Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Spectator Sports, Cheaters and Original Sin

I have never been athletic, but I have always been a fan of sports. I love major league baseball and amateur basketball. I was, at one time, the ultimate spectator, a true fanatic of my favorite basketball team and baseball in general. I could talk for hours about the joy of being in a big league ballpark. The huge stands, the weird food, the huge, beautifully manicured field, the men who excelled at a boy's game were all too good for me.

My basketball team had a bully for a coach, but he was on the right track. He played fair. His players played hard. They gave the game their all. They won a lot more than they lost. The players were smart and articulate. They studied hard and attended class. If they did not, they were benched, or worse. Best of all, my team did not cheat.

But then the world changed. It must have. That is the only explanation for the cataclysm that followed. Baseball players began hitting home runs in bunches. Way more than ever before. It was unprecedented. Records were falling right and left. One season two very likable players hit 69 and 66 home runs, both breaking the previous record of 61. What fun! But then too soon, another player, one that was not so likable, hit even more. 73 home runs in one year. Something had to be wrong. We all thought it. And then we began to question all the records, all the players, everything.

The coach of my basketball team lost his job. He was replaced with a barely competent basketball man. Then he was replaced by a fine coach, but get this, a cheater. Heaven forbid! We do not allow cheaters on our team. We are against cheaters. We do not cheat. Until now.

And the baseball players? Last week we learned that they cheat too. They are all cheaters. Dozens of our heroes have taken drugs so that they can grow bigger, run faster and hit the ball farther. How can I be a sports fan when they all cheat?

But what have we learned from all this? Can we grow from this experience?

All people are bad! This is a foundational doctrine of Christianity. Theologically we call it Original Sin. This doctrine believes that every person has the tendency, even the desire, to sin. We all want to do what is wrong. If that seems difficult for you, think about this:
  • Look out for number 1.
  • Watch your back.
  • You only go around once, so go for the gusto.
  • You deserve a break today.
  • I'm too sexy for my shirt.

All of these are expressions of the practical side of Original Sin. Every human is selfish. We are born selfish. We are always looking out for our own interests and desires. I believe that sin equals selfishness. That is, every sin that you or I commit, we commit simply because we are selfish. This is why Jesus taught the value of looking out for your neighbor and loving others. It is hard to be selfish when I am loving someone else.

What is happening in sports- and baseball and basketball are no different than all other competitive sports- is a manifestation of the reality of sin. So, do we condemn these players and coaches, or do we pray for them?

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