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

Baseball Theology from Peanuts

This classic Peanuts comic strip is evidence that baseball and theology are a match made in heaven. Thank you, Charles Schulz.

It also serves as an appropriate commentary on the Texas Rangers’ abysmal 2014 season. We can only hope for better next year. But in the words of former Rangers manager Ron Washington: “That’s the way baseball go.”

This comic strip is available at http://www.peanuts.com/comicstrips/3259443.

Wild Pitch: Texas Ranger Robbie Ross and the NOH8 Campaign

Image credit: mikelachance816 on Flickr

The 2013 edition of the Official Baseball Rules produced by Major League Baseball defines a wild pitch as “one so high, so low, or so wide of the plate that it cannot be handled with ordinary effort by the catcher.”

Robbie Ross, a left-handed relief pitcher for the Texas Rangers and outspoken Christian on the team, threw a wild pitch the other day, but not from the mound at Rangers Ballpark. Ross’ pitch came on behalf of the NOH8 campaign. An article on the sports news site SB Nation suggested the idea that Ross’ involvement was wide of orthodox Christianity as it reported, “While it may seem an oxymoron to some for two devout Christians to showcase their religion on a campaign in support of gay equality, it made perfect sense to the Rosses.”

NOH8 is “a charitable organization whose mission is to promote marriage, gender and human equality through education, advocacy, social media, and visual protest.” The campaign uses photography to promote its message, often showing supporters with duct tape over their mouths to symbolize stopping negative speech toward homosexuality.

Ross and his wife, Brittany, were recently featured in a photo shoot for NOH8. In a subsequent interview, Ross proclaimed that he wanted to display his Christianity as part of the message. He said:

Being in sports, and being around all kinds of different people, you just want to accept everyone for who they are. My wife Brittany and I are Christians, and we believe we as Christians should love everyone and show everyone love, and if this is the best way to do it, then we want to support them.

As with many Christians who try to find biblical support for homosexuality, Ross and his wife have elevated the concept of love above God’s specific statements regarding sin. For them, love means inclusion, acceptance, and approval of all lifestyles even if they are labeled as sin in Scripture. In response to a question about biblical passages that label homosexuality a sin, Brittany Ross stated:

I just don’t think it matters if it’s a sin. We all sin, we all know that, so if we just stop focusing on sin, we can start loving each other.

The article reports that Robbie “quickly jumped in” and said:

If you went Biblically off of everything we’re doing now, during our every day, I’m sure there are one or two sins throughout our day we don’t even realize we’re committing.

There it is. In the minds of the Rosses, sin no longer matters—only love and acceptance.

As a fan of the Rangers, I really like Robbie Ross. I had been impressed by his boldness to let others know about his faith. In baseball, all pitchers miss the plate on a regular basis. It’s called a ball. However, the best pitchers don’t throw wild pitches. On this issue, Robbie Ross has more than missed the plate—he has thrown so wild that his pitch can’t be handled with ordinary effort by orthodox Christianity. This pitch requires leaving the accepted doctrines and interpretations of Scripture. It promotes the homosexual agenda in such a way that minimizes the teaching of Scripture. In baseball terms, this pitch was wild and went to the backstop, advancing a runner along the way.

After Paul discusses homosexuality in Romans 1:26–27, he continues to talk about the depravity of mankind for the rest of the chapter. He notes a number of sins that represent a depraved mind. Finally, he makes a piercing statement about those who condone such sinful behavior. In Romans 1:32, Paul writes:

And although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.

Paul tells us that sin deserves God’s punishment. Thankfully, God has provided the way of salvation through the death, burial, and resurrection of his Son. However, Christians who deny the need for repentance and salvation are like those Paul condemned in Romans 1:32. In spite of knowing what God commands, they give hearty approval to those who live in sin.

I pray that the Rosses would go back to their “pitching coach” and work on their delivery again so they can avoid throwing any more wild pitches.

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“Rule 2.00—Definitions of Terms,” Official Baseball Rules, 2013 Edition.

Cyd Zeigler, “Texas Rangers pitcher Robbie Ross and wife Brittany appear in Christian NOH8 campaign photo,” SB Nation Outsports, September 17, 2013.

Money or Moniker: The Ryan Braun Scandal

Image Credit: Steve Paluch on Flickr

The sports world was in an uproar last week over the Ryan Braun scandal and his 65-game suspension from Major League Baseball. For those less invested in the MLB than myself, Braun plays left field for the Milwaukee Brewers and was the 2011 National League Most Valuable Player. In October 2011, he appealed a positive drug test and won on a technicality. Then he declared that he had never used performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) and gained the vocal support of his teammates and friends. Now Braun has accepted a 65-game suspension for violating the league’s drug policy—basically admitting his use of PEDs.

During the back-and-forth analysis of the suspension, one of my favorite sports talk radio personalities, Mike Greenberg of ESPN’s Mike and Mike, raised the question of whether Braun got off easy. Here’s why. Braun accepted a 65-game suspension without pay. He loses a little more than $3 million from his salary for the year. However, Braun signed a huge contract extension a couple years ago and the “big money” doesn’t kick in until next year. Since MLB player contracts are guaranteed, Braun will not lose any of the money owed to him after his suspension has been served.

As part of the analysis, Mike “Greeny” Greenberg sent out the above tweet giving his take on the issue. Essentially, Greeny said that Braun’s reputation is more important than the money. He can, and will, collect millions of dollars through 2020 on this contract. But his reputation is permanently tarnished.

When he fought the positive test back in 2011, Braun staked his reputation on the idea that someone had tampered with his test sample. When the MLB could not verify the security of his sample, Braun proclaimed his innocence and expressed vindication in the face of what appeared to be a false accusation. Now we find that it was Braun who lied all along.

When I saw the tweet from Greeny, the text of Proverbs 22:1 immediately came to mind. In this proverb we read, “A good name is to be more desired than great wealth, favor is better than silver and gold.” Even with all his millions, Braun has lost his good name. We idolize sports stars for their immense talent, and we often long to have their riches. We may even be willing to deal with the fallout of a bad reputation if we could earn over $150 million. However, Scripture clearly states that we should desire a good name more than wealth. What does this look like?

First, we should value our own integrity over riches. There are many opportunities in life to sacrifice our integrity and name for the sake of getting ahead in life. Most of us will never have the opportunity to sign a contract worth nearly $150 million, but we are faced with choices between our reputation and greater wealth or prestige. When faced with these choices, the biblical response is to choose integrity over riches.

Second, we should be content with our lives, especially if it means that we have kept our integrity. Proverbs 19:1 reads, “Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than he who is perverse in speech and is a fool.” A fool with riches is not to be honored—he is to be pitied. The poor man with a good reputation and integrity is wise. This does not mean that poverty and integrity nor wealth and foolishness always go together. However, given the choice between poverty and integrity or wealth and folly, the former is always the preferable option. Thus, we can be content with little as long as we have our good names.

Greeny followed up his previous comment with the following:

For Christians, the answer must be “no.” Since we claim to be followers of Christ, it is more than just our name on the line. The name of Christ is to be honored as well, and that should be a motivating factor in choosing a good name over great riches.

Why I Won’t Be Able to Tweet at Tonight’s Rangers Game

It’s not a shock to anyone who knows me that I am a Texas Rangers fan. However, this post is a little off the beaten path for me.

I noticed for the first time during last season’s MLB playoffs that I could not log in to Twitter or Facebook during the Rangers game. I blamed it on my 3 year old iPhone. Well now I know the real answer with data to back it up.

CNN Money posted an article about why you can’t get wireless service at sports games. With help from app maker SwayMarkets, we now have research showing the best and worst times to access your cellular data service during a Major League Baseball game.

Here’s some research from the article:

The company’s founders went to Fenway Park on May 31 to catch a Red Sox-Tigers baseball game, armed with iPhones on three different wireless phone networks: AT&T, Verizon and Sprint. Using SwayMarkets’ CarrierCompare software, they constantly pinged the various providers’ networks to measure their speed and response times.

The results were revealing. And very, very bad.

Sprint (S, Fortune 500) and especially Verizon (VZ, Fortune 500) became so overwhelmed that their wireless networks were practically unusable throughout most of the game. Verizon actually had several network failures during the game, meaning download requests simply weren’t able to go through.

AT&T’s (T, Fortune 500) network was the only one that worked from start to finish, but its performance was still dreadful. Download speeds during the baseball game dropped to a third of what they were just minutes before and after the game. Refreshing Twitter or Facebook, which took about 6 seconds before the game’s start, took more than 20 seconds at the worst points and sometimes failed outright.

The most interesting information in the article relates to the times that service became the most dreadful. Since the researchers went to a Red Sox-Tigers game at Fenway Park, much of it had to do with how well the Red Sox were playing.

Network performance on all three carriers fell through the floor as people filed into their seats just before the 7:10 p.m. start time. They were texting, calling, uploading photos to social networks — everything you’d expect people to do when there’s not much going on.

Then, as people got into the game, they used their phones less and service got progressively better. The Red Sox quickly took the lead in the second, and lost it in the third. (That’s not surprising if you’ve been following the Sox this year).

In the bottom of the third inning, just after the Red Sox tied it up again, Tigers catcher Alex Avila took a foul tip off his facemask, knocking him out of the game.

During the extended injury timeout, people flocked to their phones, and service slowed to a crawl. The speeds on AT&T’s network plummeted to less than half its gametime average. Verizon and Sprint’s networks virtually crashed, with speeds sometimes falling below 100 kilobits per second. If you’re older than 25, think about dial-up modem speeds. That’ll give you an idea of how slow the wireless networks were.

As play resumed, network quality quickly bounced back from “dreadful” to “poor.”

But when the seventh inning stretch hit, people went right back to their phones, and wireless service quality plunged. A pitching change one batter into the bottom of the seventh led to another short bout of degraded service.

Detroit scored another run in the top of the eighth, gaining a two-run edge over the Sox, and many of the Fenway faithful started to lose hope. As they filed out, service dramatically improved.

After the Tigers scored another two runs in the top of the ninth inning, taking a 7-3 lead and thoroughly dispiriting the remaining fans, service almost returned to normal.

Tonight I’ll be spending a few hours with 45,000 of my closest friends at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get a tweet or text out a time or two, but it might be touch and go, especially if Josh Hamilton crushes his 27th homer into the upper homerun porch. Since Rangers fans are more loyal than BoSox fans, we won’t leave the stands early no matter what the score. However, I fully expect to see the Rangers win, and I’ll tweet once I am safely back at the house.

Go Rangers!

When Heroes Fail

News broke this week that Josh Hamilton, the all-star outfielder for the Texas Rangers, had a “weak moment” on Monday night and consumed alcohol. In the world of professional sports, alcohol consumption is a foregone conclusion among both fans and athletes. However, Josh Hamilton’s story is different. After spending three years out of Major League Baseball for drug and alcohol abuse, Hamilton has publicly committed to avoiding alcohol. He readily acknowledges that he does things he regrets when under the influence of alcohol.

I am a huge Rangers fan. Hamilton is among my favorite players. My heart beats a little faster when Josh steps to the plate because I know he can change the face of the game with one swing of the bat. I’ll never forget watching his stellar performance in the 2008 Home Run Derby. His performance will most likely never be matched. He is one of the most talented players in baseball—and he plays for my team.

So what should we do when our heroes fail? What do we tell our kids who see their favorite player on the news? How do we respond when life throws this curveball?

First, we need to recognize that none of us are perfect. Scripture declares that we are all sinners (Rom 3:23). Despite our best efforts, we have no righteousness of our own (Rom 3:10–12). The difference between Hamilton and us is that our failures probably won’t make headlines. No one is watching our every move in order to report our faults on the local news. However, our sins—no matter how great or small—carry the same eternal consequences from God. We deserve death and hell for our sins whether or not we are anyone’s hero.

Second, we can rejoice that we can seek the forgiveness of God and those we have hurt just like Josh did. For over ten minutes in his press conference, Hamilton told what happened. He admitted his sin. He admitted his deception to his teammate. He admitted that he had hurt others. He admitted that he had let his fans down. He confessed that he needed forgiveness. He called upon God to help him. Josh took the biblical route on this one. He confessed his sin (James 5:16) and has set out again to change his behavior with God’s help (i.e., repentance). When we fail, we need to take the same path to repentance.

Finally, we need to remember that men will always fail us. We must place our trust in God rather than men. Josh Hamilton has all the attributes we want to see in a sports hero when life is going well. Many people point to his faith in Christ as an example of how someone in the public eye can live a life of faith. However, that makes his failures hurt that much more for fellow believers. The world is watching for believers to trip up, and Josh’s faults become fodder for those who desire to deride Christianity. No matter how strong that hero appears to be, we can never put our trust in him to carry the banner of our faith. Psalm 118:8–9 admonishes us, “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.”

On opening day in April, I hope to be at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington cheering my favorite baseball team to victory. When Josh Hamilton steps to the plate, I will cheer for him to succeed. He is one of my heroes—I wish I could run, throw, and hit like him. However, he is not the object of my faith. He is a flawed human being just like me. I put my faith in Christ. I walk beside a fellow believer like Josh knowing that I have faults too, just not as public.

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MLB.com, “Hamilton confirms reports,” February 3, 2012.