As my Adidas shoes lay on the floor next to my chair, I opened this morning’s Wall Street Journal to find sports news on the front page (not a normal occurrence for the WSJ) about Adidas’ involvement in a scandal with multiple universities. The headline spoke of bribery and kickbacks at major college basketball programs. Coaches have been arrested after a covert FBI investigation.
The WSJ reports:
In one of several alleged schemes outlined Tuesday by federal prosecutors in New York, a top Adidas executive worked with others including a sports agent and a financial adviser to funnel tens of thousands of dollars to the families of high-school recruits to induce them to sign with major-college programs including Louisville. In exchange, they were expected to sign with the agent and adviser and, when they turned pro, choose Adidas as their sponsor, prosecutors say.
Criminal charges against the Adidas executive, James Gatto, and others were unsealed Tuesday as part of a sweeping crackdown on alleged corruption. The case also involved alleged bribes paid to assistant coaches at the University of Arizona, Oklahoma State University, the University of Southern California and the University of South Carolina.
Prosecutors said Adidas paid high-school recruits through third-party intermediaries to attend schools with Adidas shoe contracts. Prosecutors also alleged financial advisers and agents paid bribes to the coaches with hopes of securing college stars as clients after they enter the National Basketball Association.
Every year during the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, there are commercials touting the student component of the student-athletes participating in sports programs around the country. Many of these student-athletes are not on scholarships. They are at colleges and universities to get an education. Sports are merely an extracurricular activity. The image the NCAA wants to portray is an idealistic world where students put on the uniform of their educational institution for the love of the game.
Today’s news reveals what most of us already believed to be true. Major college sports programs are big business to many universities and can be the ticket to extravagant wealth for a handful of players, agents, and coaches.
With so much money on the line, some people involved in these sports have ventured far past the line of ethical behavior. ESPN reports that the coaches who were arrested could face up to 80 years in prison if convicted.
What this reveals to me is that sports has become form of idolatry in our society. What else could drive coaches, players, families, and major corporations to participate in criminal behavior? Perhaps it is not the sport itself that is the idol, but the money it could bring. Either way, we are at an unhealthy place in our society.
Just this week I taught my Bible and Moral Issues class on the ethical implications of the Second Commandment. For the most part, we do not find ourselves fashioning graven images to worship in an American context. However, there are plenty of idols that we worship. In this case, money and basketball come to the forefront. Perhaps it is time for us to rethink the role of sports in our society. Particularly in the church, it may be time to focus our time, attention, and money on the things of God. In Matthew 6, Jesus tells us:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. . . . No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. (Matt 6:19-21, 24)
 Rebecca Davis O’Brien, Ben Cohen, and Sara Germano, “Bribery, Kickbacks Alleged at Top NCAA Basketball Programs,” The Wall Street Journal, 26 September 2017.
 John Gasaway, “What you need to know about the FBI’s NCAA basketball investigation,” ESPN.com, 26 September 2017.