Virtue Versus Violence

Sports fans are accustomed to their favorite events beginning with an introduction of the starting lineup. But these days more and more athletes are appearing in another kind of line-up: a police line-up. Readers of the sports page are familiar with stories about Dallas superstar Michael Irvin, who now faces felony cocaine charges. Elsewhere in the National Football League, Brian Blades recently pleaded "no-contest" to manslaughter charges. And the latest NFL draft featured two Nebraska football players who got into trouble assaulting women. One noteworthy exception to this trend is basketball great David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs. But Robinson is being criticized by some who think he is not fit to lead his team to victory. Why? Because he is a born-again Christian who embodies the virtues of his faith. In a Sports Illustrated cover story Robinson made it clear that he is the kind of sports hero that many parents pray for. For starters, Robinson was a true "student athlete" who majored in mathematics at the U.S. Naval Academy. After making the All-America team his sophomore season, he could have transferred to another school but instead stayed on and fulfilled his service commitment. Robinson's pro career has reflected the same high level of integrity. Last year he was chosen the National Basketball Association's Most Valuable Player, prompting his coach Bob Hill to call Robinson the NBA's greatest asset. Says Hill, "if my kids grow up to be half the man David is, I'll die happy." Nonetheless, some sports writers claim Robinson isn't mean enough to lead his team to an NBA title. As Sports Illustrated writer Leigh Montville summed it up: "A traditional knock against born-again athletes is that they don't have a win-or-else passion for their games." The response of the sports community to Robinson's Christian character tells us a great deal about what ails modern athletics. The all-consuming drive to win has caused many to turn a blind eye to loutish--and even criminal--behavior on the part of superstar athletes. Just as saddening is the growing acceptance of violence on the playing field--where physical confrontations are seen as an expression of macho virility and a necessary component of victory. The same problem of violence in sports arose at the end of the last century. At that time, writes sports analyst Michael D. Smith, President Theodore Roosevelt summoned representatives from Princeton, Yale, and Harvard, to his office. He threatened to shut down their programs if they didn't clean up their act. Smith reports that the resulting campaign against football violence led to the sport being dropped at several colleges. A similar campaign of reform is badly needed in our own day. In the meantime David Robinson is one athlete worthy of being held up to our children as a role model. Only time will tell if Robinson will lead his team to championship glory--and more importantly, if he will succeed by example in restoring dignity, integrity, and sportsmanship to an increasingly degraded profession.


Chuck Colson


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