I am sick of the jerks; the cheats and losers who have become superstars in the sports world today. I am glad that there are so many noble, decent, hard-working athletes. But today, there are just too many jerks to ignore.
Let me be honest – I’m a sports nut. It’s probably an unhealthy addiction for me. My office bears witness to my passion for sports – especially the New York Yankees and the Iowa Hawkeyes. My light switch and mousepad have Yankees logos. I have a large Yankee banner. My pride and joy is a life-sized cardboard cutout of Babe Ruth, perhaps the greatest Yankee of them all (well, till Mr. and Mrs. Jeter had a baby boy).
And Babe was a jerk; a raunchy, alcohol-drenched, womanizing jerk. Mickey Mantle, Billy Martin – favorite players who were not exactly role models for the youth of America. In my childhood, two Yankee pitchers made headlines by “swapping” wives – in that era, quite a shock. (FYI, one of those wife-swappers got saved and was instrumental in the Baseball Chapel movement – God is good). I have spent my life looking the other way and ignoring the foibles, failings and faults of my sports heroes.
Today, something snapped. I read news reports about Ben Roethlisberger’s recent “alleged” sexual assault. It disgusted me. He used bodyguards to force a college girl into a bathroom where he coerced her to have sex against her will. She was so drunk that her story lacked the consistency necessary for prosecution. She got scared of the media crush and asked that the DA decide not to prosecute. The DA declined to file charges.
But the story is pretty clear. Ben Roethlisberger brutalized a young lady and got away with it. Here’s what really ticks me off. Ben came into the NFL with a strong Christian testimony. I assumed he would follow in the footsteps of Kurt Warner as a God-honoring man of integrity. Somewhere along the line, Ben lost his way and I am sorry for that.
But I won’t be cheering for him any more, nor the team that puts him on the field. My integrity could be called into question on this if he played for the Raiders, or the Redskins, or in baseball for the despicable Boston Red Sox, or played basketball for the Lakers (he’d fit right in), or one of the other “axis of evil” teams. But I’ve been a Steelers’ fan since the days of Terry Bradshaw and the Steel Curtain. I cheered against them in their last Super Bowl only because I have a severe, brother-in-Christ, man-crush on Kurt Warner. But I have been a Ben Roethlisberger fan for a long time. Not any more.
I’ve cheered for Tiger Woods since I watched the last of his three US Amateur Open championships fifteen years ago. I was a huge fan. I have cheered against Phil Mickelson – something about him just annoyed me. But while Tiger was out there chasing every nubile female in the western hemisphere, Phil was standing by his wife’s side as she went through treatment for cancer. Suddenly, he doesn’t seem so annoying. I still find myself pulling for Tiger. Its an old habit. But now I feel a little ashamed about it.
I cheered for Mark McGwire – oh, I loved watching him hit those home runs. Now, we know that each of those home runs was tainted by the steroids coursing through his veins.
My daughter kept telling me all through the Summer Olympics that one day I would have to call her Mrs. Michael Phelps – right up until the moment he got his picture snapped smoking a joint.
Football has Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress, Tiki Barber, Terrell Owens – its not a short list. Basketball has Kobe, Ron Artest and a host of others. The Mitchell Report ended any illusion we might have that baseball was an honorable sport in the last decade or two. The jerks are everywhere, aren’t they?
I’m sick of it, but I really don’t know what to do about it. There are no pure teams (other than the Yankees, of course) out there. Since none of us is perfect, we cannot expect our sports heroes to somehow be perfect. We are all going to have to hold are noses at times as we cheer for our favorite team. But I have reached a limit. Sure, I can overlook human faults, even sins, but I am through overlooking belligerent foolishness just because the fool is an amazing athlete or because he wears a jersey I love. I’m just not going to cheer for them anymore.
And you know what, if enough of us did that, it just might make a difference. I’m a Yankee fan folks. I know about money in sports. If we don’t watch Steelers games or buy Big Ben’s jerseys, someone might get the message. But if Ben Roethlisberger sexually assaults women (he’s been accused more than once) and we all continue to chant his name on Sundays, there is little motivation for him or anyone else to change.
How many times have you heard some sportscaster say, “Americans are a forgiving people.” We have welcomed jerk politicians and jerk athletes back into our good graces with the most shallow of apologies. Tiger has hardly demonstrated genuine repentance, but he was warmly embraced at the Masters this year. I’m glad people get a second chance in our land. But I’m not sure this short moral memory that America has exhibited is the result of some noble desire to forgive. I’m guessing the true source is the fact that we have very little understanding of the holiness of God or an appreciation for moral standards. We care little for propriety. We put a higher priority on winning games than on living right. Who cares how people live their lives as long as they win their games, right?
I think I want to go back to the old adage of Grantland Rice, “It’s not whether you win or lose, its how you play the game.” And I want to add, “How you live your life.” Actually, I like the larger quote from his poem “Alumnus Football.”
Maybe the problem is that too many have forgotten that one day they will stand before the “Great Scorer” and will honestly care nothing about how many touchdowns you scored or home runs you hit, how far you could hit a golf ball or how hard you could throw a baseball. The “Game” that Grantland Rice talked about was the game of life. A lot of winners in sports have demonstrated themselves losers in “The Game.”
I know that none of these people are going to be devastated, but here’s where this old preacher takes his stand:
- If you behave in arrogance and self-indulgence as a habit, I will not be your fan. Others may cheer you, I will not. I’m sick of diva wide-receivers or preening, mugging hoopsters. Remember Tony Dorsett or Emmitt Smith? They would score touchdowns, hand the ball to the ref and head for the sidelines. They didn’t dance or talk trash. Just do it!
- If you father multiple children out of wedlock with multiple women, you’re a jerk. I don’t care how well you can throw, shoot or hit. You are an embarrassment to the male sex. I’m not your fan.
- If you beat your wife or girlfriend, you are slime. That person in the stands cheering you will not be me.
- I know, you are famous and rich and there are all sorts of temptations out there. But if you cheat on your wife, you’re a stinking pig. Not only do you demean your wife, but you demean all men. We don’t all cheat, but jerks like you make women think we do. Don’t expect me to ignore the fact that you are a big, fat jerk just because you can hit the snot out of a golf ball.
- If you force yourself on a young lady, using your celebrity and power to get what you want regardless of her desires, I’m not wearing your jersey anymore and I’m not cheering for the team whose jersey you wear. I’m old fashioned. I believe that sex is meant to be kept within marriage. But I also understand that it might be unrealistic to expect every sports star to save himself for marriage. Most aren’t Christians and are not likely to abide by Christian values. But (and I can’t believe I am saying this) I don’t cheer for rapists. I can expect an athlete to honor his marriage vows and to show respect for women in general.
- And for the honor of our Lord Jesus Christ, if you are going to talk about God then live to glorify him! If you are going to give your testimony, please won’t you also live your testimony? If you are going to be a lying, cheating jerk, could you keep your faith a secret? For Christ’s sake (and I mean that literally, not as a profanity), keep your mouth shut about God, about Jesus, and about your faith. Don’t let people think that Jesus is the one who made you the horrendous jerk you have become.
I don’t know how all this is going to work out. If Phil and Tiger are in the final group on the 72nd hole of the US Open, will I still pull for Tiger? I don’t know. Habits die hard. But I think my heart is changing. I love sports, but I’m sick of athletes who embarrass themselves and the game they play. I’m especially sick of the ones who do it while also wearing a cross or pointing to heaven when they do something great. I’m just not cheering for these jerks, cheaters and losers anymore.
I’m reminded of the great skit in which Bob Newhart played a therapist. He would tell each of his clients. “Stop it!” It’s about time we pulled some of these world class athletes aside, looked them in the eye and said, “Stop it!”