Confessions of a Sports ColumnistBlog / Produced by The High Calling
Since I've been writing sports (seemingly since the first set shot dropped into a peach basket nailed on a barn wall), I've often been asked to speak on the connection between sports and faith.
I get questions like these: "What athletes do you know who have real faith in their lives?"
I counter with, "What people do you know on a casual basis at work who really live out their faith? How about those in your neighborhood? Where do they stand with God?"
All of us have been shocked when some of those who are close to us have made a moral mess of things – be it on the job or in their personal lives.
Yes, people in the sports media interview athletes. We occasionally may have a few informal talks that may be more candid than what you hear on the radio or read in the paper.
But we don't really know them, even though we write and talk about them as if we do. That's the truth, one that most of us in the media business hate to admit.
I'm a sports columnist. I'm supposed to know. I'm not only seen as an instant expert – but I also have to have a strong opinion on the subject.
One of my biggest struggles is to be humble enough to say these three painful words: "I don't know."
When he coached the Cleveland Browns in the early 1990s, Bill Belichick often said, "I can only go by what I see."
That's what we do in sports media – make quick judgments on what is really only based on a snapshot of an athlete's life. This often happens during March Madness, where players and coaches from smaller schools become sudden celebrities for a weekend after pulling off an upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Belichick is not about to quote St. Paul or 1 Corinthians 13:12, but we do indeed "See through a glass, darkly…"
Seeing what we want to see in the dark is not easy, so we turn to the brightly lit scoreboard for answers.
Winners are praised and often excused for self-absorbed and destructive choices.
Losers are disregarded, even if they are wonderful people.
Winning is the great deodorant and all of us in the sports media have poured it on to excess when doing some of our stories.
Being real: I've never been asked where a .220 hitter or a coach of a last place team stands with God. Never.
But suppose Jesus showed up today and entered the sports world to do ministry. Think about where he'd probably spend most of his time. The roster would probably look like this:
The guys who clean up the clubhouse.
The player afraid he will soon be cut and whose confidence is shot.
The coach whose team is on a losing streak while his wife has breast cancer.
The front office executive whose son is on heroin and whose daughter battles depression.
Yes, there are coaches and players who compete at a high level who often win and do live out their faith in public. It's amazing that they can keep any sense of humility in the mega-million dollar universe of big time athletics.
Where I've seen working faith in sports the most is not with the big winners, but in the urban high schools. It's where the coaches have few resources, and the players have few male parents.
I wrote a story about the Lincoln-West High football team where they had only 22 players, practiced mostly in a parking lot and ran only four basic plays. They threw only five passes – all season!
Somehow, they won three games last season. Their coach, Brooks Baird, also teaches special education at the school.
I should write more stories like that. They are out there – I just need to find them.
Sports for the Glory of God
If God has created humanity with bodies that are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” we need to develop a Christian way of living that incorporates play and recreation, leisure and competition, sports and athletics. Faith in the Creator and Redeemer should lead us to identify the way sports and athletics are meant to be, discern when something is wrong with sports in our broken and sinful culture, and imagine ways to be instruments of redemption in this sphere. In this series, "Sports for the Glory of God," we engage with stories of people who are working through these issues on a daily basis.