With Respect for What?
What do Derek Jeter, Tim Tebow, Lebron James, and Sidney Crosby have in common? Is each the premier player in their respective sport? No. Are they the highest paid individuals in each league? No. Do they all have the same level of experience, or have they won identical rewards in each of their respective leagues (i.e. each is an MVP’er, responsible for producing the highest offensive tallies for their sport in a single year, etc)? Not quite. The common denominator is dominance of popular opinion: each athlete sells more jerseys than anyone one else in their sport (at least for the 2011 seasons).
A few weeks ago, I made mention of Tim Tebow. I discussed the fact that, although I am not vouching that he has an NFL quarterback skill set that far exceeds what he has proven on paper so far. But, Tebow’s boldness, persistence, and demonstrated social intelligence surrounding the way he shares his faith in Jesus is a model worth investigating (and in my opinion, finding a challenging inspiration behind).
Yet, despite his tenacious competitiveness, Tim does not dominate the gridiron the way Lebron can carve and control the court. Nor does the duration of his legacy surpass the likes of Jeter’s long professional career. And as good as Jeter and James are, they probably don’t receive the kind of praise that Crosby receives in his sport, where many harold him as potentially being the greatest hockey player of all time.
So, this brings me to the question- is it logical to support an athlete- not because of his athletic talent- but because of this character? Would we be robbing from the athletic greats if we garnered more attention to those that we follow for non-performance based reasons? I think we can all answer yes. In fact, ask any parent- most parents watching a little league came aren’t watching their favorite player because they are a 6th grade hardball all-star. He is their favorite player because he is their son. Or even looking at our friendships, we find that we quite often find ourselves “closer” to those with whom we have similar personalities, values, and experiences. Thus, it is a perfectly natural phenomenon of human psychology to pick an athlete for reasons other than his or her performance (if it wasn’t, think how depressing it would be for all the players who compose a league who aren’t in the top 1% of players). Our sport-love can be broad and far reaching.
But, is it appropriate to support and cheer for an athlete for his athletic prowess, as divorced from his character? What about those characters who are threatening athletes, but who are also cruel, unchase, unlawful, and unloving in their actions, reputation, and heart? And what about those who time reveals to be moral monsters? Can the most devout Steeler’s fan ethically call himself a fan of Ben “Rapest-berger” because they “respect his game, but not his character?” I can’t think of the number of times I have heard people articulate such a worldview during the limelight of Kobe Bryant’s Colorado sexual affair. Or those who claimed to still adamantly respect the what was once a legitimate scoring and defensive threat in Ron Artest, despite his violent and checkered past.
But, immoral activity can apparently have an impact on the nation’s consensus on athletes: Tiger Woods, whose favor rating was once as high as 85% in 2005, dropped to 60% following his infamous car crash, and to 34% after his infidelity admission.
So, does the “talent-character” dichotomy have a morally acceptable place in the Christian ethic? Well, to begin, it is illogical to deny an athlete’s athletic achievements. Just as some try to deny the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth despite the wealth of historical evidence, so it would be ignorant to deny the video recorded evidence and mounds of statistical data that demonstrates one’s accomplishments. But is there any moral obligation to not support the Rothelsbergers, James Harrisons, Michael Vicks, Ron Artests, or to take things to a further level, O.J. Simpsons of the sports world?
My answer would be yes. And for today, here is my reasoning. The more time I spend in Scripture, the more convinced I become of the holistic composition and being of the human person. Looking forward to the eschatological realities of the resurrection, Paul’s prayer for his church is that they “your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Th 5:23). Likewise, the more one understand the “new creation” one becomes (2 Cor 5:17) as really the beginning of the resurrection body that the believer will have, the more it seems that the more ways in which we dichotomize our understanding of the human person, the less biblical our anthropology becomes.. Just as Jesus bodily resurrection allowed him to be touched (John 20:28), to fellowship and even to eat fish (Luke 24:42-43), so our bodies will be so physical in many ways, not simply immaterial “hovering spirits.” Thus, I argue not that it is sinful to practice compartmentalizing the human person, but a biblically unhealthy and even erroneous understanding of the human person.
And I answer yes for a second reason: the biblical evidence contains much encouragement for believers to be observing and modeling the examples of others. 23 times in the Gospels Jesus admonishes his disciples to “follow him,” and Paul exhorts his churches to follow him, as he follows Christ. Likewise, the process of discipleship involves entrusting the truth to others in the church that they may teach others also (1 Tim 2:2), and lays a model for the older in the church to be teaching and training as models for the younger (Titus 2). We are to encourage one another towards love and good works by modeling and encouraging each other with examples of Righteousness, as we follow the One who is the perfection and the one who makes us Righteous. If this is the biblical encouragement, would we not be fools to be supporters and admirers of such unrighteous examples, of those who live model the lusts of this world, versus the treasures of the Spirit?
 http://bleacherreport.com/articles/389164-the-top-ten-most-popular-nfl-players-according-to-jersey-sales/page/11,http://mlb.mlb.com/news/press_releases/press_release.jsp?ymd=20110323&content_id=17082144&vkey=pr_mlb&fext=.jsp&c_id=mlb, http://ca.sports.yahoo.com/nhl/blog/puck_daddy/post/Top-20-best-selling-NHL-jerseys-thanks-Winter-?urn=nhl-219488, http://content.usatoday.com/communities/gameon/post/2011/04/surprise-lebron-james-passes-kobe-bryant-in-jersey-sales-miami-heat-los-angeles-lakers-boston-celtics-rajon-rondo-nba/1
 Tim Keller has a great message on the New Jerusalem that debunks embedded false theories of the resurrection body.