Christian Athletes Are Not Role Models
As a society, we know better. There may have been a time when the immoral escapades of athletes were discretely ignored by journalists, but that time is no more. What amazes us today is not to discover that an athlete is narcissistic, greedy, and selfish; a philanderer, a drug addict, or even a murderer. It's when we find one who appears humble and morally upright. Thus our culture's fascination with Tim Tebow—an "oddball" in today's athletic culture.
For Christians, such moments feel like vindication: See, Christianity does make a difference! And when we see a Christian winner on the field, we hope against hope that he is a moral winner in his life—a role model for our children, and maybe even for us.
If you're like me, you want to feel that way about the two devout Christian stars who will take the field this Sunday. But that's a stretch.
Take Ray Lewis, whom sports writer Frank Deford described like this,
He is not, shall we say, quite the exemplary family man, having sired six children with a variety of women. He was indicted for murder in the year 2000, turned state's evidence and pled guilty to obstruction of justice. And, of course, he can be a brutal player—witness the monstrous illegal monstrous hit he pummeled the Patriots' Aaron Hernandez with in the AFL championship.
Add to that the strong evidence, as reported in this week's Sports Illustrated, that he took a banned substance earlier this season, and you get the picture. Or I should say the lack of a picture of moral rectitude.
At first glance, Colin Kaepernick seems like a better candidate for a role model. He was raised in a Christian home, and has Scripture verses tattooed over his body. As he told former NFL star quarterback Kurt Warner, "My first tattoo was a scroll on my right arm, Psalm 18:39. … It's just my way of showing everybody that this is what I believe in."
Well, except that the verses on his body are not exactly testimonies to humility or the grace of Christ, but seem designed to inspire aggressive play. Psalm 18:39 reads, "You armed me with strength for battle; you humbled my adversaries before me." Another tattoo, from Psalm 27:3, reads "Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident."
These verses are, in fact, apt descriptions of how this guy plays: he's fearless, determined, bellicose (prone to sling out four-letter words at his opponents), and extremely competitive. Not that there's a problem with being competitive—well, except when it is driven by pride. And Kaepernick's case it is. As a recent cover story in Sports Illustrated put it,
The truth is, beneath the serene, smiling exterior, Kap is still upset. He's angry at the college coaches who didn't find him worthy of a scholarship; at the NFL teams that needed a quarterback and didn't draft him; at the San Francisco fans who preferred [former starter Alex] Smith.
Kaepernick says, "I had a lot to prove," explaining, "A lot of people doubted me and my ability to lead this time."
Well, that's understandable, but let's face it: it's a desire driven by the need to justify oneself before others. It's called pride, and it's one of the seven deadly sins—a sin that every one of us is very familiar with, no?
In "SoulWork," Mark Galli brings news, Christian theology, and spiritual direction together to explore what it means to be formed spiritually in the image of Jesus Christ.
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