "Take a knee," you start hearing the first verse of the song through the rest of the commercial:

When I die and they lay me to rest
Gonna go to the place that's the best
When I lay me down to die
Goin' up to the spirit in the sky
Goin' up to the spirit in the sky
That's where I'm gonna go when I die
When I die and they lay me to rest
Gonna go to the place that's the best

The Nike spot ends with a still shot of the triumphant Briscoe team and the words, "Football is Everything."

And that's when I did a spiritual, theological double take.

I love this commercial. So why does it bother me? It's that song.

The lyrics of "Spirit In the Sky" talks about going to heaven after you die. As Greenbaum says, "Goin' up to the Spirit in the sky." Going to heaven because of knowing a "friend" named Jesus.

The song talks about what is ultimate in life:

What transforms life from the ordinary to extraordinary.
What takes life to a higher plane.
What gives purpose and meaning to life.


Forgive me. I'm a pastor. Jesus is my life. I try to look at all of life through God's perspective.

But when I heard Greenbaum's song, I immediately thought, "Oh my gosh, that's idolatry."

Idolatry isn't a very worrisome word on the surface. But that word is like cancer. Idolatry is a spiritual disease that lures you away from Jesus--your Maker and Savior. It tempts you to move your worship and devotion from what's most important to something less important. To switch your allegiances--from God to something less than God.

Like football.

I love football. But it's not everything.

No comments: