Football has once again stepped into the limelight of scandal, but this time it is the paid professional adults who must give account not the amateur twenty-somethings.
The NFL released a statement on March 21st that the New Orleans Saints had instituted a program with their players that "included 'bounty' payments for 'knock-outs' [knocking a player unconscious] and 'cart-offs,' [injuring a player to the extent that they need to be driven off the field with a John Deere tractor] plays on which an opposing player was forced to leave the game. At times, the bounties even targeted specific players by name." Basically, to motivate their players to play harder and to help them win games, the Saints were paying for them to intentionally injure opposing teammates. Think, bounty hunters with helmets and body armor—almost sounds like science fiction, right?
Upon examining the evidence, NFL commissioner issued swift and severe discipline on the Saints including:
A $500,000 fine; a forfeiture of second round draft picks for 2012 and 2013; a suspension of the head coach Sean Payton for the 2012 season without pay; a suspension of the General Manager for eight games without pay; an indefinite suspension of a former defensive coordinator; a six-game suspension of the assistant Head Coach without pay; and also the punished individuals will be required to participate in certain programs to help discourage bounty programs in all levels of football.
What has happened here is a graphic distortion of the spirit of sportsmanship, competition, and also human decency.
It is bad enough when a player tries to intentionally injure an opposing teammate. I have seen my brother, now a wide receiver for Oregon State, be the target of multiple shots from ill-willed players—one helmet-to-helmet hit left him unconscious after a punt return. But for the coaching staff to monetarily encourage the carnage, it is downright sadistic and corrupt.
I absolutely love sports and specifically football. It is a great game. When I hear about sports scandals, my initial reaction is to get so angry because all I see are grown men running in tights, who are paid millions of dollars, ruining something I really enjoy. But the more I think about the Saints and other scandals (the Miami Hurricanes, North Carolina, Penn State, Ohio State, and USC) I can't help but think that we the sports fanatic have helped create the problem.
ALL I DO IS WIN
Our society has taken the American dream of the pursuit of happiness to its inevitable conclusion—if losing bring me sadness then the only path to happiness is through winning.
It is my right to win. I need to win. I will win at all costs.
When the accomplishment of a determined goal is the ultimate pursuit of a life, it becomes idolatry, it becomes worship.
We are willing to sacrifice things for what we worship. Nothing becomes more important than what we worship. This is why Jesus said, "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:21).
Everything goes out the window for what you treasure. This is why someone would be willing to end a colleague's career through intentional sabotage and assault just to earn a trophy and an iced up ring.
This is not just among players though. Attend any sporting event, professional, college, even grade school (sometimes sports parents are the most vicious), and you will see that fans have been calling for the heads of their enemies long before there was a price on them.
How are Christians to react to such a worldview?
WHEN THE SAINTS GO MARCHING IN
Christian sports fans, if we are really honest with ourselves, there are many times when we suffer from cognitive dissonance—holding two opposing viewpoints as true at the very same time.
1. We love Jesus and want to please Him.
2. We want our team to win. We want our team to win real badly.
It is not impossible to love Jesus and at the same time want your team to win. The problem is when our desire for our team to win trumps our desire to please Jesus.
Rarely does this occur in outright rebellion: "Forget you Jesus! Have fun with the weak and the lowly cause I'm watching the Packers!"
Instead, our hypocrisy happens in subtle ways: We hurl insults at opposing players to get inside their heads and demean them. We argue and complain when penalties are rightfully made against our team. We demonize referees…period. We call for the head of our rival's star player. We think fans of our rival must be missing a few crucial brain cells to be willing to cheer against our team.
We are not consciously defying Jesus; we just forget about Him altogether.
Forget Him and it is easy to begin thinking that something else matters. Forget Him while you are alone with your girlfriend and it is easy to begin thinking only her body matters. Forget Him while you are at your workplace and it is easy to begin thinking only the corporate ladder matters. Forget Him in the arena and it is easy to begin thinking only your team matters—after all, everyone else is cheering for them.
And when only your team matters, nothing else really does.