The latest scandal to surface in professional sports is the discovery of a bounty program instigated by former New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams during the 2009-2011 football seasons. His plan offered financial incentives to defensive players for purposely injuring opposing players seriously enough to take them out of the game. Ironically, the guilty team’s name is the Saints. Such conduct is obviously anything but saintly in character! In fact it is also contrary to league policy and recent emphasis on reducing player injuries.
Hefty fines and multigame suspensions are the normal punishment for this type of behavior. However, this does not address the root problem—the overemphasis on winning that leads many to resort to inhumane, unethical and unhealthy conduct.
Sports controversy—Winning is not all that matters
The infamous quote attributed to former NFL coach Vince Lombardi, “Winning isn’t everything; it is the only thing,” may in fact be a misquote; but it is certainly a valid assessment of the common mindset of spectators and participants in professional sports. The fact is that winning is where the money is. So the equally famous quote of sports journalist Grantland Rice that “it's not that you won or lost but how you played the game,” is little more than a noble sentiment that few take seriously.
However, I know from personal experience that playing by the rules, including the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31), is actually more enjoyable and much safer without sacrificing the quality or the excitement of the game. I learned this while playing on the basketball team of the Christian college that I attended.
Kind competition is more rewarding
We were taught that basketball is supposed to be a non-contact sport (something you certainly don’t see in the NBA with nearly as much bumping and shoving as opposing lineman in a football game). We were told to never try to block a fast break layup because of the danger of serious injury. Players and spectators were also expected to show good sportsmanship, including complimenting or applauding a player on the other team for making a good play, and remaining respectfully silent when a player on the other team is shooting free throws. In fact the gym would often become so silent as to be intimidating.
Players also learned the importance of playing by the rules, including the lessons of life that sports should teach. Theoretically, there should never be such a thing as a “good foul,” because that suggests that it can be rewarding to violate the rules—a tragic fallacy with potentially serious consequences in life outside of sports if applied to the laws of God or man. So our league even changed some rules to eliminate any advantage of violations.
We played to win, but winning was not our highest priority. We understood the higher purpose of sports to be building character. Sadly, sports programs today often reward characters rather than character; although many teams have had to learn that talent without character can be detrimental to the team and result in losing games.
God’s way works—Even in sports
Competition is exciting to both participants and spectators, which I also know from personal experience. However, the problem with competition is that for every winner there is at least one loser. And the difference between the ecstasy of victory and the agony of defeat is often measured by inches or fractions of a second.
Mankind has to learn that cooperation offers a far better way of life than competition, because cooperation is based on a win/win philosophy where everyone wins. Realistically, most will never learn that in this life, because the current overemphasis on winning is rooted in self-serving human nature.
However, God has a winning plan for all mankind that will be ushered in after the return of Jesus Christ to establish the Kingdom of God on earth—a time of peace and prosperity, health and happiness, and wholesome entertainment and recreation for all. Human nature will be changed from the hostile, self-centered approach to a mindset and commitment to love and service, resulting in a safe zone of cooperation, mutual support and edification. Sound too good to be true? Maybe in today’s world, but that is exactly what God has planned for the future, and is embodied in the message of the gospel. I invite you to read our free booklet, The Gospel of the Kingdom to learn more about this wonderful time, and how you can enjoy some of these benefits today. I also encourage you to register for one of our special Kingdom of God seminars coming soon to a city near you.