I have been a die-hard Husker football fan my entire life. I was 9 years old in 1995 and we were on top of the football world. We had won a National Championship in 1994 and we were set up to do it again.
I knew most of the players’ names. I even decorated my Valentine’s bag with my favorite players’ numbers. My brother and I blasted Queen’s “We Are the Champions” for weeks. I thought Husker football players were the ultimate.
Until one day, when I sat eating my breakfast and overheard on the news that Lawrence Phillips, one of our all-star running backs, had dragged a girl down some stairs by her hair and smashed her head into a mailbox.
I cried because my innocent, nine-year-old mind could not make sense of this. How could anyone do something like that? And a Husker player? Aren’t they better than that? They were role models to pretty much the entire youth of Husker nation in the 90s. Didn’t they know we were looking up to them? It was the first time in my life that I realized people are not always what they seem.
Sure, I was incredibly naive. I was nine. One of my role models had let me down. I learned an important lesson that day. Football stars, celebrities, famous musicians, politicians, leaders . . . they are all just people. And people make mistakes. Some people deliberately make bad choices because they have a complete lack of respect for others.
Yesterday, it was announced Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer is suspended for three games because he knew one of his coaches was beating his wife and he didn’t do enough to handle the situation. Plus, he lied about it. The University of Maryland is in the midst of a scandal over the actions of a strength coach that led to the death of a player. We just keep seeing this kind of stuff happen. Baylor. Penn State. I could go on.
My son, here’s what I want you to learn from all of these football scandals.
- People are not worthy of your worship. There are plenty of respectable athletes and celebrities out there. But remember this: they are people. All people are sinners. If you look to people, you will be disappointed. There was only one perfect man. His name is Jesus. It’s OK to be a fan! Just be careful who you choose to be your role models.
- People are worthy of second chances and forgiveness. Someone you admire, famous or not, is going to let you down. Jesus said, “Forgive as you have been forgiven.”
- Just because it’s shiny, doesn’t mean it’s good. The world of sports is flashy. In pursuit of wins, records, money, and notoriety, many athletes and coaches take shortcuts when it comes to integrity. In all of these scandals, innocent people have gotten hurt because of misplaced priorities. The pursuit of the shiny things won in their hearts over love and concern for people. Choose the right thing. Even when it’s hard. Even when it means you might lose something you really want. People are always more important than everything else that glitters.
- You are never above the law. The popular kid on the playground, the sports star that rules the halls, the Heisman trophy winner, the winningest coach in the world . . . all of us are accountable for our actions. All of us.
- No one is ever beneath you. Jesus cared for the “least of these”. Don’t forget that. You will never reach a level of success or popularity that makes you more important than anyone else. No one ever becomes something great without the help of other people and every good thing is a gift from God. Don’t forget your helpers. Give credit to them when it is due. And remember that without Christ, you are nothing. Act like you understand that.
- Be a leader among men, but a follower of Christ. On the playground, in the classroom, on the field or the court, on stage, at your job, and with your family, be someone who people can look to and follow, trusting that you’re leading them well. If you are looking for your standards, Jesus set them. When people look at you, they should see a reflection of Him.
- Leaders are held to a higher standard. Leading people is a responsibility that you shouldn’t take lightly. If people are looking to you to know the way to go, you don’t want to lead them astray. No one’s perfect. Neither are you. Just remember that the people at the top have the farthest to fall. So make leadership with integrity your goal.
- Admit your mistakes, tell the truth immediately, a lie is a lie is a lie. You will make mistakes. Be humble enough to admit them. Immediately. Tell the whole truth without spinning the details to make yourself look better. The initial embarrassment is always less painful than the humiliating fall-out after the discovery of an elaborate cover-up scheme. The truth always gets found out. Avoid the drama and bring the truth to light from the very beginning. People will respect that.
- Real men do not take advantage of women or children. God created men to be leaders of households and protectors of women and children. Treat women with honor and respect. Protect children. Speak out when you see abuse. Be a man.
- There is more to life than sports. Or music. Or academics. Or jobs. In the end, none of it matters. None of it saves. The Bible says that you can have it all, but if you don’t have love, you have nothing. God is love. Your faith in Him and the love that pours out of you because you know Him are the only things that matter in this life. Keep an eternal perspective and it will help you keep your priorities straight.