There are more than enough high-profile examples of the evil, violent actions of current and former athletes that someone could present a compelling case that the entire culture of professional sports – most notably the NFL – is irredeemable.
Yet even as those cases continue to compile, like the most recent gut-wrenching video of former New York Jets running back Zac Stacy beating and throwing his ex-girlfriend into a TV, intellectual honesty demands we pump the brakes a bit on declaring men like Stacy the mold to which all other pro athletes eventually conform. A number of realities complicate the narrative, not the least of which is that sensationalist and social media seize upon these dramatic stories and make them appear the norm when, in fact, they thankfully remain rare statistically speaking, and well below the national average.
That in no way diminishes the horror of what Stacy did, the death caused by Las Vegas Raiders player Henry Ruggs driving drunk, or the domestic violence of Chad Wheeler, Reuben Foster, Ray Rice, or others. It simply acknowledges that while those cases may be high-profile, they do not reflect a problem endemic with professional sports that isn't reality elsewhere.
And then there's this: Just like He does in every other area of life, as a master chess player, God strategically places His own servants right alongside the spotlight that Satan is trying desperately to shine on his own evil handiwork.
I've made no secret of the fact that I am a lifelong fan of the Indianapolis Colts. In my childhood, that meant I was more than a little accustomed to losing. It was so predictable that I had to adopt a second team, the Buffalo Bills, to cheer for once the playoffs rolled around since it was a foregone conclusion that the Colts would not be participating.
One of my favorite players from that era was Frank Reich, the plucky and poised man backing up perennial all-star quarterback Jim Kelly. I always loved Frank, and was more than a little thrilled when he ended up coming to Indianapolis a few years ago to be the head coach of my Colts.
A few weeks after he was announced as the coach, I emceed an event for Indianapolis Life Centers, one of the largest crisis pregnancy resource centers in our state. Seated right next to me at the head table, along with the keynote speaker, was Coach Reich and his wife. Reich led a prayer that evening and I spent the majority of the night talking with his lovely bride about their involvement in community service and commitment to using their public platform to build the Kingdom of God.
In case anyone would be tempted to question the sincerity of that commitment, here was Coach Reich's post-game interview following the team's big win Sunday over, who else, the Buffalo Bills:
In his cunning and corruptness, Satan has directed the high beams of culture at places like the NFL, constantly using examples of players' fallenness to depress us all. But in His superior wisdom, God has shrewdly placed men like Reich behind those microphones to remind a watching and rebellious world of the enduring truth that He alone is changeless and reliable – a reality I just wrote about yesterday.
Coach Reich will not ultimately be judged based on how many games he won, how much money he made, how much wealth he gave away, or even how many of his players he converted. He will be judged, like the rest of us, simply upon the basis of whether we were faithful where God placed us.
May we all, in our own spheres of influence, see Reich's example from Sunday and go and do likewise.