Posts tagged ‘NFL’

The National Anthem and the NFL

NFL: SEP 24 Browns at Colts

Credit: Time

I’m not sure I ever thought I’d see the day where more people would be talking about the National Anthem at the beginning of an NFL game than the score at the end of an NFL game.  But here we are.

What began as a one-man protest by Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, against, according to his own words, “a country that oppresses black people and people of color” has been spun up into an all-out culture war with as many rabbit trails as Scylla has heads.  One head continues to protest racial inequality.  Another head complains that a United States president would insert himself into an NFL personnel predicament to call for the firing of football players who kneel.  Still another head seethes over the thought that anyone would dare to disrespect a flag that is so closely tied to the men and women who have laid down their lives in service to our country.  The only thing these heads seem to share in common is that they’re all beet red with anger.

This can’t be good for us.  I agree with Ross Douthat who described this controversy as one in which “mutual misunderstanding reigns and a thousand grievances are stirred up without a single issue being clarified or potentially resolved.”  This is most certainly true.  This is a controversy that is ready-made to stoke the flames of a fight without providing a path to peace.  This is a controversy that encourages us to fester in a self-righteous indignation without having to listen to any side besides our own.  This is a controversy that excuses us from any duty to empathize so that we can hate a villain we refuse to humanize.

Bret Stephens, in a recent lecture, said that far too many of our positions on the public debates of our day “have become the moated castles from which we safeguard our feelings from hurt and our opinions from challenge. It is our ‘safe space.’ But it is a safe space of a uniquely pernicious kind – a safe space from thought, rather than a safe space for thought.”  So, we boo at those who dare to kneel and shame those who want to stand.

One of the things I appreciate about our National Anthem is that it can serve as a reminder of all the things we have to appreciate about our country – our freedom, our entrepreneurial spirit, and our commitment to be “the home of the brave” not only by confronting threats abroad, but also by honestly addressing where we have fallen short at home.  But now, as with so many other things, the National Anthem has become a flashpoint for division instead of a call to brotherhood.  We’ve taken our national motto’s pluribus and divorced it from its unum.  Now all we’re left with is e pluribus odium.

As Christians, we must never forget that even when our country is fracturing, Christ’s Church will not.  The unity that He gives is an example that, especially right now, our nation needs. And the unity that He promises is a hope that, especially right now, we can share.  Fractures can still be healed and many can still be one because of the One who died for many.

October 2, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Act Like Men: Sobering Lessons From Ray Rice and Janay Palmer

Ray Rice, Janay PalmerWe’ve known about it since last February. But last Monday, when TMZ released video of former Ravens running back Ray Rice hitting his then fiancée and now wife Janay Palmer in an elevator, knocking her unconscious, the flames of public outrage instantly erupted. The video was so shocking and the violence so brutal that, hours after the video was released, the Ravens terminated Rice and the NFL banned him indefinitely.

Much of the discussion surrounding the assault and the release of this video has centered on the NFL’s inept handling of this terrible tragedy. People want to know: Why was the NFL’s initial reaction to this domestic violence story so weak? Originally, Rice received only a paltry two-game suspension. Why did the NFL change its response once the video was released, considering the video gave us no new information? It just confirms what we already knew.  New information indicates that the NFL did, in fact, have a copy of this video in their possession as early as last April.  Why didn’t the NFL take swift and decisive action against Rice then?

These are important questions. But for the purposes of this blog, I want to focus on Rice himself. His brutal actions serve as clear cautions and teach us important lessons. Here are three of those lessons.

Lesson 1: Humans deserve dignity.

Time and time again, Scripture upholds the dignity every human being. The Psalmist writes:

What is man that You are mindful of him, the son of man that You care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of Your hands; You put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. (Psalm 8:4-8)

The Psalmist extols man as the crown of God’s creation. Though on earth, he is just a little lower than heavenly beings and is called to steward and rule God’s creation. Man has preeminent dignity in God’s created order.

Part of the reason what Ray Rice did to Janay Palmer is so appalling is because it robbed her of this dignity. To knock out your soon-to-be spouse and then to drag her out of an elevator is to treat her with contempt rather than, as Solomon says, a “crown” (Proverbs 12:4). Rice treated Palmer as someone less than human. And this is unacceptable.

Lesson 2: Humans need patience.

Though we do not know the specific circumstances that led to this incident, it is not a stretch to surmise that Rice punched Palmer because he was angry with her. Something had been said or done that sent him reeling.

What Rice needed was patience.

The apostle Paul famously extols patience as part of the fruit of the Spirit: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). The Greek word Paul uses for “patience” is makrothymia. This word is made up of two parts. Makros means “long” and thymos means “hot.” To be patient, then, means to take a long time to get hot. It means to keep your cool when everyone else is losing theirs.

Everyone gets frustrated. Everyone has disagreements. Everyone endures a pricked pride from time to time. What makes the difference in how these troubles turn out is how we react. Do we react in anger? Or do we take a long time to get hot?

Patience can protect your job and sustain your reputation. But most importantly, it can save your relationships. This is why, when Paul discusses how to love another person well, the very first thing he says is “Love is patient” (1 Corinthians 13:4).

Lesson 3: Humans value trust.

I have counseled with far too many battered women. Some have been hit many times. Others have been hit only once. Regardless of the number of times these women have been abused, one refrain remains consistent: “I don’t know if I can trust him anymore. I’m afraid he’ll do it again.”

Violence breaks trust. It breaks trusting communication because you never know if something you say will set the other off. It breaks trusting intimacy because the same hands that reach out to hold you once hit you. Violence cannot be quarantined and contained as merely “one problem” in an otherwise healthy relationship because it breaks trust in every area of a relationship. So men, let me say this as clearly as I can: Raising your hand at a lady, even just one time, is one time too many. Don’t even think about it. Go for a walk to cool off. Call a trusted friend or your pastor for counsel. Pray for strength to keep your cool. But do not raise your hand. Ever. No exceptions. No excuses.

Is there forgiveness from God for men who break this rule? Of course there is. Can breaking this rule end a man’s marriage and irreparably harm a precious daughter of God? You bet it can. So just don’t do it.

Coming to Dallas this November, and then to Chicago next May, is a Christian conference called “Act Like Men.” It’s based on Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13). A man who hits a woman rejects Paul’s admonition. He does not act like a man. He acts like a brute.

So what does it mean to act like a man? It means simply this: to act like Christ. So whether you’re a famed NFL running back, an affluent businessman, or an unknown factory worker, it’s time to put down your hand and take up your cross.

September 15, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Michael Sam Makes It Public

Credit: cnn.com

Credit: cnn.com

“Does the NFL have any gay players?” my wife asked me last Sunday.  She was watching a Hallmark Valentine movie where one of the characters, an NFL quarterback, came out as homosexual.  “No, sweetie,” I responded.  “The NFL does not have any openly gay players.  There have been some players who have come out after they left the NFL, but to date, no players currently in the NFL are openly homosexual.”

It didn’t take long for that to change.

The next morning, while I was working out and watching ESPN, there was Michael Sam, former Missouri Defensive End and candidate in the NFL draft, coming out on national TV as a gay football player.   “I am an openly, proud gay man,” Sam told ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.”  Granted, Sam is not an NFL player…yet.  But his prospects are good.

I am surprised – pleasantly so – by how muted the negative response to Sam’s announcement has been.  Some journalists have hinted that responses could turn negative, but to date there is no swell of detractors decrying Sam as a dangerous degenerate.  By the same token, those who are writing and speaking about him are hailing him as a hero.  Brendon Ayanbadejo, a former linebacker who is currently a free agent, was effusive about Sam’s announcement, comparing him to Jackie Robinson and Rosa Parks.  To cap off his feelings concerning Sam, he said, “To borrow from Neil Amstrong, this is one small step for gay men and one giant leap for the LGBTQ community.”[1]  Juliet Macur of the New York Times wrote a manifesto demanding that an NFL team draft Sam.  She begins by writing, “It’s time,” and ends by declaring, “Sam must be drafted. It’s time to move forward. The teams and the league are on the clock.”[2]  For Macur, Sam’s status as a future NFL star is not a matter of his talent, but of a moral imperative that says the NFL must have an openly gay player.

For orthodox Christians, all of this can be hard to sort out.  On the one hand, there is something to be celebrated here.  It is refreshing to see so many display a measured sensitivity to and deep compassion for those with same-sex attractions and those in same-sex relationships.  The gay slurs, gay jokes, and gay bashing of yesteryear have drastically dissipated and, for my part, I say, “Good riddance.”  Such speech is diametrically opposed to the biblical command to love, which Paul says is the fulfillment and summation of all biblical commandments (cf. Romans 13:8-9).  On the other hand, Christians cannot pretend that our society’s sexual free-for-all, which demands not only the toleration of, but the celebration of sexual practices that are far from biblical standards for human sexuality, is nothing more than an issue of civil rights.  Whether it’s Michael Sam touting his homosexuality or Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin exchanging texts about how many women they have slept with and the use of prostitutes,[3] the spacious sexual ethic of our society is simply not something Christians can endorse.  Partly because it’s immoral and Scripturally forbidden, yes.  But also because it hurts, belittles, and objectifies people, which, in and of itself, is tragic, no matter what your ethical worldview.

Ultimately, the loose sexual standards of our society are nothing new.  The path of sexual salaciousness is well worn – not only in twenty-first century America, but in all the societies that have come before her.  But we can choose a different path.  We can choose the path of sexual commitment in marriage while walking “humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).  I pray that we do.  For when we do, we not only live out God’s sexual standard in our commitments, we show God’s lavish love by our humility.


[1] Mike Foss, “Ex-NFL player: Draft prospect who came out is like Jackie Robinson and Rosa Parks,” USA Today (2.10.2014).

[2] Juliet Macur, “It’s Time for the N.F.L. to Welcome a Gay Player,” New York Times (2.9.2014).

[3] Adam H. Beasley, “Texts shed light on relationship between Miami Dolphins’ Jonathan Martin, Richie Incognito,” Miami Herald (2.5.2014).

February 17, 2014 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Kicking Back

They’re doing terribly this year.  My fantasy football team, that is.  Last weekend, my quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, scored an underwhelming grand total of fourteen points.  My wide receivers are putting more points on the board than he is.  To add insult to injury, the other day, I caught a few minutes of a game on ESPN Classic when Roethlisberger was still in college playing for Miami University in 2003.  I wish he played now the way he played then.

Most people know that I am a football fan.  There is nothing like kicking back on a Sunday afternoon taking in an NFL game or two, dozing in an out of consciousness, especially since my Sunday mornings, as a pastor, are generally action-packed!  And of course, I love watching my beloved Longhorns take on their toughest rivals.  The pageantry and suspense of college football is unlike anything else.

I’m not the only one who loves a good football game.  The NFL’s popularity has been rising steadily and startlingly over the years, this year reaching an all time high of 59 percent of Americans who say that they follow professional football according to an annual Harris Poll.[1]

As a football fan, I would be the first to say that there’s nothing wrong with following the game.  I would also add that there’s nothing wrong with all sorts of other things people do to kick back and relax – from golfing to finding your favorite movie on Netflix to fishing to surfing the internet.  And yet, if these are the only ways we spend our leisure time, we are cheating ourselves out of something transcendent.

The Lutheran theologian Gene Edward Veith wrote an article recently titled, “The Purpose of Work.”  In it, he noted a disturbing trend in the way Americans view their leisure time:

In our culture today…most people probably do not use their leisure to contemplate the good, the true, and the beautiful.  Our leisure is filled with more entertainment than contemplation.[2]

Veith’s last line is key.  When we find leisure only in what entertains us – be that a football game or a golf outing or a movie or a fishing expedition or a favorite internet site – we miss the more profound blessings that leisure has to offer.  For a bit of contemplation – on family, on work, on friends, and, most importantly, on God – can yield key and transformative insights for life and engender a thankful heart for all the blessings God has given.  But first, we need to take time away from being entertained to think and to thank God.

The Bible’s portrait of leisure can guide our us on our journey from liesure as solely entertainment to liesure that includes contemplation:

Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.  On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do.  Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:12-15)

Notice that in Israel, the celebration of the Sabbath – a day to rest from the work of the week – is specifically tied to contemplation.  The Israelites are to remember their slavery in Egypt and how God brought them out.  For Israel, leisure was not just time to be entertained, it was time to spend with God.

How do you spend the bulk of your leisure time?  Entertainment is good, but not when it comes at the expense of reflecting on your life and on your Lord.  After all, He is the One who gave you that leisure time in the first place.  As the Psalmist reminds us, “God gives rest to His loved ones” (Psalm 127:2).  Maybe you should use your leisure rest not just to be entertained, but to say “thank you” to God.


[1] Michael David Smith, “Poll finds NFL more popular than ever,” NBC Sports (10.6.2012).

[2] Gene Edward Veith, “The Purpose of Work,” The Gospel Coalition (10.7.2012).

October 15, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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