I’ve had plenty of practice in recent years. I’m a sports fan (in case anyone doesn’t know that) and over the last few years I’ve watched as many of my athletic heroes have fallen flat on their faces.
Man, I hated Roger Clemens – everything about him. Then, he donned the pinstripes and I have to admit that it took a while for me to warm to him. But I did. I really did. I remember watching Roger walk off the mound for the last time, with a tear in my eye.
And then it turned out that his greatness likely came from a syringe.
I cheered for Tiger Woods when he was a scrawny little kid winning US Amateur events. I watched in wonder as he won major after major, producing the most amazing shots under intense pressure. GOAT – greatest of all time.
Then we found out that he was one of the greatest cheaters of all time.
My dad is a graduate of Penn State and I was taught reverence for Joe Paterno from a young age. We used to say that he not only won, but he won with honor. But confronted by the evidence that a friend and assistant was committing heinous acts, he stuck his head in the sand.
The man who won with honor ended his career in dishonor.
Ben Roethlisberger. Mark McGwire. Barry Bonds. It seems that so many of the great heroes of sports are unusually prone to cheating or behaving like dolts. It is a struggle.
Of course, now there is Lance Armstrong. I was a big fan. On July mornings during that seven year run, I would actually watch bike racing and I would believe that I was watching something Superman in biking shorts. And, though the accusations were always there, he never tested positive and I was able to hold on to the belief he was clean.
The interview with Oprah last night drove the last nail in the coffin of Lance’s heroism. Not only was he a cheater, but he was a bully, an ogre.
So, what do we do? How do we view fallen heroes in a redemptive, biblical way? Here are some responses I have observed.
1) The “Here Comes the Judge” Response
When our heroes fall, the pendulum swings from adulation to anger, and we can come down pretty hard on them. Tiger is a dog. Lance is a cheater. We can become rigid in our dislike for those we once cheered.
There was quite a bit of discussion this year when the Baseball Hall of Fame passed on the election of some of the greatest players of all time because of the steroids era. Many writers have promised to hold this grudge as long as those names appear on the ballot.
And I sympathize with that. If we tolerate cheating, we will get more cheating. I’m glad that Pete Rose is not in the Hall of Fame. There is a place for setting the standards and holding the line. That is a noble, even biblical concept.
But there is more to it than that. Is not grace at the center of what we do?
2) The “Judge Not” Response.
Few scriptures have been misinterpreted and misapplied than Jesus’ words, “Judge not that you be not judged.” I like the Paul Washer quote:
“People tell me judge not lest ye be judged. I always tell them, twist not scripture lest ye be like satan.”
But the “judge not” response has been evident everywhere in the sports world. I’m not perfect, so who am I to judge Tiger or Lance or any of the others. This response is often presented as a grace response, but it is more rooted in a lack of moral standards than it is in God’s grace. God’s grace is demonstrated not in ignoring sin, but in atoning for it.
3) The “Comedy Central” Response
Facebook has lit up over the last couple of days over Manti Te’o and his evidently fictional girlfriend. I will have to admit that I’ve laughed at a few of the jokes that have gone around. I think have some of Don Rickles’ DNA and this kind of sarcastic, biting insult comes very naturally to me.
But, though it pains me to say it, ridicule and sarcasm are not fruit of the Spirit. I’m not sure where that line is and I’m sure I cross it often. Laughing about things is a coping mechanism, but if we want to respond to honor God in a thing like this, there has to be more to it that filling Twitter and Facebook with biting insults!
4) The “My Guy-Your Guy” Response
Consistency is not a primary characteristic of sports fan. If a Yankee tests positive, I might tend to overlook it, but if one of the Boston Red Evils pops positive I might tend to take a much harder line.
Not much to say about this. It’s hypocrisy, but its also very human.
So, What Do We Do?
How ought Christians to respond to these situations? We must honor honesty and integrity while also prizing grace and redemption. It is easy to say what we should not do.
- We ought not act as if morals and standards are of no consequence.
- We ought not act as if there is no return from failure.
- We ought never treat people with disrespect, not matter how great their failure. (The only exceptions here are players for the Patriots or Red Sox – with them all rules are off. Sorry, back to normal programming.)
It does me no good to hold a grudge against Lance or Tiger or any of these failed stars. But should I ignore their failings and continue to cheer for them?
The fact is, I don’t really have the answers here. Maybe you have it all figured out. I’d love to hear what you think.
How do we uphold standards while showing grace? How ought Christians react when our heroes fail? The floor is yours.