Penn State, the NCAA, and the covenantal nature of college sports

Been a long time away from the blog, and figured it’s probably high time to get back into it. You may have witnessed the unlikelihood of Northern Illinois play in a BCS game they didn’t deserve to be in and lose to FSU. Or you may have witnessed Louisville play in a BCS game they didn’t deserve to be in and win. But perhaps the college football story, in my opinion of course (we have yet to come to a bi-partisan agreement on a measurement of strangeness), occurred when the governor of Pensylvannia decided to sue the NCAA.

Now I like this lad’s gumption in going after the untouchable NCAA. Those jokers have more power than the Federal government. You can lie to the government, allegedly like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, and get away with it. “You” is of course, them, and the situation is purely hypothetical-not of you being them, but of them lying, since their lies weren’t proved. But regardless “mis-remembering Roger Clemens and “bashful” Barry Bonds fought the law, but the law did not win. 

The NCAA does not lose when it comes to alleged liars. Recently Texas guard Myck Kabongo’s suspension was reduced to 23 gamesAccording to yahoo sports:

In this case, the penalty was made more severe because Kabongo provided inaccurate information to NCAA investigators when he was interviewed, sources with ties to Texas’ basketball program said. 

So you get why this is such a big deal. The NCAA wins. Period.

While it appears this is more politcially driven than justice driven, his sentiments, or at least those of many go something like this,”The kids are getting penalized for stuff they didn’t do.” Very true. 

But college sports are somewhat covenantal. Now no recruiter will ever tell you that. Honestly no one will. I’ve never heard anyone call it like that before, but I think it is. Kind of. The individual who commits the crime is never the only one who is punished. The school always is. The whole team is, and sometimes long after that person is gone. Sandusky will be in jail for the rest of his life, but his former team Penn St inherits that guilt and punishment even though they didn’t not actually commit ignore/cover-up those crimes. Sandusky, and you could argue Paterno, sinned and broke the law. And as a result, because of the teams’ connection to them, they are guilty and liable to the consquences and punishment of such sin. They broke the law as a representative of the rest of the team and school. Therefore, the guilty individuals will never be the only one’s punished. The NCAA never works that way. They don’t think in terms of guilt individually but, in a somewhat covenantal way.

In Romans 5, Paul reminds us that in Adam, we all sinned. Adam is our “federal head” or covenantal representative. God made a covenant with him, as a representative of all mankind. If Adam had chosen wisely, we would have inherited the benefits of his wise choice. But, like that crazy German dude in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, he chose, “poorly.” As a result, we are declared sinners and subject to the punishment and consequences of sin. 

Just like with Penn State, we normally think of this as unfair. We didn’t do it. We didn’t start the fire, right Billy Joel? I shouldn’t be punished because I wasn’t there. Something someone else did acting as my representative shouldn’t count against my record. 

But then again, think about it. Was there something someone else did acting as my federal representative roughly from 4-6 BC 30 AD or so? Yep. Then he gets the cross because of my actions? If I can’t be punished because of Adam’s sin and my connection to him (we’ve also personally sinned a bunch since then by the way if you’re keeping score at home), then how can I accept the record of a new Federal or covenantal head, Jesus, the New and Better Adam?

Can’t have one without the other. If I take Christ’s record, I have to accept my responsibility in Adam. I can live with that, because it technically isn’t so fair to receive a perfect record without me doing anything but repenting and resting on the finished work of Christ.

That’s good news for Christians. But I have nothing to offer Penn State fans. There has been some sort of covenantal punishment on behalf of a covental head, but there is no Redeemer to step in. There is no new and better Jerry and Joe Pa, who could offer a perfect righteous record in place of those who weren’t there during those dark days. There only redeemer is time.

Given the track record of the NCAA, I wouldn’t put much faith in a governor who thinks-quite after the fact mind you-that the sanctions put upon the school were too harsh even though the school accepted them. Fortunately for Penn State, those sanctions will eventually run out. And after they pay with missed bowl games and recruits and coaches, they will one day live to play another bowl game. That’s where are two stories depart. Time will eventually redeem Penn State, but only someone who entered into time can redeem mankind.

What we can learn from Brandon Marshall

After Junior Seau’s suicide two weeks ago, many folks have begun pondering what to do about it. How should we think about it? Is the primary problem the concussions or is that but a piece of the puzzle?
Troubled Bear’s receiver Brandon Marshall (formerly Bronco’s, Dolphins, and UCF) wrote a thoughtful piece for the Chicago Sun Times about mental health and the stigma. He thinks there is something to learn from brain study but recognizes the best treatment is to “start to treat the living.” Marshall offers some helpful insights into the whole question of suicides after football, though this is helpful for all people whether going through the darkness of depression or not. The whole article is brief and worth the read.
There are many people out there who are suffering and have nowhere to turn for help or are afraid because of the stigmas placed on mental health.
Even though so many folks are on medication for depression, that doesn’t mean there is still no stigma for those struggling in this area. As an athlete, Marshall feels and has felt that pressure. Real men shouldn’t feel depressed, right? Real pastors shouldn’t feel depressed either. But I have, and have felt shame over the stigma. Fortunately the gospel began to deal with not only my depression (and still does), but with the fear, stigma, condemnation that comes with treatment and even medication. Believing Romans 8:1, that there really is now no condemnation in Christ Jesus, is tough but completely applicable here. I still feel some stigma here and there, but now I can, somewhat, boast of my weakness (II Cor 12:8-10). Because of it, I’ve actually had more contentment, not to mention opportunities to minister to those struggling with depression.
As I began to meditate more on Junior’s death, I began to think about this vicious cycle our world is in. The word ‘‘validate’’ started to run through my mind.
The cycle starts when we are young boys and girls. Let me illustrate it for you:
Li’l Johnny is outside playing and falls. His dad tells him to get up and be strong, to stop crying because men don’t cry.
So even from the age of 2, our belief system begins to form this picture. We are teaching our boys not to show weakness or share any feelings or emotions, other than to be strong and tough.
Is that ‘‘validating’’?
 What do we do when Li’l Susie falls? We say: ‘‘It’s OK. I’m here. Let me pick you up.’’
That’s very validating, and it’s teaching our girls that expressing emotions is OK.
I don’t think depression is a-physiological. Medicine can help. But working out or doing P90X, and taking medication will not completely deal with it. Sounds like Marshall is on the same page here. You can blame things on concussions and brain damage, which probably play a part in it all. However it’s only a part of the puzzle. 

While he doesn’t go back to the gospel (though he does admit prayer is a part of it), he does recognize there is more going on. Women can cry. Men are told not to do so. I tell my son there is no crying in baseball when you get out, but it is OK to cry when you get hurt. But try not to do that either. I’m beginning to think that telling him not to cry is more for my good than for his. And if he can only be “tough,” and never show emotion, weakness, is that a man I want him to become? Is that a man who believes the gospel, that there is no condemnation before God and others? Nope. This certainly gave me something to think about.
Here’s one last snippet where Marshall gets to the root of the problem. Sounds like Tim Keller could have written it!
As athletes, we go through life getting praised and worshipped and making a lot of money. Our worlds and everything in them — spouses, kids, family, religion and friends — revolve around us. We create a world where our sport is our life and makes us who we are.
When the game is taken away from us or when we stop playing, the shock of not hearing the praise or receiving the big bucks often turns out to be devastating.
Sounds like a fantastic description of an idol to me. You go to something for life, affirmation, purpose, and when that something is taken away, so is your life and reason for living.  Nailed it Brandon. Keep up the good work.

Redemption and missing field goals

Just got back from sunny FL to arrive in time for the snow in WV. Maybe we should have planned a 9 day vacation…..Anyhow, eager to get back to the blogging world.
Many of Jan 2nd’s bowl games lived up to the hype. The last game of the day, the Fiesta Bowl, featuring Stanford and Oklahoma St, certainly did. As Stanford drove the ball down the field for a last second field goal, the game seemed to be over. 35 yards is but a “chip shot.” Unfortunately for this poor kicker, he hooked it mightily to the left. Then came over-time where he had the opportunity to redeem himself. Only this time he missed another, slightly longer field goal. The Oklahoma St kicker didn’t return the “favor,” and went on to become the hero. Or at least, get a high five or pat on the butt or something like it.
Camera men always focus on kickers when they miss. I guess they want to catch them cussing or crying. You could see the look of dejection in this young baby faced kid. It made me glad I wasn’t his parent. I would much rather have my kid be a punter, since punters rarely lose games.
I also thought of other kickers who have missed memorable kicks. Boise St.’s kicker missed one last year that cost them a chance to play for the national championship.  If I’m not mistaken, I believe that kicker had opportunities to redeem himself and blew those as well.
I can personally empathize with kickers. Not because I’ve ever been a field goal kicker, but because I’ve messed things up before with my own sin. I’ve tried to redeem myself, and it just seems like I mess up again. 
This morning I was reading the book of Zechariah and going through the Good Book Company’s  good book guide Zechariah: God’s big plan fir struggling Christians. It posed an application question: What would it be like to live in light of the fact that Jesus has offered the perfect sacrifice and then sat down on the right hand of the Father?

I don’t have to redeem myself. I don’t have that pressure of redeeming myself, and then screwing it up again as I always seem to do. Freedom to follow Jesus, without fear of failure is a beautiful thing. Kickers choke, and sinners sin, but Jesus loves them both. Losers and sinners. There’s more to life than football, and there’s more to life than sin.  The Savior gets the final say when we embrace him through our imperfect faith. We don’t need to worry about the impossibility of redeeming ourselves. That’s for Someone else. Our job is to repent of replaying the “missed kick” over and over in our heads, and to instead continue looking at Jesus: the one didn’t back out, sin, or “choke” our redemption away.

Hard work?

This year’s Heisman (giving to nation’s top/most influential football player) trophy winner was Robert Griffin III. I didn’t watch the Heisman award ceremony, but heard just a snippet of his speech. But I think the snippet spoke volumes. So did ESPN.
He took a few long strides up to the stage and let out a laugh when he got there, making a joke about the Superman socks — complete with capes on the back — he was wearing before going into his acceptance speech.
“This is unbelievably believable,” he said. “It’s unbelievable because in the moment we’re all amazed when great things happen. But it’s believable because great things don’t happen without hard work.”
What I did notice was an emphasis on the role of hard work and how it enabled him to achieve this goal. Here are my takes on how Griffin’s acceptance speech differed vastly from Tebow’s.
1.) Praise. One praised His God for the drive, opportunity, skill, and ability to put in the hard work necessary. The other praised himself for his hard work, and his teammates’ for their hard work in enabling him to win the award. It is interesting to me how it is more offensive to give credit to someone’s God than to take credit and praise oneself. Usually in life, we call people who praise themselves arrogant, self-absorbed, or sometimes narcissistic. Yet most people were clearly more offended by Tebow’s humility and deflection of praise.
2.) Credit where credit is due. The Heisman trophy winner is about perception. Again I didn’t hear the whole speech, so he might have credited the media who threw its support behind Griffin the final few weeks. I tend to doubt that though. Most athletes don’t recognize the media for giving them their fame but only for the media’s not granting them fame or coverage. Without much of the media’s coverage and backing, a QB from Baylor does not win out over a big name quarterback or running back at a big name school like Stanford or Alabama.
3.) Hard work? Whatever we do, whether playing football or operating a toll booth (that seems like one of the harder jobs), we are to work at it with all of our hearts; for in such cases, as in all cases, we are ultimately serving the Lord  (Col 3:23-24). Are those who win necessarily those who work the hardest? Did Griffin work harder than others with known ‘work ethics’? Despite hard work, let’s remember this is football. Each game can bring out a career or season ending injury. Peyton Manning, known for being one of the hardest working quarterbacks in the NFL, couldn’t outwork God’s providence. He didn’t play a down this year because of neck surgery. Providence can always trump hard work when someone hits you below the knees like someone did to the seemingly untouchable, hard working, Patriots QB Tom Brady several years ago.
4.) Opportunity knocks. No matter the amount of hard work, there still comes a time where the opportunity, or lack thereof, will more often than not, trump hard work. For instance, if you had been born in some small village in India, undernourished, and lived in poverty, you would not be playing QB for the NFL. You would be fortunate to work hard and hope to eat and feed your family. Last time I checked, we didn’t have a say on who our mothers and fathers would be. We didn’t have a say on where or when we were born. We didn’t have a say on our DNA make up. We didn’t have a say on how athletic we would be, or how much IQ we would possess. If you have risen to the top of your profession-whether it be mother, athlete, real estate, medicine-hard work obviously played a part. But it only played A part. Your station of life, what you have to work with, plays A part as well. Whether it’s an acceptance speech, or simply a prayer each night before you God to bed, don’t forget the God who grants you the plethora of opportunities that allow your hard work to pay off.