Aug 3, 2012

Let me root, root, root for the home team:
When sports replaces religion in the rites of death

"It was such a big part of her life, why not be a part of her send off too."

Errol Morris' latest short documentary, on sports funerals:

As a reporter, I covered one of these in Georgia in 2007 or '08. The viewing was set up as a tail gate party, and everyone wore University of Georgia Bulldog gear in accordance with the will of the man who'd died. A large bulldog was inflated in front of the funeral home, bulldog flags were flown from the hearse, and the man was buried with two tickets to the next game in his hand.

Morris doesn't get into the specifically religious aspects of these funerals, though he does ask one Cubs fan if there will be sports in heaven.

The Georgia funeral director I spoke to saw sports funerals as replacing traditional religious rites. For these people, he said, religion was too dour, too somber. They didn't want organ music and a rented minister. What they wanted was a celebration, and for their friends and families to enjoy at their deaths what they had enjoyed in their lives. Religion wasn't an important part of their lives, wasn't what gave their lives meaning. Sports was. So they designed these non-religious rites of passage around that idea.

The widow at the viewing I attended agreed with that. She said she hadn't known of her husband's plans until he died and she read his will, but that he'd done what he knew would comfort her and everyone who cared about him.

"All this," she told me, "is him saying to me, 'don't cry, now. I don't want no crying.'"