Sports

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.

Be Vigilant Against Sin: Learning from Freeze’s Fall

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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.

Taming the Tongue: Parents and Youth Sports

L SoccerHer soccer coach calls her “Big Foot.” She’s probably the smallest player on the team, but don’t tell her. Our youngest daughter has made it her goal in life to ignore her own size and play like the big kids (a.k.a. her older siblings). As a result, she has a “go big or go home” attitude on the field. On a few occasions that has resulted in scoring as many as six goals in a single game. It has also led to at least a couple confrontations on the field from opposing coaches for her unorthodox tactics (hey, the ref never blew a whistle). But most of all, it displays a zeal for the game and pure joy in doing what she loves.

With kids’ sports, especially when they are young, problems don’t generally come from the kids. Sure there might be a foul here or a trip there, but the little ones are in it for the fun. The problems are usually generated by parents, and I have been part of the problem.

In a move to curb some of the problems created by parents at soccer games, the South Carolina Youth Soccer Association is calling for a “Silent September” this fall. CNN reports:

Heckling referees is practically a tradition in any sport, but South Carolina youth soccer officials feel it’s gone too far. Come September, they’re instituting a new rule: “No cheering, no jeering.” Overeager parents will get two warnings. If they don’t pipe down the third time, they’ll be kicked out. The state’s Youth Soccer Association is calling this code of conduct “Silent September.” And it’s cracking down after problems with parents who are verbally, and even physically, aggressive toward referees—some of whom are still kids themselves.[1]

As we signed up a couple of our children for fall soccer over the weekend, I was hit with a twinge of conviction. How do I conduct myself at the games? I am admittedly a very competitive person whose days of playing sports at any level are basically over. I love watching my children play, but I have raised my voice in criticism of officials far too many times. I have thrown my hands up in the air as if the integrity of the game was at risk due to one inconsequential call. I have even tried to shout instructions to my kids from the stands when I am not the coach.

With this next season of sports coming quickly, I want to redouble my efforts to be a supportive, positive parent at the games. Thankfully the Bible has much to say about the use of our tongues—if only we will take it to heart. These admonitions clearly apply to the way we should conduct ourselves at children’s sporting events.

So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. (James 3: 5-10)

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29)

A soothing tongue is a tree of life, but perversion in it crushes the spirit. (Proverbs 15:4)

I want to be a parent who encourages, edifies, and inspires with my words. I don’t want to be “that parent” at the game who yells at the officials and demands perfection from everyone at a child’s game. These children are not professionals, nor are the officials. May we as parents not ruin the sport by our words.

Before the start of every game, I hope to join King David in his prayer:

Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips. (Psalm 141:3)

[1] Nancy Coleman, “‘No cheering, no jeering’: South Carolina tells overzealous parents at soccer games to zip it,” CNN.com, 7 July 2017.

Theological Matters: The Forgotten Value of Time with Our Children

LenowTXRangerThis post originally appeared at Theological Matters on May 2. You can read the full post here.

Last month, I took my 10-year-old daughter to a baseball game. It was just the two of us. Our other three children were home with my wife. For nearly four hours, we spent time together in the car and at the stadium. My phone mostly stayed in my pocket (except for taking and posting a few photos), and we talked.

Over the course of the game, we talked about the rules of baseball; I showed her how to tell if the umpire was calling a ball or strike; we even met the people sitting next to us and talked about their experiences watching baseball. My daughter got randomly selected to receive a game-used baseball during the game because she was wearing her Texas Rangers shirt and hat. Clearly, it was a wonderful evening at the ballpark.

The value of that time at the game was priceless. Had it not been for a letter that my 12-year-old daughter penned to my own mother, this opportunity would likely never have manifested itself. Back in November, as the kids were making out their own Christmas wish lists, my oldest daughter put a letter in the mail asking my parents to buy me season tickets to the Texas Rangers for Christmas.

Her motives were pure. She knew how much I loved watching the Rangers play baseball on television. We went to a few games last season and loved every minute. The final reason that tugged at our heartstrings was when she said that she missed being able to go with me to a game—just the two of us—and spend time together. Although my wife and I intercepted the letter before it ever made it to my parents’ house, the letter still had an impact. Last week, I started the summer-long goal of taking each of my four children to at least one baseball game by ourselves.

My second daughter was overjoyed about the opportunity to go first. She has a memory of getting a ball at the game that will never fade from her mind. I even stopped on the way home at 10 p.m. to get ice cream—something only a dad would do. But most of all, we simply spent time together.

We talked. We listened. We slowed down.

If your life is anything like ours, you are busy. . . .

*Read the rest of the post here.

Guest Post: 5 Family Benefits of Children’s Sports

football_pallo_valmiina-croppedThis is a guest post from my wife, Melanie. She originally wrote this post for Biblical Woman, the blog site for the Women’s Programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The post originally appeared here.

We’ve all seen the reality shows of girls on hyper competitive dance squads or young boys playing tackle football with the intensity of a college game day. We’ve heard the warnings of strained muscles from over-use and understand the consequences of an over-scheduled childhood.

When it comes time to plan fall activities for my children, I find myself seeking for God-given wisdom.

I don’t want to become my own version of a crazed, sports parent, but I can definitely see the benefit of childhood sports in the life of my family. Our children are signed up for various team sports and I know my fall schedule looks much like so many other moms – driving from one practice to another, filling up water bottle after water bottle, and washing jerseys at the midnight hour.

My kids aren’t the stars, and who knows if they will get college scholarships, but for this stage in our lives, sports are a blessing to our family. Here’s why:

  1. They Promote Family Activity. One of my daughters runs cross-country for her school. She needs to practice on the weekend by running, so we all get out and go to the track with her. During my son’s soccer practice, it is easy to bring an extra ball to kick around with the other kids. We try to use practices and lessons to promote activity for all of us.
  2. They Promote Family Unity and Sportsmanship. Unless there is a scheduling conflict, all six of us go to every game or race and we do our best to pay attention (i.e. very limited electronics). We all learn how to cheer for and encourage each other. My youngest caught on to this very quickly. This is her first season to play soccer and, after many seasons of cheering on her siblings, the thing she is most looking forward to is “the sisters and bubba screaming and cheering my name.” All children benefit from being cheered for and being a cheerleader for someone else.
  3. They Promote Positive Friendships. Friendships develop quickly when there is a common goal. A sports team can immediately give a connection point with a new friend. Many times, the only thing I have in common with another mom is that our kids play on the same team, but even that has opened the door to some great relationships. Of course, a parent has to use the same caution in handling friends on teams as they do with friends at school. However, the ability to quickly connect with various families in the community is a blessing of organized sports.
  4. They Promote Hard Work. Practicing is hard. Working as a team is hard. Learning new skills is hard. However, the lesson is when you work hard, the task gets easier and the benefits increase. My second daughter swam on a city swim team this summer. She was not the best on the team, but she worked very hard at learning her strokes and understanding the details of racing. I took the opportunity to record her times to show her how she was improving greatly. She learned the lesson that hard work pays off, even if no one can see it.
  5. They Promote a Deeper Relationship Between Parent and Child. There are sports that, quite frankly, I knew nothing about until one of my kids showed an interest in it or an opportunity arose for them to play. So I quickly tried to learn as we went and do the best I could to understand that little part of their world. The times we practice together, whether kicking a soccer ball or hitting a volleyball back and forth, are times that I hope my children remember their parents investing time into their life.

Childhood sports do have the potential to be life-consuming and competition-driven. However, if you take a more moderate approach, you can see the great opportunities you have as a parent when your child plays. With much prayer and God-given wisdom, you can benefit greatly from sports and it can be a blessing in the life of your family. Take time this fall, in the business of a full schedule, to notice and reflect on the different opportunities God may give you through your child’s sports.

The Name of the Game: Keeping a Good Reputation in Sports

CSM Shots Of The Week 2016:  MAY 16*My recent post at Theological Matters addresses the issue of sports, reputation, and children. The full post is available here.

From halfway around the world, I got a message from my wife—“Have you seen the replays of Odor punching Bautista?” We are baseball fans in my family, and we religiously follow the Texas Rangers. My wife kept me updated while I was on a recent trip to the republic of Georgia.

Rougned Odor is the up-and-coming, fiery second baseman for the Rangers. Jose Bautista is the perennial all-star outfielder for the Toronto Blue Jays. After a series of bat flips, hard slides, and trash talking stretching back to last season, the bad blood came to its zenith with Odor’s hard right hook to the jaw of Bautista. The replays of the fight between these two players blew up the feeds on my social media page, and it has been the talk of Major League Baseball for days.

In a moment of confession, I have to admit that I felt a little satisfaction after watching the replay for the first time. It was retribution for Bautista’s home run that effectively ended the season for the Rangers last year. But then I started thinking about my son. What would I think if he landed a right hook to the jaw of an opposing player? What if he taunted the pitcher after hitting a ball over the fence?

Read the rest of the article on Theological Matters.

Theological Matters: Letting Kids Learn the Lessons of Losing

football_pallo_valmiina-croppedWhat can our children learn when they lose? In our sports obsessed culture, we have a “win at all costs” attitude. Our children can also pick up on this and forget to learn the lessons of losing in sports. However, there are valuable lessons to be learned. This week, Theological Matters published a post I wrote entitled, “Letting Kids Learn the Lessons of Losing.” In short, I offered 4 lessons that our children can learn when they lose at sports…if we parents will only let them. Those lessons are:

  1. Humility
  2. Perseverance
  3. Learning from your mistakes
  4. Success requires hard work

Check out the full post here.