Tuesday, September 13, 2011

False Gospel

Nick Diaz blew it.

Diaz is one of the best 170-pound fighters in the entire world and he’s not even 30 years old. For the past year or so he has been lobbying for a title shot in the UFC and a few months back he got it. Last week he was a no-show at two scheduled events meant to promote his upcoming fight with champion Georges St. Pierre. After the second no-show, UFC president Dana White removed Diaz from the title fight and gave the opportunity to someone else.

The fruit of years and years of hard work, bleeding and trash talk rotted on the vine.

I’ve thought a lot about Nick Diaz over the past several days. I’ve wondered to myself what would make a very talented fighter like Diaz walk away from the greatest opportunity of his career. It wasn’t to join the Navy or to be a missionary. So what was it?

Was he afraid? Maybe it was a fear of the spotlight or even a fear of success that got to Diaz.

Was it all the pressure? Maybe it all finally got to him and he couldn’t take the onslaught of mindless questions again so skipping out on his contractual obligations seemed like a good idea.

There has also been talk of some type of social anxiety disorder, similar to what made Ricky Williams do interviews with his helmet on when he first got into the NFL. That almost certainly has to play a part in Diaz’s decision.

I don’t know Diaz’s life story but I do know that he grew up with no dad around and that he got into martial arts at a young age so that he could defend himself against the bullies that seemed to always be gunning for him. For Diaz, fighting was a way out. Like so many other fatherless young athletes in our country, his sport was his gospel. And as we have seen season after season, the Gospel of Sports is a false gospel.

At the youngest of ages, our kids find out that their ability to play a sport well could get them on a better rec. team, a starting spot as a freshman on the high school varsity team, a college scholarship and afterwards[1] a substantial payday for playing a game. Like most false gospels, this one looks really good at first glance. There’s certainly nothing wrong with excelling at a sport and scoring a college scholarship and a nice payday for your talents[2]. But the danger of the gospel of sports lies in what you are not told.

The Gospel of Sports doesn’t tell you that you are not your talent. Brady, Manning and Vick were created in the image of God just like every other human being and one day they will stand before their Creator, not as men who had rocket arms and the ability to change plays at the line of scrimmage but as men who either stand in their own righteousness (Matthew 25:41-46) or the righteousness of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The Gospel of Sports doesn’t tell you that your talent will one day betray you. Manny Ramirez was once a young, power hitting phenom with a few quirks. At the end of his career he was an old[3] guy with a pretty good bat and a lot of quirks that was forced into retirement because he couldn’t pass a steroid test. Now he’s got a judge telling him that he can’t have contact with his wife because he allegedly slapped her during an argument. Brett Favre was once a player with the talent of a superhero and the passion of a kid. By the end of his career he was an old guy[4] that hung around too long. The man who once reminded us of kids playing ball in the front yard began to remind us more of the Jehovah’s Witnesses that wont get off of your porch at 8:00 in the morning.

The Gospel of Sports doesn’t tell you that you are the manager of your talent, not the owner. God, in his infinite wisdom and sovereignty, gave Nick Diaz the ability to box, grapple and run triathlons at an elite level. In his wisdom, God gave Dwayne Wade the ability to drive to the basket and convince other skilled players to come and play on his team. And he has also given me my talents[5]. But whatever talents we have been given we do well to remember that we are not the owner of those talents. They have been given to us for a reason and that reason goes way beyond “I’d like to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for allowing me to win this Grammy for my song about stealing a man’s wife and drugs.” Taking full ownership of your talents is a guarantee that your talents will one day take full ownership of you until, like the tick on a dog, both the host and the parasite are dead.

The Gospel of Sports forgets to tell us that the final score is important but not the most important thing. Keeping score is important, yea, even essential in sports.

“Dad, who won my game?”

“Son, we all won today.”

That may look good on a poster in your Sunday School class but it is a waste of a sport. Winning and losing at a young age can teach a kid how to win and lose well as an adult. It’s better to correct a 6 year-old who can’t handle losing than it is a grown man. It’s much easier to teach a toddler how to win with dignity than it is an adult. This is why keeping score is important.

But the final score (and stats for that matter) aren’t of the utmost importance. We have seen many elite athletes stand before Congress to give an account for the coincidence that they finally became power hitters at a time in their career when most athletes their age are in decline and also why their foreheads are suddenly bulging, their shoe size has gone up and they turn green when you make them angry. All that to say, you can win and succeed in sports and still be a lousy person.

The Gospel of Sports always focuses on the final score and the career stats. But the real gospel, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, focuses on the heart. It offends us by showing us that regardless of our success as athletes, accountants, pastors, or whatever else, we are failures because of sin. And this failure isn’t just a dropped pass or air ball free throw. It’s something that comes from the very core of our being and makes itself known in such a way that no talent on earth can hide it. But the offense of the gospel is what leads us to the cross. At the cross we see that our significance is not found in our talent but in a Savior who was crushed on our behalf (Romans 5:6-8).

My sons are at the beginning of their sporting lives. I get the privilege of seeing them play and I even get to help coach. I hope they do well in sports. I’d love to see them excel. But even if they make it to the pros I hope I lead them in a way that they are constantly reminded that they will stop playing some day. And if that day when they stop playing happens to be next year, I want them to know that their dad loves them no matter what. But more importantly, I want them to be men who love Jesus Christ with all that they have, whether or not that includes a world title.

[1] Unless the child plays college ball for Miami, Ohio State or Auburn in which case the substantial paydays occur all throughout college.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Late 30s. This is old in sports and I don’t like it.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Standing and drinking sweet tea are just a few. I could go on but don’t want to brag.

No comments:

Post a Comment