Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Sports Decade of Cheats

As sports news focused on the "SpyGate" yesterday, I couldn't help but reflect upon how history will remember the last decade in sports.

It is clear now that the Patriots broke the rules -- they videotaped coaches hand signals, and used that information in later games. They claim that they did not use this information IN the football games that they were already in, but there is now evidence that suggests that may have been the case. This is a football dynasty that won each of their Super Bowls by a single field goal apiece. They will be remembered as a franchise that cheated to win it all.

In baseball, this will be remembered as the decade in which the lid was blown off the steroids secret in baseball. And there's still no testing for HGH. Barry Bonds hit 73 homeruns in one year, and passed Hank Aaron with #756 last year. Roger Clemens continued pitch well into his 40's & set records this decade with no little help from performance enhancing substances. Sure, the Red Sox broke the curse, but that seems overshadowed by the inflated players & numbers of recent years.

Even in the NBA, people have always wondered in a strange game if something shady isn't going on relative to point-shaving -- be it with a player, coach, or even a referee. And then the news broke last summer about NBA referee Tim Donaghy. Donaghy made calls in games (even one notable playoff game) that affected the point spread in those games. He gambled, accrued a debt, got in trouble with some powerful people, and became complicit with their plan to make money off of his influential position.

Then again, I think that there is nothing new under the sun: we've lived in culture of cheating for quite a long time. SpyGate? The New York Baseball Giants did that half a century ago. When Bobby Thompson hit his "Shot Heard 'Round the World" (you know, the one where they play that clip & the announcer yells "THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT, THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!!"), he probably knew what pitch was coming because of a complex system that allowed the Giants batters to steal signs from the catcher to the pitcher (according to Joshua Prager's book, "Echoing Green"). Gaylord Perry was a notorious cheater, known in his career for scuffing baseballs & throwing spit-balls. And yet he is celebrated in Baseball's Hall of Fame! Ask any former NFL offensive lineman and they will tell you that they could have had a flag thrown on them for holding on just about every down of football that they played. There's a way to get away with it, and the good ones learn how to do it without getting caught.

I know what the rest of you take away from all this, but it just impresses upon me how important it is for Christians & churches to be counter-cultural -- to be people & organizations of integrity. If we don't stand out as different, then what do we have to offer to the world?

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