Posts Tagged ‘Football’

Football, Anchoring, And Just A Lot Of Questions

Tuesday, October 20th, 2015

For starters, I love football.  Passionately.  I don’t watch many games live because they are too anxiety producing.  But I watch dozens on replay, hours after I know the score.

And well there is struggle.  A great deal of questions.  Over the past two weeks…

  1. USC fired its head football coach as he struggled with an obvious alcohol addiction.  Maybe the pressure was relentless?
  2. USC’s AD, Pat Haden, later collapsed on the sidelines at the first game under an interim coach. Passed out.  Not alcohol induced.  Nerves I would imagine.
  3. Michigan State beat Michigan on a last second gafffe by the punter.  Michigan’s punter later received so many death threats that Michigan’s AD wrote an open letter imploring the no doubt small group of wayward fans to stop the harrasment.
  4. The young man who scored Michigan State’s last touchdown in the miracle win broke his hip on the play.  How will that turn out?  A legend maybe but maybe a legend who never plays a down as a starter again.
  5. Johnny Manziel, Heisman winner and QB for the Browns, well just look at his exploits this weekend.  An argument with this his girlfriend … while driving … that became so heated several people called the police.  No big deal he said.  Alcohol involved.
The struggle is this … a gnawing worry that we have anchored far too much of our lives in sports. And as a pastor, I know that comes with a cost.  I hear constantly from parents who can no longer bring their family to church on Sunday because of athletic commitments.   The anchor for life becomes sport/ athletics.
And that sounds so old and fuddy-duddy doesn’t it?  Like some 1950′s Father-Knows-Best line.
But I do know this … faith lived well, lived courageously builds character too.  Builds teamwork.  Builds commitment. Builds dedication. Builds a moral foundation.  Gives a higher perspective. And maybe on some Sundays church does those things even better than sports do.
It is not a conversation about Sports or Church.  But maybe there is space for “and.”  I hope so.

The Penn State Football Scandal

Friday, July 13th, 2012

“While people are saying ‘Peace an Safety’ destruction will come suddenly.” (2 Thessalonians 5:2)

It was sad reading the Freeh report about the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal at my alma mater, Penn State.  The facts appear irrefutable.

  1. Those in positions of power, notably  President of the University Graham Spanier, Athletic Director Tim Curley, University VP Gary Schultz, and head football coach Joe Paterno all knew of credible allegations against Jerry Sandusky as early as 1998
  2. All failed to act even though as Schultz in 1998 noted in his files, “Is this opening a Pandora’s Box?”  ”Other children?”
  3. The above men at best misled a Grand Jury about their knowledge of the 1998 incident including Paterno who clearly was informed in 1998 but denied any previous knowledge of allegations against Sandusky.
That is sad.  Being a pastor I have huge compassion for the victims and for these gentlemen as well.  And incidents like this mean we have to ask some pointed and uncomfortable questions.
The Nature of Evil
What is the nature of evil?  It is far more complex than what we at first might imagine.  We need to see it in three “layers” – culture/ institutions, then individuals, then protectors.
The base, the culture, is hard to call into question and what I want to share will upset some. It upsets me as an avid lover of athletics.  Our culture is in many ways numb and sick.  Scandals like this grow out of that very numbness.  Just look at the outsized role football played at Penn State as well as at many other universities.  It’s outsized importance molds it into a quasi religion of sorts replete with “offerings” and “sacrifice”, all managed by its own “priesthood.”   That of course is not to say athletics are without merit but lets ask the hard questions, the hardest of which is this, “Have athletics become too important in our culture?”
The fact that they have, I believe, fed at least in part the timeline that unfolded at Penn State.  These men were caught up in that very culture where 11 to 12 games per season determined whether the university had a “good” year or a “bad” year.  Look at the statistics. In college after college, a winning season, especially if it involves championships, leads to a sizable increase in donations.
The problem is we rarely question that culture and if we do, it creates a backlash.  Here is a stir-the-pot question.  How many of us have missed a church service due to an athletic contest for our children.  How many of us fear that our child will “fall behind” if we don’t attend such contests?  Church will loose out to Sunday morning sports every time because our culture gives us parents little choice frankly.  Just ask your coach!
Or let me put it another way, what has your family done more of, athletics or community service?  If your family is like ours, the proportion is overwhelming lopsided in favor of athletics.
This is where the ground for “evil” is established.  A slow,cultural numbing occurs that blinds and binds us to certain behaviors and an increasing inability to envision alternatives.  I have to ask myself would I EVER choose church for my kids over a game?  Am I even be able to see it as a choice anymore?
Out of a numbed culture grow numbed individuals like Spanier, Curley, Schultz, and Paterno.  These people are not demons.  They are you.  They are me. They are people who have done many good things, even great things but because of a numbness growing out of a given culture, they were unable, simply put, “to see the forest for the trees.”  That inability carried tragic consequences for those children abused by Jerry Sandusky.
We will demonize them without ever looking at the very culture that created these horrific events and that created the coverup.  We pluck the leaf but leave the roots.
And what of the “Protectors” at the top of the pyramid, those now charged with cleaning up the mess?  Sad to say, but they likewise contribute to the numbness.  Many in the Penn State community will feel a sense of understandable closure with the release of Freeh’s report, which is in part true.  Rigorous honesty is a step towards healing.  But the danger is this – by targeting individuals and their accountability – which is necessary – the wider culture remains outside the realm of critique.   Have we “solved’ the problem of the aforementioned numbness with this report?  If we think it ends the story, it has not.  If we think this opens up a conversation, maybe something different comes out of this.
Peace and Safety
We love “peace and safety.”  No doubt Spanier, Curley, Schultz, and Paterno were all at least partially motivated, as we all often are,  by a desire for “peace and safety,” realizing that in coming forward there would be neither.  Coming forward in 1998 would have saved many victims but also probably would have cost all these men their jobs.  So they chose to push Sandusky’s criminal activity to the side as well as any concern for the victims.
Yet “Peace and Safety” kill.   Christ never asked us to pursue safety nor did He hold it as a moral virtue.  Life well lived calls us to discomfort, to unease.  That is the only thing that gets us to look candidly at evil in all its various disguises. Only an awake life has any hope of puncturing self deception.