Basketball

Show Me the Money: Bribery and Scandal Hit NCAA Basketball

636420161513221488-usp-ncaa-basketball-ncaa-tournament-first-round-m-89581795As 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.[1]

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.[2]

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)

[1] Rebecca Davis O’Brien, Ben Cohen, and Sara Germano, “Bribery, Kickbacks Alleged at Top NCAA Basketball Programs,” The Wall Street Journal, 26 September 2017.

[2] John Gasaway, “What you need to know about the FBI’s NCAA basketball investigation,” ESPN.com, 26 September 2017.

Gay in the NBA: Jason Collins and Chris Broussard

The biggest news in professional basketball this week has nothing to do with the NBA playoffs. Instead, the basketball world is talking about Jason Collins’ first-person essay for Sports Illustrated in which announces he is gay. Within a sports-saturated culture, this is big news. Collins opens his article with the following declaration:

I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.

I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation.

Collins has played in the NBA for six different teams over twelve seasons. He is certainly not well-known like LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal, or Michael Jordan. However, to last for twelve years in professional basketball is still an accomplishment.

If this had been the complete substance of the discussion, it is likely that the story would have faded out of the spotlight in a matter of days, if not hours. Having somewhat famous people publicly proclaiming their sexuality is becoming old news.

But the story doesn’t end here. On ESPN’s show, “Outside the Lines,” the host interviewed NBA analysts Chris Broussard and LZ Granderson about Collins. In the midst of that interview, Broussard was asked a question about Collins’ Christianity since he claimed to be a Christian in the article. Broussard’s response was almost unbelievable for a regular analyst on the most influential sports network in the world. Broussard stated:

Personally, I don’t believe that you can live an openly homosexual lifestyle or an openly, like premarital sex between heterosexuals. If you’re openly living that type of lifestyle, then the Bible says you know them by their fruits. It says that, you know, that’s a sin. If you’re openly living in unrepentant sin, whatever it may be, not just homosexuality, whatever it may be, I believe that’s walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ. So I would not characterize that person as a Christian because I don’t think the Bible would characterize them as a Christian.

With that, Broussard put himself in the line of fire. His opinion as an outspoken Christian sports journalist was asked, and he responded with his honest beliefs supported by the Bible. By contrast, LZ Granderson countered Broussard by saying that faith, like love and marriage, is personal and accused Broussard of painting Collins’ faith with a broad brush. He suggested that Broussard was trying to paint a world in which he was comfortable living but not others.

In his article, Collins made the following comments about his faith:

I’m from a close-knit family. My parents instilled Christian values in me. They taught Sunday school, and I enjoyed lending a hand. I take the teachings of Jesus seriously, particularly the ones that touch on tolerance and understanding.

Here we see where Collins has elevated some of the Bible over others. He claims to take the teachings of Jesus seriously. He is especially moved by those teachings on tolerance and understanding (although he does not clarify which ones he has in mind). However, he makes no attempt to reconcile his beliefs about Jesus and the Bible with Scripture’s teaching on homosexuality. Apparently, tolerance and understanding trump the teaching of Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, and other passages.

The difference between the responses to Collins’ announcement and Broussard’s comments could not be greater. The entire sports world seems to be applauding Collins for his bravery while ridiculing Broussard for intolerance. However, Broussard simply gave his honest opinion to the question he was asked.

The comments from Broussard generated such a firestorm that ESPN released the following statement on Monday:

We regret that a respectful discussion of personal viewpoints became a distraction from today’s news. ESPN is fully committed to diversity and welcomes Jason Collins’ announcement.

Could ESPN not also welcome honest disagreement on lifestyles and religion? There was no support for Broussard. In fact, it would not be surprising to hear that Broussard’s contract will not be renewed in the future.

The issue of homosexuality has become a dividing line in the culture. To call such a lifestyle sinful will no longer be tolerated. Biblical convictions have long gone out of fashion, but now they are the object of ridicule and deemed intolerant. In light of all this, I applaud Chris Broussard for his stance. I may even watch a little more closely the next time he comes on ESPN just to catch what he has to say.

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Jason Collins with Franz Lidz, “Why NBA center Jason Collins is coming out now,” Sports Illustrated, April 29, 2013.