Friday, September 14, 2007

If Sports Builds Character…

Where'd All These Villains Come From?

I loved sports. Past tense. There was a day when I was pretty well married to basketball, and football and baseball weren’t far behind. But these days, I can take ‘em or leave ‘em.

It started when I realized how much more prone I was to sin when competing—anger, pride, bitterness, selfishness, disrespect to authority, the whole depraved nine yards.

But what really has me aggravated lately is the recent deluge of immoral and contemptible behavior among professional athletes, coaches, and officials: the NFL’s infamous thug list, the doping scandals in baseball and the Tour de France, Nick Saban’s lies, NBA official Tim Donaghy’s gambling, and now Bill Belichick’s cheating. Nice. Quite frankly, I’m disgusted.

As a result, you can imagine my delight when I ran across this article entitled “Obviously, Sports Do Not Build Character,” by Anthony Bradley, assistant professor of apologetics and theology at Covenant Seminary. He begins:

If you are one of those people who believe the old adage “sports builds character,” you have some explaining to do.

Why are so many professional athletes, who have spent their entire lives in organized sports, masters at cheating, serial adultery, drunkenness, compulsive gambling, drug abuse, and thuggish fighting (to name just a few of the vices)? The truth is that sports no more builds character than attending Clemson University football games qualifies you to replace Tommy Bowden as head coach.

In spite of my irritation, however, I’m reluctant to give up on sports altogether. True, sports do not build character, but they provide a very helpful context in which character can be built… under the right circumstances. What circumstances? Well, I think Bradley gets it right near the end of his critique:

Sports do not build character in young people but virtuous adults do. In one sense youth sport is simply a medium for adult mentoring within the context of challenging situations. Character is bestowed – or not – from one generation to another.
Reminds me of a post I read a while back by CJ Mahaney. CJ loves sports, but he values biblical masculinity and godly character far more. In this post, he lists specific behaviors he commends to his son, Chad—practices which make sports a means to the end of developing godliness. Here’s CJ’s perspective:

There is nothing original or profound about this list. But helping my son apply it to his heart and life can make a profound difference. So after each game, I review the above list with my son. I go over the game with him and celebrate any and all expressions of humility and godly character. I tell him that this is more important to me than how many points he scored or whether his team won the game (although we do play to win!). Remember, fathers, what you honor and celebrate, your son will emulate. Therefore, we must celebrate godly character more than athletic ability or achievement.
If you’re a parent or a coach or even just a Christian sports fan, I’d encourage you please to read CJ’s entire piece. It’s absolutely excellent.

I want to conclude by offering my sincere thanks to the many Christian parents and coaches and fans out there who approach sports this way. Keep up the good work! If only there were a couple thousand more of you, perhaps we might have something to cheer about.


Anonymous said...

Great post. I should have read it before you played basketball!

MadMup said...

"Sports don't build character, they reveal character" - isn't that how that goes?

I think sports can be used to help build character in the hands of the right parent/coach/whatever, but sports by themselves sure don't.

Gretchen said...


Hey, last night I met someone from your old youth group -- Lisa Phillips. She is in my small group (my immediate small, small group within the larger singles small group). She shared with the 3 of us that she used to be very consistent with her devotions because her youth pastor used to give them weekly assignments in the youth group handouts. She said she just loved those and she still has them and uses them because she hasn't found a plan she likes better. I just thought that might be an encouragement to you! I know if my husband and I heard anything like that from our old kids, it would be awesome!

Good post, by the way!


Josh said...

You and I are agreed on this one. Although I can't quite escape all that character that we built up while building dams in the mud on the sidelines together as freshman football "players."

Another encounter to add to your "small world" post! Thanks for the encouragement. Lisa is one of the best - make sure you pass on a "hi" from me.