Every time I remove my jersey post-match, it becomes just slightly more difficult. I’m reminded that for as much adoration as I have for the sport of tennis, just like the admiration so many athletes on campus have for their respective sports, there will come a time when I have to take off my jersey for the final time. And for an athlete who has swapped youth soccer jerseys for high school cross country warm-ups, then cross country warm-ups for college tennis gear, that’s still a difficult realization to confront.
For many, the moment when the season finally concludes is a confusing one, given the fact that if dedicated athletes on campus are any indication, we identify with the sport we represent. Sheer commitment defines athletic participation as something holistically deeper than that which we do; this is who we are. And as beautiful as that evolution of athletic identity remains, the capacity for many members to function as a single unit, inherent dangers lie within.
The issue lies firmly in the fact that whenever mankind identifies with anything, whether that be as Kroger value customer or as a member of US Congress, we risk an absence of identity the moment said position or status is removed. Famously, US Olympic athletes typically suffer identity crises post-competition, an effect often replicated on smaller scales and closer planes in our own lives, perhaps more so than we care to recognize.
It stands to reason that the longer an athlete identifies with a certain team, the more difficult the pending separation from said team at the point of retirement becomes. Often, teams themselves will actually seek to perpetuate an athlete’s involvement with the program, to perpetuate their identity as contributor and as teammate. Jerseys are retired, statues are erected and athletes are even hired back as television commentators, front office management staff and consultants.
However, for as much as athletes team involvement may live on in tribute and in memory, the matter of identity remains—so long as athletes chooses to identify with their prowess on the court or on the field of play, they will experience a distancing of identity once their time as athletes concludes.
The solution to the athlete identity crisis is a simple one: as athletes and as students, we must identify on a deeper level than can ever be removed. Perhaps the only jersey that can never be removed, can never be compromised despite game time conditions, despite wear and tear, and even despite our desire to sometimes do so ourselves, is our identity in Christ.
Our baptism indelibly identifies us as God’s own, and so long as we remain willing, “athletes” for Christ will never ride the bench. Like all other sports, to compete is to first don the jersey. Since the fullness of truth resurrected and ascended, that jersey has existed as the armor of God, as is cited in Ephesians 6:11.
So long as we acknowledge that without our jersey, we’re simply an athlete looking for a team, we’ll never be without one.