Be Vigilant Against Sin: Learning from Freeze’s Fall

hughfreezeom
Hugh Freeze (via Wikimedia Commons)

Within a few minutes of each other, a friend got my attention and my dad called me. Both wanted to pass along a piece of breaking news that they thought I would want to know—Hugh Freeze had resigned from Ole Miss. In the phone call with my dad, I found out the initial reports of the reason for his resignation was not a losing record or an ongoing NCAA investigation. Instead the reason for his resignation is what Ross Bjork, the athletic director at Ole Miss, called “a pattern of personal conduct inconsistent with the standard of expectations for the leader of our football team.”[1]

In full disclosure, I’ve never been an Ole Miss football fan. I could have been called a hater at one point. But that changed to a certain degree in 2012 when the University of Mississippi hired Freeze as their head football coach. My history with Coach Freeze goes back to 1992. That year Coach Freeze joined the staff of my high school, Briarcrest Christian School. I was a freshman; he was my geometry teacher.

I never played football for Freeze, but I interacted with him in class and around campus. If you checked my Facebook feed for comments from my high school classmates, the reviews on him would be mixed. My experience was always positive. My experience with all my high school teachers was positive.

What disturbs me today is the line from the athletic director at Ole Miss—his behavior demonstrated a pattern. Bjork describes that pattern as “troubling.”

My attempt here is not to write a vindication of Coach Freeze. I haven’t seen him in person nor talked to him in probably 20 years. I have merely followed his career from a distance after I graduated from high school, yet as one who felt like he had some knowledge of the man. What I want to address is the idea of a pattern of behavior. As a friend of mine mentioned to me after the news broke, our lives demonstrate a pattern of behavior. The question is whether that pattern is destructive. We most likely all have a pattern of sin, we just don’t have the public image of Coach Freeze.

This current situation reminds me of the life of King David. A relative unknown, he won his way into the limelight by defeating Goliath (a.k.a., the Alabama Crimson Tide). Somewhere along the way, the destructive pattern of behavior started. We don’t know when for certain. I doubt his downfall started that fateful evening when his men were at war and he was spying Bathsheba from the roof (2 Samuel 11). David was then confronted with his sin by the prophet Nathan. His consequences were great. Far beyond the loss of a job, David lost his son who was the offspring of his illicit relationship (2 Samuel 12). David’s life was forever changed. His family life was a wreck. He never got to build the temple he longed to provide as a place of worship. There were multiple attempts to usurp his throne.

In light of all this, what can we learn from David’s life that applies to our own and that of Coach Freeze?

  1. Sin will ultimately come to the light. Nathan delivered a powerful message from the Lord to David. He said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you from your own household; I will even take your wives before your eyes and give them to your companion, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. Indeed you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and under the sun’” (2 Sam 12:11-12). As much as we try to hide our sin, it will eventually come to light. It may not be to the extent that David’s and Freeze’s have been exposed to the sun, but it will happen. And it will be devastating.
  2. Confession is the first step. After being confronted by Nathan, the king confessed his sin. We read, “Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord’” (2 Sam 12:13a). This is just the beginning of David’s confession. Psalm 51 gives us a full picture of his confession. Many of the psalms have introductions that gives us the context of their composition. Psalm 51 tells us that it was written after Nathan confronted David with his sin. David asks to be washed, cleansed, and purified from his sin. May we do the same.
  3. Consequences are real. Nathan gave David a picture of his consequences when he said, “The Lord also has taken away your sin; you shall not die. However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die” (2 Sam 12:13b). There are two key consequences to David’s sin. First, his deed has given the enemies of God cause to blaspheme him. We often think private sin only has private consequences. However, sin always extends its tentacles beyond what we think. The pagan nations surrounding Israel must have looked at David’s behavior with a sense of vindication. The righteous king of Israel was no more righteous than they. Second, his sin led to the loss of his child. After the corporate consequence, this was the private consequence. This loss must have stung for the rest of his life. There are no words to describe this tragedy.

I wish the best for Coach Freeze. I wanted to see him succeed in the world of football. More importantly now, I want to see him succeed in life and godliness. I pray this situation reminds us all to be vigilant about identifying and eliminating destructive patterns of behavior in our own lives.

[1] Mark Schlabach, “Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze resigns; escort-service calls cited,” ESPN.com, 21 July 2017.

“C’mon, Ref!”: The Culture of Disrespect in Sports

Photo: Greg Gibson/YouTube

If you follow sports, you have probably seen the video of two high school football players intentionally tackling a referee in the closing minutes of their game last week. Two defensive backs for John Jay High School (San Antonio) were captured on video targeting a referee in retaliation for ejecting a teammate earlier in the game. Both players have been suspended from the football team, and an assistant coach has been placed on administrative leave for supposedly telling his players “that guy needs to pay for cheating us” in response to calls made (or not made) by the referee.

In response to this incident, Dale Hansen provided his characteristically straightforward commentary on the culture of disrespect in sports. Hansen is the sports anchor for WFAA Channel 8 in Dallas/Fort Worth and made a name for himself in 1986 by breaking the story about SMU paying football players. In his “Dale Hansen Unplugged” segment, he states:

It’s part of the American culture in sports now; we have been teaching our kids for a long time that the men and women who referee our games aren’t worthy of our respect. It’s bad enough we yell at the ones who are among the very best at what they do . . . but then we scream at the ones who give up their free time to work a Little League game, too.

And our kids have been watching.

A lot of people are shocked by what those two kids did. I’m almost shocked it doesn’t happen more.

Hansen is right. We have lost respect for those who work hard to keep order in our favorite pastimes. Sports referees are probably some of the most hated and derided people in the American sports landscape.

Hansen’s commentary made me think about two things. First, it took me back to my days as a baseball umpire. I mostly worked games of 9- and 10-year-olds. This is around the time that kids first learn to pitch the ball themselves. The task was doubly difficult because I was usually the only umpire on the field—requiring me to call balls and strikes as well as outs on the base paths—and very few kids could get the ball over the plate. In my attempt to be generous to the pitcher without undermining the integrity of the game, I often received the scorn of the spectators. Of course, my goal was to be consistent for both teams, but try telling that to a parent whose 9-year-old just struck out looking at a pitch that was close enough to hit. What makes it worse is that apart from a few tournaments, I typically umpired church league games. At one time, I turned to a youth minister whom I knew in the stands and asked him to take care of a problem parent from his son’s team. On another occasion I stopped a coach from running out of the dugout on the other side of the field to argue a call that I made 6 feet away from the play. Needless to say, my career as a baseball umpire in college was enough to confirm I didn’t want to pursue it as a career.

Second, Hansen’s commentary has made me stop and think about what I say when I watch sports with my own children. How many times have I complained about an official’s call in front of my kids? Referees and umpires spend years making their way to the highest levels of sports only to have us armchair officials call balls and strikes with the benefit of computer-generated pitch trackers and determine if it was a catch with the aid of multiple camera angles in slow-motion replay. What are we telling our kids when we intentionally disrespect the people who serve in the role exercising authority over the integrity of the game? At the very least, we are telling them that those in authority do not deserve our full respect. At worst, we are saying that officials should be the target of ridicule and blame.

Are there bad officials in sports? Certainly. Accusations have been made against the high school football referee that he directed racial slurs at some of the players. This has been disputed by the referee, and we will probably never know the truth about that. What we do know is that two players used a violent act to retaliate against a referee. But even in the face of a bad call, we must not resort to violence.

What is the Christian response to this situation? While the Bible doesn’t address how to behave around referees at sporting events, it does provide principles for us to apply regarding authority. In 1 Peter 2–3, we read about a few different relationships of authority that give us food for thought. First Peter 2:13–15 reads, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” While this applies directly to the relationship between citizens and government, we can apply the principle to all forms of authority. We should submit ourselves to those in authority because this is the will of God. In the world of sports, those authorities include coaches, managers, owners, and most importantly, referees.

The other biblical principle we can apply comes from Romans 12:17–18 (and a similar statement in 1 Peter 3:9). Paul writes, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” What should we do when we are wronged? Return evil with good. Respect what is right. Even when it is just a game, we can apply this principle.

Honestly, I’m a little worried that Dale Hansen is right. He said, “A lot of people are shocked by what those two kids did. I’m almost shocked it doesn’t happen more.” Are we going to see more violence against sports officials? Have we created a culture of disrespect for referees and umpires? If our kids are paying attention and if our kids imitate our own words and actions—and they do—I’m afraid that we have no one to blame but ourselves for this culture of disrespect. And it is not just in sports.

_________________________

Dale Hansen, “Hansen Unplugged: On tackling a ref,” WFAA, 9 September 2015.

Jordan Heck, “John Jay coach suspended, reportedly told players ref ‘needs to pay,’” Sporting News, 8 September 2015.

Football and Family Dynamics

When I was a kid, I wanted to play professional football. I was an avid Chicago Bears fan, and I remember asking my parents to tape Super Bowl XX on our VCR. I wanted to see what the vaunted Bears defense would do to the hated Patriots (a hatred I still carry to this day). I wanted to see if William “Refrigerator” Perry would score a touchdown. I wanted to watch Walter Payton run for days in the big game. I probably even knew the words to the “Super Bowl Shuffle.” In fact, in first grade I remember writing one of those “What do you want to be when you grow up?” assignments and said that I wanted to play middle linebacker for the Bears like Mike Singletary. As the years went by, my athletic skills did not develop, nor did my body type fit the prototypical NFL middle linebacker. Oh well.

Even though my life and skills never matched the level necessary to rise to the ranks of NFL superstar, one aspect of my life does fit the mold—an intact family.

This week, ESPN released the results of a survey they conducted with 128 current and former NFL quarterbacks. Some of those surveyed include Super Bowl winners Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Joe Flacco, and Russell Wilson. Among the retired quarterbacks surveyed were Hall of Famers Joe Namath, Bob Griese, and Steve Young.

Some of the questions included in the survey considered typical football-related topics, such as when they first threw a football, if they played in a spread offense in high school, and if they attended an instructional camp to develop skills or be seen by scouts. But the most interesting results to me were the ones about their families.

Nearly 90% of the quarterbacks surveyed came from 2-parent households!

In addition, over two-thirds of them came from families of 3 or more children. Thus, it seems that the typical NFL quarterback (including some of the best of all time) comes from what would be considered a larger family with both parents. ESPN reports:

[A]ccording to the Child Trends Databank, ‘the number and type of parents (e.g. biological, step) in the household, as well as the relationship between the parents, are strongly linked to a child’s well-being.’ Our survey did not seek details beyond the number of parents in the household, but the overwhelming presence of two parents (nearly 90 percent) in quarterback homes outpaced the overall nation average.

NFL quarterbacks seem to be passing over the top of all the cultural trends. Almost 41% of all children born in the United States today are born to unwed mothers. 37% of families with children under 18 do not include married parents.

In addition, the typical American family has less than two children today, but the typical quarterback comes from a family with 3 or more children. Perhaps one could see this as an advantage to have more receivers to throw the ball to and more defenders to allow him to practice avoiding the rush. No matter how you look at it though, the successful quarterback at the highest level of football comes from a family that is no longer normal in the United States. Instead, they come from traditional married families with more than the average number of children.

I can’t tell you how many parents are convinced that their kids are going to play professional sports when they get older. Some have even limited the size of their families in order to pour their energy and resources into giving a child or two that special opportunity. Some might even be willing to sacrifice their marriages in order for a child to hit that big payday in the NFL. But it seems from this research that the best place to start a pro career is by throwing the ball to your brothers and sisters in the yard while your mom and dad lovingly look on.

_________________________

Kevin Seifert, “Quarterback survey: What we learned,” ESPN.com, February, 4, 2015.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Unmarried Childbearing,” CDC.gov.

Jonathan Vespa, Jamie M. Lewis, and Rose M. Kreider, “America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2012,” U.S. Census Bureau, August 2013.

U.S. Census Bureau, “Average number of own children per family (for families with own children under 18),” Census.gov.

Image credit: Jeffrey Beall, Flickr

Machismo vs. Manhood

Football is the ultimate expression of machismo in American culture. Bigger, stronger, and faster is the goal. Gladiators armed with nothing but their bodies fly around the field attempting to dominate their opponents in both strength and strategy. Boys around the country dream of growing into the men who play the game.

Unfortunately, the football world has been rocked in recent days by a number of scandals related to being a man off the field. The domestic violence case involving Ray Rice has dominated the headlines while San Francisco 49er Ray McDonald and Carolina Panther Greg Hardy face similar accusations of domestic violence and await adjudication of their cases.

What are we to make of these acts of violence? Is this just an extension of the machismo that fans cheer on the football field? Is this what it means to be a man—physically overcome your opponent at all costs? Should we tolerate the violence off the field that we celebrate on the field?

We should not tolerate the off-field violence, nor should we consider this type of violent machismo to be manhood. Such a response has been popular in the media, but few have actually tried to give the reason why. Perhaps it is because the reason is unpopular.

Scripture gives us a number of examples for how men are to treat women, but I want to focus on two—particularly how husbands are to treat their wives since these recent cases have involved domestic violence.

In 1 Peter 3:7 we read:

You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.

The dominate culture of our day has taught us that there is no difference between men and women. They should be treated equally in all arenas of life. However, public opinion erupted when video became available of a chiseled professional athlete knocking out his fiancée. In light of this reaction, the gut instinct of our culture is that men and women are not really the same.

The Bible actually gives us a very clear picture of biblical manhood, and it involves a recognition that men and women are different. Peter tells us that husbands are to be understanding and recognize that women are a weaker vessel. This does not mean that she lacks value, intelligence, or skill. It is a reminder that we have different roles to play. Rather than viewing our wives as opponents, we are to protect them. Rather than trying to master them, we are to provide for them. Peter tells us to treat our wives with honor as fellow heirs of the grace of life. When I think of honoring someone, I think of cherishing, protecting, and promoting. I want to place my wife’s interests above those of my own. Her safety, security, and reputation are mine to uphold.

In Ephesians 5, we read Paul’s instructions regarding how husbands are to treat their wives. In verses 25 and 28–30 we read:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her. . . . So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body.

Our example in manhood is Christ himself. We are to love our wives as Christ loved the church. Remember, he left heaven, took the form of man, and sacrificed his own life for his bride. There is no greater sacrifice than that.

We are also told to love our wives as our own bodies. Just as we feed and take care of our bodies, so are we to care for our wives. Once again, this is not because they are less valuable or incapable—it is simply our role. Christ is our example, and he gave up everything to nourish and cherish his bride.

While our society cringes to see the video of a man striking his fiancée, the solution to the problem is often equally despised. This is because the teachings of Scripture are counter-cultural. It is unpopular to tell a man that he should treat his wife as a weaker vessel. It is out of favor to say that a wife should submit to the loving leadership of her husband as to Christ. But I think counter-cultural is the way we should go here. While culture walks swiftly down the path of violence, the words of Scripture call us men to honor, love, and cherish women. That is true manhood. It is the way of the Word, not the way of the world.

_________________________

Sam Farmer, “NFL scrutinized over Ray Rice inquiry, other domestic violence cases,” Los Angeles Times, September 9, 2014.

Holding Penn State Responsible

Back in November, I posted this article about the lost ideas of personal and corporate responsibility at Penn State University. This morning, the NCAA held a press conference announcing the sanctions against the university (and particularly the football program). In light of what I wrote 8 months ago, I want to evaluate the actions of the NCAA to see if they will actually serve the purpose of reinstating the ideas of personal and corporate responsibility.

Here are the sanctions imposed by the governing board of college athletics:

  • $60 million fine, roughly equivalent to one year’s gross football revenue, to be placed in an endowment for “external programs preventing child sexual abuse or assisting victims and may not be used to fund such programs at the university.”
  • 4 year ban on postseason appearances
  • Reduction of scholarships from 25 to 15 per year for 4 years
  • Vacating all wins from 1998-2011 (111 total wins)

The NCAA also put in place measures to change the culture of the university. The university must create a compliance committee and have quarterly reports from an independent monitor to make sure that athletics do not overwhelm the priority of academics at the university.

Let me recount the major faults that I saw in November. First, the university (and the individuals involved) lacked a respect for the dignity of the victims. There seemed to have been a concern for the personal interests of the perpetrator and those with knowledge of the crime, but there was no concern for the dignity of the boys. As each person up the chain of command refused to take personal responsibility for alerting the authorities, they diminished the opportunity for the university to take corporate responsibility.

The fine and intended use of the funds goes a long way to help address this problem. The NCAA acknowledges that the endowment cannot correct what has happened in the past, but they are at least attempting to recognize the dignity of the victims and their families.

Second, the problem at Penn State is that the university saw its own “family” interests as more important than protecting the institution of the family. These boys have been assaulted, abused, and scarred for life. Their family structure has been permanently altered because they have been subjected to a version of sexuality that is distorted far outside God’s design. There was absolutely no respect for the institution of the family on the perpetrator’s part, and there was indifference to the institution of the family on the part of the university.

On some levels, the punitive actions taken by the NCAA address this problem. With the reduction of scholarships, postseason ban, and vacated wins, the NCAA put Penn State and other universities on notice that their “family” cultures were not more important than society’s family culture. While it is not a clear admonition for supporting the family, the underlying problem is being addressed.

Finally, a fair and effective system of law and government is crucial to a healthy society. In this case, that system was in place to handle the problem, but no one alerted the proper authorities.

I believe this is the issue addressed in vacating wins, particularly as it has a huge impact on the record books. 111 wins will be removed from the record books. Perhaps more significantly, 111 of 409 wins will be removed from Joe Paterno’s record of the most wins in college football history. Coach Paterno will no longer hold that record. His failure to act in properly reporting the accusations against one of his assistant coaches to the police have tarnished his legacy on many levels. Now future generations will not even see his name near the top of the list of coaches with the most wins. The system of law and government has spoken in the case of Jerry Sandusky, who will now spend the rest of his life in prison. The NCAA has spoken regarding the failure to use that system on the part of the university.

The actions of those involved in the scandal at Penn State University are reprehensible. When given the opportunity to stop the perpetrator, the university failed to act and failed to take responsibility. Only after the egregious behavior was allowed to continue for 13 years has the university been held responsible. I applaud the NCAA for their actions, but I only wish they had not been necessary. I wish the university has stepped up in 1998 to stop the problem. Responsibility is best taken on one’s own initiative rather than forced by the governing authorities.

_________________________

Evan Lenow, “Penn State and the Lost Idea of Personal Responsibility,” November 10, 2011.

“Penn State sanctions: $60M, bowl ban,” ESPN, July 23, 2012.

Penn State and the Lost Idea of Personal Responsibility

Yesterday, I gave a lecture on Personal and Corporate Responsibility for the Richard Land Center for Cultural Engagement (I’ll link to the audio when it becomes available). The thrust of my lecture dealt with the idea of corporate responsibility in the business world and an attempt to redefine something that has become a mantra for environmental concerns. My attempt at redefining corporate responsibility brought the focus back to society as a whole and not just a niche. At the end, I attempted to tie corporate responsibility to personal responsibility by showing that all aspects of corporate responsibility are an extension of personal responsibility. In that lecture, I noted the tragic circumstances at Penn State University as an example corporate responsibility failing because no one was willing to take personal responsibility along the way. In light of what has continued to transpire at that university, I want to offer a slightly re-worked version of my lecture from yesterday applied to this particular situation.

Relying heavily on an article by Robert P. George, we can see three pillars of a healthy society: 1) respect for individual human beings and their dignity, 2) the institution of the family, and 3) a fair and effective system of law and government. Aside from the alleged crime, I want to look at the response by the university as a study in corporate vs. personal responsibility in light of these three pillars.

The university (and the individuals involved) lacked a respect for the dignity of the victims. There seemed to have been a concern for the personal interests of the perpetrator and those with knowledge of the crime, but there was no concern for the dignity of the boys. As each person up the chain of command refused to take personal responsibility for alerting the authorities, they diminished the opportunity for the university to take corporate responsibility. As we see now, the university is attempting to correct this stance, but only now that they have been caught in a cover-up. The reputation of the institution is being discredited, and the individuals involved are losing their jobs. The message the university sent to the public is that they had more concern for the university’s reputation than the dignity of the victims.

The institution of the family is essential to a healthy society. George calls it “the original and best department of health, education, and welfare.” Jennifer Roback Morse states, “There is no substitute for the family in helping self-centered infants develop into cooperative adults.” The problem at Penn State is that the university saw its own “family” interests as more important than protecting the institution of the family. These boys have been assaulted, abused, and scarred for life. Their family structure has been permanently altered because they have been subjected to a version of sexuality that is distorted far outside God’s design. There was absolutely no respect for the institution of the family on the perpetrator’s part, and there was indifference to the institution of the family on the part of the university.

Finally, a fair and effective system of law and government is crucial to a healthy society. In this case, that system was in place to handle the problem, but no one alerted the proper authorities. Now that the police and judicial system are aware of the crimes, they are working swiftly to bring about justice. However, such justice could have been enacted years ago had those with knowledge of the crime taken personal responsibility to report what they had seen and heard.

What is next for Penn State? Obviously, the leadership is in a state of flux considering that four top officials have been fired including the president and the legendary football coach who has been the face of the institution for decades. One can only guess that the NCAA will step in and place sanctions on the football program—perhaps even the dreaded “death penalty” (suspending all football for at least two years).

With the tragedy at Penn State, we see that all three pillars of a healthy society were ignored or dismissed. Penn State University may very well look back at this week as the moment the university changed. I hope and pray it will be a change that involves acknowledging that football is just a sport, all people are worthy of respect and dignity (not just those who win football games), and that the government in its purest function is here for protection from evil and to establish order in society. Unfortunately, little will change unless we recognize that personal responsibility comes first.

_________________________

Robert P. George, “Making Business Moral,” First Things 186 (October 2008): 17–19.

Jennifer Roback Morse, Love & Economics (San Marcos: Ruth Institute Books, 2008).

For more information about the scandal at Penn State University, see Mark Viera, “Paterno Is Finished at Penn State, and President Is Out,” The New York Times, November 9, 2011.