A-Rod and the Apology

Spring Training for Major League Baseball teams begins this week with the opening ritual of pitchers and catchers reporting to their respective warm-weather training destinations. In baseball world, this week should have been punctuated by the optimism that accompanies a clean slate. Baseball fans everywhere are hoping that this year will be the year their team wins the World Series. However, another baseball story has stolen the headlines from an otherwise blissfully optimistic week. The story is A-Rod.

Alex Rodriguez is one of the most polarizing figures in Major League Baseball today. By most standards, his 20-year career, 654 home runs, and 3 American League MVP’s would ensure that he be enshrined in Cooperstown at the Baseball Hall of Fame. But there is one problem—he was suspended for the entire 2014 season for using performance-enhancing drugs and attempting to obstruct the investigation into his use of PED’s.

Today A-Rod issued an apology to the fans. The perception of that apology is characterized by just a few tweets and headlines. The Associated Press called his apology “vague.”

Local Dallas-Fort Worth sports journalist and former host of the Texas Rangers radio show Bryan Dolgin pondered:

Rodriguez has played for the Mariners, Rangers, and Yankees and has been part of some dramatic moments in postseason baseball. Yet, his apology for using PED’s has apparently fallen flat. The AP described his apology this way: “Alex Rodriguez has issued a handwritten apology ‘for the mistakes that led to my suspension’ but has turned down New York’s offer to use Yankee Stadium for a news conference and has failed to detail any specifics about his use of performance-enhancing drugs.”

Even Rodriguez acknowledged in his apology that some would not believe his sincerity. He stated, “I accept the fact that many of you will not believe my apology or anything that I say at this point. I understand why and that’s on me.” Rodriguez will return to the New York Yankees this season and fight for a job at third base or designated hitter. He has three years left on his record-setting contract and stands to make a fortune these last few years. But his once hall-of-fame image has been tarnished—perhaps forever.

What can we learn from A-Rod’s mistakes and apology?

First, we need to admit our mistakes. One of the reasons A-Rod finds himself in the difficult position of being one of the most hated players in baseball is that he lied about his actions. It was bad enough that he used performance-enhancing drugs to elevate his already spectacular game. Plenty of players have done the same through the years. But A-Rod compounded his problem by lying about his actions when faced with the evidence and attempting to obstruct the investigation into his misdeeds.

Scripture gives us some good insight on admitting our faults. In 1 John 1:8–9 we read, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Ultimately, we are responsible to God for our sin. Denying that we sin is simply self-deception. When we confess our sin to God, he forgives us.

Second, our reputations are worth more than we can imagine. A-Rod still has millions left to be paid on his contract. He has made more money than any other baseball player in history. However, he seems to have lost the trust and respect of the fans and his fellow players. No amount of money is worth losing a good name.

Solomon knew the value of both wealth and a reputation. He writes, “A good name is to be more desired than great wealth, favor is better than silver and gold” (Prov 22:1). We often sacrifice our reputations for the perceived value of success, but it is not worth it. You can always find another way to earn a living or sign another contract, but it is almost impossible to rebuild a reputation that has self-destructed.

As Christians, how should we respond to this apology? Despite the headline that the Associated Press offered, I believe we should take his apology sincerely. His future actions will determine how sincere he was, but it is not our place to judge his heart. I may not cheer for A-Rod and his Yankees (a.k.a., the Evil Empire), but it has nothing to do with his apology. We need not pile on more pain and disgust when he appears to be trying to do the right thing.

Rodriguez will go down as one of the most talented baseball players of this generation, but his tarnished legacy will serve as a reminder to us that we can lose it all when we set our sights on success at all costs.

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Ronald Blum, “A-Rod makes vague apology, turns down news conference,” The Associated Press, February 17, 2015.

Alex Rodriguez Statement Text,” The Associated Press, February 17, 2015.

*Image Credit: Keith Allison, Flickr

Biblically Sound Now Available on RightNow Media

I’m happy to announce that the videos from my Bible study, Biblically Sound: Embracing Doctrine for Life, are now available on RightNow Media. Biblically Sound is a 10-week Bible study on doctrine and theology. The goal is to teach people how to build a biblical foundation for what they believe. I covered various doctrines, including the Trinity, man, sin, salvation, the church, and heaven.

This study was originally written for the men’s and women’s ministries at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, TN. The women’s ministry recorded the videos with their lead teachers, Donna Gaines and Jean Stockdale. Those videos are now accessible for churches on RightNow Media.

RightNow Media is a subscription based service providing high-quality Bible study materials for churches. A church can buy a subscription and have the entire RightNow Media library accessible to its members. Your church will need a subscription to view the videos, but the link to the study is available here.

If you are interested in purchasing the Biblically Sound book, you can find it on Amazon and the CreateSpace store.

Good Reading: New Research on Same-Sex Households Reveals Kids Do Best With Mom and Dad

There is a very interesting article over at The Public Discourse regarding the marriage debate and parenting. The British Journal of Education, Society, and Behavioral Science has published the largest study ever performed on the emotional outcomes of children reared in same-sex couple households. Mark Regnerus, associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, provides a summary of the article at The Public Discourse. Here is an excerpt:

Results reveal that, on eight out of twelve psychometric measures, the risk of clinical emotional problems, developmental problems, or use of mental health treatment services is nearly double among those with same-sex parents when contrasted with children of opposite-sex parents. The estimate of serious child emotional problems in children with same-sex parents is 17 percent, compared with 7 percent among opposite-sex parents, after adjusting for age, race, gender, and parent’s education and income. Rates of ADHD were higher as well—15.5 compared to 7.1 percent. The same is true for learning disabilities: 14.1 vs. 8 percent.

As it relates to the near-consensus of other studies noting no difference between children from same-sex households and from opposite-sex households, Regnerus notes:

The real disagreement is seldom over what the data reveal. It’s how scholars present and interpret the data that differs profoundly. You can make the children of same-sex households appear to fare fine (if not better), on average, if you control for a series of documented factors more apt to plague same-sex relationships and households: relationship instability, residential instability, health and emotional challenges, greater economic struggle (among female couples), and—perhaps most significantly—the lack of two biological connections to the child. If you control for these, you will indeed find “no differences” left over. Doing this gives the impression that “the kids are fine” at a time when it is politically expedient to do so.

Regnerus suggests that this new study will be attacked just as his was a couple of years ago, but that does not prove anything. In fact, Regnerus’ work was commended after an internal review at UT-Austin, and this work will continue the trend that Regnerus started.

I recommend reading the entirety of Regnerus’ article here.

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Mark Regnerus, “New Research on Same-Sex Households Reveals Kids Do Best With Mom and Dad,” The Public Discourse, February 10, 2015.

Maintaining the Integrity of the Game

Yesterday I wrote a post about the character lessons children can learn while participating in team sports. I also included warnings to parents hoping to avoid the dangers of undermining what our kids could learn. Unfortunately, ESPN reported today that Little League Baseball has stripped the 2014 US Little League World Series title from the Jackie Robinson West (Chicago) team due to the actions of some of the adults involved.

According to the report, the team manager and the Illinois District 4 Little League administrator used falsified boundary maps to recruit better players from other districts to “build what amounts to a superteam.” These actions violated the Little League rules that are meant to ensure that all teams have an equal opportunity to advance through the tournaments and reach the World Series. Building an all-star team from multiple districts is a clear violation.

After discovering the violations and taking action, Little League International CEO Stephen D. Keener stated:

For more than 75 years, Little League has been an organization where fair play is valued over the importance of wins and losses. This is a heartbreaking decision. What these players accomplished on the field and the memories and lessons they have learned during the Little League World Series tournament is something the kids can be proud of, but it is unfortunate that the actions of adults have led to this outcome.

As our Little League operations staff learned of the many issues and actions that occurred over the course of 2014 and prior, as painful as this is, we feel it a necessary decision to maintain the integrity of the Little League program. No team can be allowed to attempt to strengthen its team by putting players on their roster that live outside their boundaries.

The most difficult part of this entire situation is that a lack of integrity on the part of adults has cost a group of boys their championship. The players did not conspire to manipulate the system; instead, it was men they should have been able to trust—coaches and local league administrators—who violated that trust and the rules.

This is a problem that is all too common in children’s sports. Adults get so focused on winning that they will sacrifice their integrity and reputations for a trophy.

When I was in college, I worked as a little league umpire for a couple of summers. One encounter with a coach still sticks out in my mind. I was calling balls and strikes from behind the plate when a boy hit the ball to right field. He hustled around the bases and slid into third just as the throw arrived. I had done what I was trained to do by running up the third baseline from home plate as I saw a play was going to happen at third base. I was standing less than six feet from the bag and watched the runner slide underneath a tag and called him safe. Immediately, a coach from the first base dugout came running across the diamond yelling at me about my call. I turned and instructed the coach to stop right before she got to the pitcher’s mound and return to the dugout. I reminded her that I had the authority to throw her out of the game if she continued to question the call I was clearly in position to make better than she could have. For the rest of the game, she grumbled about my calls and questioned my ability in front of her players in the dugout. Her actions said more about her character than my ability.

For these players from Chicago, their team’s reputation is tainted through no fault of their own. In addition, they have been shown a very poor example of how adults are to conduct themselves. The adults in this case lost sight of the most important thing—that the kids learn how to play the game with integrity. Instead these adults sent the message that you win at all costs, rules don’t apply, and integrity doesn’t matter.

Do we really want to bring up a generation of young men and women who are taught that you play to win even if it costs your name? Scripture teaches that “a good name is to be more desired than great wealth, favor is better than silver and gold” (Prov 22:1). If your name and reputation are more important than great riches, then surely they are more important than a trophy.

If we expect our kids to grow up and act like adults, then we need to act like adults. Let’s teach our kids how to play with integrity. Let’s teach them how to build a reputation. Let’s teach them that there is more to life than simply winning a game.

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Tom Farrey, “Little League punishes Chicago team,” ESPN.com, February 11, 2015.

*Image credit: AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

The Character of Sports

Bellevue Soccer TeamAs the (ridiculously) short winter in Texas appears to be giving way to spring, it is that time of year when parents start signing their kids up for sports teams. Since we live in a large metropolitan area, we have the luxury of choosing almost any sport at any time of year. Football, baseball, soccer, and basketball are virtually year-round activities here. At least once a year, my wife and I have a discussion about which activities to place our children in and for how long.

For many people, sports are an unhealthy obsession, but sports can actually be good for the development of character—if done the right way. Here are a few thoughts on the character that sports can build and some caveats for parents to go along with them.

Teamwork

While there are individual sports, we mostly think of team sports when we consider signing up our kids for a season. The beauty of such team sports is that they can counter the oppressive culture of individualism we often find in our society. Rather than spending time mindlessly staring at a screen with no consciousness of the world around them, children who play team sports get the opportunity to interact with other children in a (typically) competitive environment where they have to work together to accomplish a goal.

The level of teamwork varies with the sport, but one thing is consistent—the team is essential. No single child can compete against an entire team and be successful. For that matter, not even LeBron James could take the basketball court by himself and compete with even a decent college-level team.

Learning teamwork is important for our children because the “adult world” is full of interaction with others and collaboration to accomplish goals. From marriage to the workplace to church, we constantly interact with people for the sake of pursuing common goals.

As a leader, Moses learned this lesson from his father-in-law in Exodus 18. Jethro came to visit Moses in the wilderness and to bring his wife and sons back to him. While there, Jethro observed that Moses was handling all the disputes of the people by himself and advised him against such an approach. Jethro counseled him to “select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. Let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this thing and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people also will go to their place in peace” (Ex 18:21–23). Even the prophet Moses needed a team to accomplish the goal of judging the people and bringing them into the Promised Land.

The Warning for Parents

Children’s sports sometimes bring out the worst in parents. Many of us consider our child to be the next Peyton Manning, Derek Jeter, or Michael Jordan. However, our kids still need a team. They also need a team that respects them. When parents grandstand for their own child to be the focal point of the team, it actually does the child and the team a disservice. Camaraderie, selflessness, and unity are necessary for success on the field and in life. Even the most talented team can lose to another team that has learned to play together. Instead of promoting your own child, promote the team.

Discipline

I’ll never forget one of the coaches from my childhood. I didn’t really like him very much. He made us run long distances. If you were last, you might have to run another lap. He constantly worked on drills to teach skills. All I wanted to do was score (which I rarely did). Then he expected us to go home and work more between practices. I didn’t like what he required us to do. But he was teaching us the lesson of discipline.

Discipline is important in life, and sports have a built-in mechanism for teaching it—practice. Most kids are not blessed with the athletic ability to pick up the intricacies of a new game the first time they play. Yes, it may come easier to some than others, but even the best athletes practice (unless you’re Allen Iverson).

The discipline children learn in playing sports can translate to the rest of life. Schoolwork requires discipline. Jobs require discipline. Spiritual growth requires discipline.

Paul teaches us the lesson of spiritual discipline using illustrations from sports. He writes:

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. (1 Cor 9:24–27)

Thus, sports can help children learn the discipline necessary for life. Team sports in particular teach us that others are dependent upon us exercising our own discipline.

The Warning for Parents

The danger for parents when it comes to discipline in sports is the tendency to fall into one of two extremes. We can demand perfection from our children that they simply cannot deliver or we can let them off the hook of practice and discipline. By always demanding absolute perfection, we may drive our children away from a desire to participate. By giving in to the temptation not to require practice, we may send our kids a message that practice and discipline are not necessary. Both extremes are problematic. Balance in this area is necessary.

Perseverance

One of my fondest sports memories came around the age of 9 or 10. I had been playing basketball in a church league for a few years already, but my church’s team was not very good. In fact, we had not won a game in more than two full seasons. But this game was different. By some miracle, we had actually taken the lead at the end of the game and just needed to run out the last few seconds on the clock. We were inbounding the ball from under the opponent’s basket and they were surrounding us to try to steal the ball. I broke open, caught the pass, and avoided the defense until time expired. We won! The taste of victory was sweet. It was even sweeter due to the lingering taste of defeat for more than two years.

Losing is a part of sports. Very few teams go undefeated. Learning to lose is an important lesson for life. It teaches perseverance. People who fail to learn how to pick themselves up after defeat tend to struggle mightily in life. At some point, we will be passed over for a promotion, or someone will critique what we say or write, or someone will tell us that our idea is a bad one. What we do when that happens says a lot about our perseverance.

Losing every game for two seasons was not fun, but most of our team stuck together. Over time we got better because we continued to discipline ourselves and trust one another. By the time we quit playing together in high school, we found ourselves in the city tournament.

In our spiritual lives, there will be trials and difficulties, but Scripture tells us to stand firm. Romans 5:3–5 reads, “[W]e also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

The Warning for Parents

We as parents do not like to see our kids lose. As a result, some parents refuse to allow their children to play on a team that loses. At the first sign of a season turning south, they will pull their child off the team in order to find a better one—often bad-mouthing the coach on the way out. Another possibility is to blame the losses on someone else and never acknowledge our child’s role in the team’s loss. That doesn’t mean we need to be hyper-critical of our children’s faults, but we need to teach them where they can improve. I’m sure I cost my basketball team a number of games due to my abysmal free throw shooting. But that is why I spent afternoons in the driveway shooting free throws—at my dad’s suggestion. Failure is not fun, but it may be the best teacher.

This spring and summer, we will most likely have our kids in different sports and activities. I may even coach one of them. I hope they are successful, but I am more hopeful that they learn teamwork, discipline, and perseverance. Those are life skills they will take with them long after their days on the field or court are over.

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*Thanks to my friend and former teammate Achaz Foster for the “throwback” photo of one of our soccer teams back in the day. Yes, I’m the chunky kids second from the left on the back row.