When coaches attack

One of the highlights of the NFL, besides the Tampa Bay Buccaneers upsetting the New Orleans Sinners, or rather Saints, 26-20, was the questionable display of sportsmanship and concomitant retaliation for that questionable display. You can view the video here.

Yesterday, the San Francisco 49er’s coach Jim Harbough shook losing Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz’s hand. Then he “patted” or pushed, Schwart’z back. Problem. I guess you just have to stick with the hand shake because Schwartz took issue, and felt like he was pushing him out of the way. Then as Harbough tried to flee the scene and get to the locker room, Schwartz chased him down, bumped into him, and had to be separated.

The NFL will will probably be handing out a few fines to both coaches sometime this week. 

But the interviews and commentary after the incident intrigued me.


Jim Harbough claimed, “It was on me. I just came in to shake his hand TOO hard.” I appreciated his admission of guilt. However, I have a feeling that a football coach doesn’t take offense a hard handshake. Confession is great and can restore relationships. However, if that which we confess, isn’t exactly what offended the other party, it will go nowhere. Harbough appeared to be the humble one and take the high road, but in the end, his confession probably only increased the gulf betwixt these coaches. Now he may call Schwartz and they may later have a cup of tea, or pint of beer, or whatever they drink. But I’m simply responding to the interview. What you apologize for is as important as how you apologize.

Schwartz claimed Harbough’s “sportsmanship,” comprised profanity among other things, including the “push” as more than a pat. He on the other hand, was unapologetic. He ignored the “chase down.” While what offended him was left unaddressed by Harbough, he completely ignored his part: chasing down a coach and having to be physically separated. Often times folks do us wrong. It’s often more than a subtle (in my opinion) “push-pat” confusion. But our response to sin doesn’t have to be some form of blatant or subtle (cold shoulder, gossip, bitterness) retalliation. We can instead explain that such and such a move was either “busch-league” or whether it really was clearly sin. 

This is hard. I’d rather snub someone, than tell them they hurt me. Sometimes retaliation is blatant. Sometimes it’s the subtle response we need to repent from. And I hate it for myself, and you-as we often want to vicariously get people back through other people. But I don’t get a vote, and you don’t either.


The commentary was solid. Coach Dungy recognized that even though someone wrongs you, you can’t retaliate. Of course this only makes sense with a Christian worldview, where Christ ended the need for the “I got you last game,” with his once for all death for sins. As a result, we don’t NEED to get people back because Jesus took care of our sins. He is the peace offering, who has made the two groups who believe-Gentile and Jew, 49’ers and Lions, offender and offended-one in Christ (Eph 2:14).

Finally, Rodney Harrison, who regularly was voted the league’s dirtiest player, and handed down multiple fines for his illegal hits had this to say: “What will you tell you kids?” I found that a bit close to ironic. But maybe there is an on-field ethic distinct from an off-field (when game has ended) ethic. Having not played the game, I can’t make a call. Still, Harrison brings a great challenge to all those in leadership. Your teachings have to apply to you. For instance, you can’t tell your kids, “Its important to go to church,” and then go to church when its convenient for you. Believe me, somehow it will not be convenient for them when in college, or any time after that. 

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