Athletes as Role Models Human Beings

There was an ad in this morning’s paper that confused me.  It was for Liberty Mutual’s Responsibility Project, and the ad started with this scenario: “Your sons favorite ballplayer just got arrested.” There is then a looping, swooping string of possible advice to give your son – I’m not sure if it’s meant to be a variety of options or a single conversation – that read,

Say he’s an example of how NOT to act -> Athletes aren’t role models -> Keep your opinions to yourself. -> Life’s all about second chances. -> Who am I to judge?

I’m not really sure what “keep your opinions to yourself” is all about; I’m not familiar with any U.S. athletes being arrested as political prisoners.  But it struck me that we talk a lot about athletes being role models or not being role models, either as good citizens or bad seeds, as if a person was one or the other and could never change.  Here in Cincinnati in recent years, we’ve had our share of “bad seed”-type athletes (or so we think – more on that in a second).  Most of the time, they are either written off altogether as too much risk, or their athletic ability earns them a second, third, or fourth chance to be on the team. Our city has also had its share of  “role model” athletes, who are put on such a high pedestal that they seem almost like gods.

We’ve also been fortunate enough to have had a local athlete who has given us a glimpse of true reality: Josh Hamilton. Hamilton was a golden boy, the #1 pick in the baseball draft, who quickly turned into a “bad seed,” complete with drug addictions and scary-looking tattoos.  But then, so far as anyone can tell these types of things, Hamilton was converted to Christ, and, through the power of Christ, his life has been transformed and redeemed.  Praise God.

We tend to lump athletes (all celebrities, really) into “good guys” and “bad guys,” as if life were some sort of action movie or pro wrestling set-up. We tend not to take the time to think about athletes as human beings who happen to be extraordinarily gifted in one area of life, who are made in God’s image, who have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and who are in need of Christ to redeem their lives.

The Liberty Mutual ad was not Christian, did not even suggest what the right way to approach their scenario might be.  (The ad’s tag line is “What’s the responsible point of view? Everyone has one.  Let’s hear yours.”  I don’t think I buy the idea that “everyone” has a “responsible” point of view.)  Yet it motivated me to pray for some of the local athletes who have gotten themselves into trouble.  They are usually young men doing the stupid, destructive things that young men tend to do.  I really don’t care if they get their athletic careers back on track, since the celebrity and wealth that come from those careers seems to be enabling their destructive behavior.  But I confess that, for the first time, I was moved to pray for them and their families, that Christ would redeem their lives, and heal both their wounds and the wound they have inflicted on others.

May God make it so.

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