There seems to be a few life lessons and values learned only at the crossroads of athletics and competition. Drawing on the shared wisdom and experience of others who have participated in the sports world, as well as my own years of playing various sports during high school and undergraduate studies, I would venture some of these lessons and values are discoverable only in the world of sports. Conditioning until you vomit, spending long hours sweating on the court or field, battling through adversity when the odds are stacked against you, learning from failure and loss, establishing chemistry with those you love and others you may have a hard time getting along with, learning how to deal with anger and frustration – toughness, tears, and sacrifice – these constitute only a few of the experiences found within athletics (not to mention silly locker room camaraderie, being screamed at in the face, and long bus rides). While these are formidable, esteemed characteristics, I also believe a stigma exists underlying the world of athletics.
Time and again I hear negative statements and stories of various teams or specific athletes who are breaking rules, causing trouble, mistreating others, and rendering a harmful image to institutions, and dare I say the name of Christ? Is this true only of athletes, or might they be legitimately elevated on a pedestal? Even today, anyone can easily look around and validate how the general public idolizes professional athletes. According to a study done by ABC News, 73 percent of kids claimed notorious athletes as one of the most admired people in their lives – parents were acknowledged by 92 percent. Yet, it is the convictions of rape, murder, cheating, and illegal activity that generate such a poor consciousness of athletes in society. Why is this so? And are these negative overtones really translating down to the college and high school level?
While I do not believe I have the answer to either of those questions, and also do not want to vilify our athletes here at Eastern University, I simply write to bring awareness and hopefully a positive challenge to the athletes at this institution who may stand on a higher podium than they realize. People are watching; those you both know and have never exchanged words with. Instead of succumbing to the pressures of the prevailing status quo, I send out a challenge: to transfer your honorable, well-earned, arguably exclusive life experiences and values from the field or court – to classrooms, dorms, churches, communities, and the world around you. And may Paul’s words to Titus encourage you as you go: “In all things show them how to live by your life and by right teaching. You should be wise in what you say. Then the one who is against you will be ashamed and will not be able to say anything bad about you” (Titus 2:7-8).