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How to win as a fan or athlete

Duke’s decision to suspend their men’s lacrosse season in response to allegations of gross misconduct by several team members is all over the news. This story stands in contrast to the feel-good stories of George Mason men’s basketball and national championships for Maryland women’s basketball and Florida’s men’s team.

Millions of people around the country tuned in to watch and formulated opinions about the universities represented by those athletes.

When players demonstrate commitment to each other, hard work, a dedication to excellence and graciousness in victory or defeat, then those watching will think good things about the university they represent.

No amount of spin control will completely erase the tarnish that Duke is wearing these days. Had their women’s basketball team won the National Championship on Tuesday, it would still be only the second biggest athletic story on campus. So how does all this relate to athletics at Eastern?

I first contend that our athletes are also accountable for the way in which they represent their university. No Eastern team will play before millions of fans this year, and yet I would contend that our athletes bear a responsibility that is greater than the one borne by the athletes at Duke, Florida or Maryland.

This is true on two levels: First and most importantly, we at Eastern are very open about who our school represents. Our students don’t represent the taxpayers of Florida or Maryland, or even the board of trustees. Eastern students, and therefore Eastern student-athletes, represent Christ.

On the second level, Eastern student-athletes are really part of the Eastern student body. Where one or two percent of Duke students might compete representing their school, the percentage at Eastern is significantly higher. I doubt there is a single hall in a dorm at Eastern that doesn’t have at least one athlete on it.

This means that every time an Eastern team takes the field or court, for better or for worse, people watch. First Peter 3 addresses the way in which we ought to interact with those who oppose us.

The heat of athletic competition can result in many tense moments, and our athletes have plenty of opportunities to practice restraint and to represent Christ well. Sportsmanship is a pretty low bar for those who are trying to live a life honoring to Christ, but when our athletes represent the school well, people notice.

A memo came across my desk the other day from a family that encountered one of our teams in a restaurant after a game. The family felt compelled to write the University to report how impressed they were with the courteous and respectful behavior of our team. This happens because people watch. We should not necessarily act because people watch, but we must realize that they do.

To the student athletes at Eastern, you cannot choose when you are a student-athlete. The lacrosse players at Duke, by their commitment to the team, no longer had the opportunity to function as “regular” Duke students. They were Duke student-athletes, and anything they did–in season or out, on campus or off–was an action done by a representative of the institution and athletic department.

You are a member of your team, and your actions represent your team.

In the same way, those students who support our teams represent our school as well. Two years ago, my sister brought my nephew to a basketball game. The response of a group of fans to a couple “bad calls” was R rated at best. The fan’s intention to vocally support their team really undermined what the team was trying to do.

I love to see our fans on the hill for lacrosse and soccer matches. The Eastern student body comes out to support its athletes, and I encourage you to continue doing so in greater and greater numbers.

Your representatives in uniform appreciate it and enjoy competing with a supportive crowd behind them. But I want our teams and fans to become known for pursuing excellence, for their dedication to each other and their commitment to honoring the Living God with their words and actions.

Winning, when we truly match the above, will take care of itself.

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