Thursday, November 26, 2009

Why is Winning so Important?

I recently watched an NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball game from the visiting team’s bench in the gym of their strongest conference rival. This game and the brief moments after the game were a vivid reminder of why winning is so important.

This season had been one of great frustration, loss and division for our team. We entered the game near the bottom of the conference and the team we were to play was tied for first in the conference. (They eventually won the regular season and post-season conference tournament championships.) The whole game was an uphill battle, but our team had a short lead at half-time. In the second half we played very well and one could feel the momentum growing as three players made big shots and defensive plays.

This swing of momentum put down all the feelings of frustration, division, jealousy, bitterness and more as the whole team was focused on the win which was within their grasp. The team was unified, at least for the final twenty minutes of the game and we won a huge road victory.

As the players ran from the floor with smiling faces, excited voices and victorious gestures, one would never know the true nature of the team’s past three months. In the locker room, the celebration continued with the coaching staff congratulating players, affirming the way they played and smiling at their achievement. A couple of players commented in the hall shortly thereafter about how much fun the game is when we win.

This is why winning is so important. When we win, the selfish nature of people is more easily kept in check and it’s much easier to selflessly seek the best for our team and for each teammate. When we lose, it’s infinitely easier to self-protect, to shift blame and to “look out for number one.” It requires much more self-control to love our teammates and coaches when we’re struggling to succeed.

Play your heart out. Pursue wins strongly, because when you win the game pays you back for all the hours of hard work, the miles of running and the years of training you’ve invested. You experience the best of sport when you strongly compete for victory.

Friday, November 20, 2009


My wife, Sharon, and my mentor, Fred Bishop, are among the most fiercely loyal people I’ve ever met. They refuse to quit on the people to whom they’re committed under any circumstances. They will consistently support their friends, teammates and colleagues when they fail, when they are under intense criticism and even when they display poor character. Such loyalty is an admirable trait in a spouse, a mentor and a friend and is an indispensable characteristic in a sport chaplain or sport mentor.

According to, to be loyal is “to be faithful to one's oath, commitments, or obligations: to be loyal to a vow.” We certainly expect faithfulness to one’s wedding vows and look for it among teammates, but it is often a rare commodity among the people of sport. The sports media are full of stories of competitive failure, moral failure and character issues among coaches and competitors. Coaches who are fired for too few wins, players who are suspended for doping, team officials who are found to have ties to gambling interests, competitors who speak foolishly during interviews and thus incur the wrath of their club or league and other instances put us who serve them in difficult situations and leave us with hard questions to be asked.

Hard questions which test our loyalty:
· How shall I relate to the coach who was just fired for lack of success?
· What should I say to our coach who was exposed in a sex scandal?
· Our best player was just suspended for a violation of team rules (failed drug test), how shall I approach him?
· What is my responsibility toward the coach who was just “outed” and identified as a lesbian?
· After months of bitter conflict, our head coach resigned. Should I seek him out or just let him go?
· One of our committed Christian players was just benched for poor performance, how shall I encourage her?

These and similar situations often stretch to the limit the loyalty of our hearts. We often find the faithfulness we want to give to our friends and teammates in conflict with our drive for success, our taste for popularity and our desire for status. Let’s think this matter through and let the Spirit of Christ guide our hearts to making wise decisions.

We must display loyalty to those we serve in sports:
· On their way down as well as on their way up.
· When they lose as well as when they win.
· When they endure criticism by the media as well as when they’re the media darlings.
· When they are dead wrong, foolish and out of line as well as when they are wise and totally in the right.

Let’s be the ones in sport who are loyal, faithful and consistent. There are plenty of people who will be capricious, politically expedient and adrift on the fickle seas of public opinion.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


A few weeks ago I wrote you about a quality necessary for quality ministry as a sport chaplain and we discussed Empathy. Today let’s consider Intuition.

Most of us who are male are assumed to be lacking intuition. All my life I’ve heard about “women’s intuition” and I’ve seen it in action in my mother, my wife, friends, coworkers and many others. I certainly know my wife to be more intuitive than me and I trust her intuition because her hunches are usually more on target than my logical, overly analyzed view of people and situations. Related to intuition and its value for ministry in sport, our female colleagues seem to have a head start on their brothers.

However, we who possess X and Y chromosomes and serve as sport chaplains or sport mentors may be some of the most intuitive people walking the planet. Many of us act on hunches much more often than we follow a carefully planned agenda. Most of us have more phone numbers than appointments in our blackberries or iphones. We are often more people oriented than task oriented. We act on our gut, follow hunches, take chances which often don’t make sense and will take great risks for those we love and serve.

In fact, the lack of documentation about sports chaplaincy is a strong indicator of how most of us do our work intuitively rather than strategically. Strategically thinking people write outlines and schedules. Intuitive people just do what seems right and trust God with the results. Check out Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Blink” for some insight about how often one’s intuitive hunch is correct and how much we can trust our intuition.

Intuition is an important gift and should be trusted in situations like:
· Which of the dozens of players should I speak with today?
· I have a feeling that ___________ is bothered by something, should I speak to him?
· _______ seems grieved, should I offer my support?
· That coach may be fired soon, should I give him a call?
· I heard that _____________ is having surgery today, should I go by the hospital or back to the office?
· Coach ____________ seems to be under a lot of pressure, shall I send her a text message?
· There’s something about this player which seems a little off, shall I ask her if everything’s okay?
· About what should I speak at this week’s chapel?
· What is the condition of this player’s heart? What would God say to him?
· What would encourage Coach ___________’s heart in this trying season?
· ______________ just came across my mind, shall I contact her?
· I can’t get ___________ off my mind today, shall I go see him?
· My heart is broken for _____________. Lord, what do You want me to say to her?

As one who is often distrustful of intuitive thoughts, may I challenge you to take some risks? Last Thursday I was talking with a colleague and he mentioned a coach who is our mutual friend. I asked about our friend’s job security, given the long losing streak he was enduring, and was asked to give him a call. I made time the next day, researched the phone number and called, only to reach his voice mail. Undeterred, I left the same message on the voice mail that I would have delivered directly to his ear. I ended the call feeling my effort was weak and wondering at its value. Monday afternoon I learned that my friend was fired that morning. I was so glad that I had made the call, that I had followed my hunch and my friend’s urging.

Bottom line: let your gift of intuition work for you and for those whom you serve. Take some risks, even if they seem illogical to you. You may be making the call, the visit, text message or the email at just the right time and your words could be as valuable as apples of gold in settings of silver (Proverbs 25:11).

Friday, November 6, 2009

Platform = Spotlight

Below is an article which ran in a recent edition of USA Today. It is about the role of faith and religion in the arena of sport and mentions sports chaplains directly. It should not shock us that we would encounter criticism when the media sets the rules for public discourse and truth is seen to be a matter of popular opinion or majority rule, like this author espouses. We should not make ourselves out to be martyrs in such moments.

We must also be conscious of the fact that the higher the profile of those we serve in sport, the greater public scrutiny they will encounter related to all facets of their lives. The same “platform” which they occupy for proclamation of the Gospel will serve as a glaring “spotlight” for the world to observe each and every flaw, inconsistency, statement of political incorrectness, and weakness of those who stand upon it. Let’s be wise enough to be careful about who we shove onto the platform and the exposing spotlight which comes with it.

Rather than simply take offense at or quickly defend ourselves from such opinion, we must look it squarely in the eye, discern its truth and/or error, take correction where needed, affirm the truth, and press on as committed servants of Christ and His Church.

"And I'd like to thank God Almighty "

In big-time sports, God often gets a prominent place on the field of play. A shout-out here, a prayer there. But this faith surge is being powered by a brand of conservative Christianity that is — like" two teams competing on the field — very ‘us’ vs. ‘them.’

By Tom Krattenmaker

October is the sports fan's Promised Land.
America's pastime (baseball) enters its sprint toward the World Series, and the sport that is America's pastime in more than just name (football) has fans transfixed from coast to coast.

Anyone who watches pro and college football or follows the drama of the baseball playoffs can't help but notice something else that often competes for our attention amid the passes, pitches and home runs: religion. Players point skyward to the Almighty after reaching the end zone or home plate, star athletes voice thanks and praise to their savior after a big win, and sports heroes use their media spotlight to promote the Christian message. These are the outward signs of a faith surge that has made big-time sports one of the most outwardly religious sectors of American culture.
Far less visible, but worth knowing about, are the infrastructure and strategy of the sports-world evangelicalism that powers these pious displays. Athletes' expressions of Christian faith reflect decades of hard work by evangelical ministries to convert players and "coach" them to use their stature to promote a particular version of conservative Christianity.

Christian chaplains are embedded with all the teams in professional baseball, basketball and football — and many college teams as well — to provide religious counseling, Bible studies and chapel services. Given the misbehavior and self-seeking that plague sports, who could doubt the benefit of bringing moral guidance and a broader perspective to locker rooms and clubhouses?

The good with the bad

But Jesus' representatives in sports aren't just practicing faith. They are also leveraging sports' popularity to promote a message and doctrine that are out of sync with the diverse communities that support franchises, and with the unifying civic role that we expect of our teams. Typifying the exclusive creed taught by many sports-world Christians is the belief statement published by Baseball Chapel, which provides chaplains for all major- and minor-league baseball teams. Non-believers in Jesus, the ministry declares, can look forward to
Urban Meyer, Tebow's coach at Florida, has praised his quarterback's faith-promoting ways as "good for college football ... good for young people ... good for everything." Such is the rhetoric usually heard from those who defend sports-world Christianity as wholesome and harmless.

But should we be pleased that the civic resource known as "our team" — a resource supported by the diverse whole through our ticket-buying, game-watching and tax-paying — is being leveraged by a one-truth evangelical campaign that has little appreciation for the beliefs of the rest of us?

Having researched and thought about Christianity in sports for the better part of a decade, I am impressed by the good that's done by sports-world Christians. Jesus-professing athletes are among the best citizens in their sector, and they commit good deeds daily in communities across this country.

These sports stars, like all Americans, have a right to express their faith.
Evangelical players and ministry representatives in sports aren't out to harm anyone, of course. On the contrary, they see themselves as fulfilling the Bible's Great Commission ("Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," Matthew 28:19). In this sense, their mission is pure altruism: They seek to share the gift of eternal life.
But there's a shadow side to this. If their take on God and truth and life is the only right one — which their creed boldly states — everyone else is wrong.
Not a mere abstraction, this exclusiveness sometimes morphs into a form of chauvinism and mistreatment of non-Christians. Witness the incident with the Washington Nationals baseball team in 2005, when the Christian chaplain was exposed as teaching that Jews go to hell.

Then there was the New Mexico state football team, which was the target of a religious discrimination lawsuit in 2006 after two Muslim players reported being labeled "troublemakers" and were kicked off the team by their devoutly Christian coach. The case was settled out of court and the students transferred.
It's not just non-Christians who might have a thing or two to say about this exclusive theology. According to a December 2008 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life, of American Christians believe that many religions can lead to eternal life. Our pluralism is a defining and positive reality of American life — but not one that is much valued by those who define the faith coursing through the veins of sports culture.

One size doesn't fit all

As anyone who has seen Tebow on television would know, broadcasters cannot find enough superlatives to describe him. What's not to admire? He plays with a rugged, infectious enthusiasm. He's a born leader. He's a Heisman Trophy winner and a two-time national champion. He spends his off time speaking at prisons and doing missionary work in Asia. It's good to see he has mended from his concussion and returned to action.

But there's more to his story. Tebow does his missionary trips to the Philippines under the auspices of his father's Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association. The Tebow organization espouses a far-right theology. Its bottom line: Only those who assent to its version of Christianity will avoid eternal punishment. The Tebow organization's literature estimates that 75% of the Philippines' inhabitants "have never once heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ." This in a country where more than 80% of the citizens identify themselves as Roman Catholic.

In making and acting on rigid claims about who is or isn't in good standing with God, the Bob Tebow organization is working at cross purposes with the majority of Americans — indeed, the majority of American Christians — and their more generous conception of salvation.

Certainly, Tim Tebow must be applauded for the good he does working on his father's missions, but he should be seen, too, as one who promotes a form of belief that makes unwelcome judgments about everyone else's religion. Let's not forget the twinge that is felt by sports-loving Jewish kids and parents, for example, or by champions for interfaith cooperation, when adored sports figures like Tebow use their fame to push a Jesus-or-else message.

Is sports-world evangelicalism really "good for everything"? Certainly a lot, but not everything. Not if you're Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, non-evangelical Protestant, agnostic or anything else outside the conservative evangelical camp.

Tom Krattenmaker, a writer based in Portland, Ore., specializing in religion in public life, is a member of the USA TODAY board of contributors. He is the author of the new book Onward Christian Athletes.