Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How Many 3's Would Christ Knock Down?

One of the big sports news items this week, besides the Super Bowl, is the girls basketball team in Dallas that lost by a score of 100-0. Of course, there was the predictable outrage and the predictable blame put on the coach who allowed such a rout to happen. Seems it is his fault and when he refused to apologize, he was fired. He said neither he nor his girls did anything to apologize for. His bosses apologized for him and their school and said, "this game did not reflect a Christlike and honorable approach to competition". So was the coach fired for not being Christlike or for not apologizing like he was told? Or for both? Other sources (ESPN) said he did not intentionally run up the score. He stopped pressing after it was 25-0. He scored 59 points in the first half. By the end of the third quarter they were up by 88. So it looks like he could have made it much worse with a little more effort. The school that lost was not making a big deal out of this. In fact, the media is all over them and the losing team has been on all the major networks. Everyone feels sorry for them. Which, I imagine, is what they didn't want to happen.

I don't know all the facts. I know I have been on the losing end of routs before and what is worse than getting beaten badly is getting beaten badly by a half hearted effort. I would rather get beaten by a team that was playing hard than by one that was giving my team a break by playing softly. If administrators are concerned about routs they can and should institute a mercy rule for their leagues. That takes the pressure off the coaches. Coaches play to win and they should. Kids are taught to play hard to win and they should. Sportsmanship is part of the game before, after and during a game, to be sure, but that affects the way the game is played, by the rules and with respect for the players.

The reason this story has caught our attention is because the game was played by Christians. Christians have always had to deal with the perception that they don't play as hard as non-Christians. Some people figure Christians lose some of their competitive fire when they become Christians. How can an athlete be Christlike and want to knock some guy's head off on the other team ( I played football at a Christian college where we prayed for the opponents before the game and then the coach urged us to go take their heads off, within the rules, of course). So, a Christian's competitive juices are suspected to be watered down. Thus, the comment by the headmaster of this Christian school. What is a Christlike score? Would it have been more Christlike to win by 50 points? How does 50-0 reflect Christ more? Would Christ have even played sports? There is not a whole lot in the Bible about competing in the arena of sports. Sports in its purest form is a game (big time college and pro sports have made the game into an entertainment commodity sold as a business). But the girls basketball game is about as pure as sports gets. It's about learning to play the game as well as you can. You learn to play the game so you can win. Players understand this. Unfortunately, some administrators do not. They are the ones who decide to have teams and schedule games. The Dallas team that was blown out has not won a game in five years. Yet, they scheduled this other team. They knew what was coming and they still wanted to play (or they knew what was coming and had to play). They could have played and not kept score. They could have exchanged players and made the teams as even as they could. They could have played til one team got 25 points ahead. They could have kept score by quarters and then started over. There were lots of things they could have done. But, they chose to play basketball as it was meant to be played (as the coach of the winning team said). One team won and one team lost. That's what happens. Both teams learned some lessons. The losing team learned humility. The winning team learned how to be gracious in victory and treat their opponents with respect. Those were Christlike lessons. But, enough of this nonsense about one team scoring 100 more points than the other not being Christlike. That's the game both teams agreed to play. And the score doesn't reflect any one's Christianity. That's just silly.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Martin Luther King, President Obama and Ernie Davis

Last night while my wife was watching the Inaugural Balls on television, I watched The Express just out on DVD. I thought it was an appropriate way to honor the holiday and the Inauguration. The Express is about Ernie Davis who starred at halfback at Syracuse University around 1960. He followed Jim Brown who helped recruit him from Elmira Free Academy in Elmira, NY (my old stomping grounds). In turn, Davis helped recruit Floyd Little who played for the Denver Broncos for almost ten years after college. For 12 years Syracuse had a dominant football program due largely to these talented running backs. Of course, they were all Black at a time when many college programs would not recruit Black athletes. The film noted that Ernie Davis was only one of about 40 Black students on the SU campus at the time. When they traveled to play in places like West Virginia and Texas, the atmosphere was poisoned by racial hatred. In Davis' sophomore year (at that time the NCAA had a rule prohibiting freshmen from playing on the varsity), SU went to the national championship game against Texas. Football games are often played in hostile environments but at halftime of this game the SU coach said there was much more going on in this game than the usual rivalries among schools. There was a deep and dangerous racial animosity exhibited by players, coaches and fans. The three Black players on the SU squad were not allowed to stay in the team hotel. Ernie Davis who won the award for player of the game was not even allowed at the country club which hosted the after game award ceremony. Two years later after Davis's senior year he was awarded the Heisman Trophy as the best college football player in the nation. He was the first Black player to win that prestigious award. After college Davis was drafted by the Cleveland Browns of the NFL. In a dream backfield he was to be teamed with the great Jim Brown. But, before he ever played a game he was diagnosed with leukemia and died at 23. His jersey was retired by the Browns.

Davis was raised in a strong Christian environment. His life was a story of courage both on and off the field. Most of all, as I watched the film, I thought of how far we have come in the last 50 years. People like Davis, Jackie Robinson in baseball (broke into the big leagues in 1949) , and Jim Brown and Dr. Martin Luther King paved the way for what we witnessed on Tuesday, January 20 - the Inauguration of President Obama. It was not easy paving that way. The Express tells one story among many which could be told about the sacrifices and courage that led to that historic day this week.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

John 3:16

Tim Tebow is the quarterback of the national championship Florida Gators football team. He last played on January 8 against the Oklahoma Sooners. That's the game they won to become the national champs of college football. He won the Heisman award for the best college football player in 2007. Many sports commentators believe he was the best college football player this year. He is also one of the most highly profiled Christian athletes. His story has been printed in Sports Illustrated and ESPN magazine. He does missionary work in the Philippines with his family and shares his Christian faith easily in public. So, it might not surprise anyone that he wore John 3:16 under his eyes during the national championship game. Under one eye John was imprinted in his eye black and under the other eye was 3:16. Now, John 3:16 is no newcomer to sports events. For years, some guy placarded John 3:16 under field goal posts at lots of football games. Still, having watched a lot of sports played in all kinds of arenas, I have never seen an athlete wear John 3:16. In recent years, it has become common to hear Christian players reference their faith in media interviews and those of us who watch football have become used to seeing players gather for prayer on the field after games. However, Tebow's witness was different. Every time the camera closed in on him, there was John 3:16. You couldn't miss it. And it was Tebow's personal testimony. He was wearing it.

One blogger I read reported that on Google the next day John 3:16 was the number one search ( I think it settled in at #6 for the day). I am not sure what that means other than lots of people had no idea what John 3:16 means. Hopefully, some found out. But, taken out of context, what does it mean? Does the Google search indicate anything about the lack of Biblical literacy in the country. The blogger I read thought so. It is food for thought, at least. There is no doubt that there has to be a decline in Biblical literacy as the numbers of unchurched people increase. But, it is interesting to keep track of how many Biblical references you run across in news and sports reporting every day. I have been more tuned into them since I watched the football game last week. Yet, I have to wonder how many people get those references and how many people turn to Google to make some sense of them.

Like Tebow, we can choose to "wear" our witness on a shirt or a bumper sticker. I am not sure how many people will get "it" if we do. According to all the people who had to Google John 3:16, we can probably assume not many. The best witness we can give is a life lived for Christ. Living out John 3:16 beats wearing it any day.