Thursday, August 13, 2009

Can Christians still be sports fans?

Ted Kluck writes an "open letter" sports column for Christianity Today. He recently wrote a
letter to Donte Stallworth that I liked. Why do fans get so indignant about Michael Vick returning to the field after serving jailtime for killing dogs while Donte Stallworth killed a PERSON and served almost no jail time yet had the green light to play?
Thankfully, the NFL suspended Stallworth for the season today.

But it makes you think-- do you want these people getting your money and attention? Is it moral? I've made the case here before that it's immoral to support MLB, and I stand by that contention. I also recently lamented the million dollar hirings of Lane Kiffin and John Calipari at a time when universities were slashing departments and teachers due to budget crises.

The Rick Pitino soap opera is something that has me questioning allegiance to NCAA basketball. Facts:
1. Pitino has a morality clause in his contract.
"There is a morals clause in section six, page eight of Pitino's lucrative contract that allows the school to fire him with just cause for acts of 'moral depravity' or being dishonest with the university. It also allows him to be terminated with cause for generating disparaging publicity, if it is caused by his 'willful conduct that could objectively be determined to bring the employee in public dispute or scandal, or which tends to greatly offend the public.'"

2. Pitino had drunken sex with an aide present, impregnated a stranger, then payed $3,000 for her abortion.

3. Pitino is an outspoken Catholic who started a large foundation on behalf of his son Daniel who died in infancy.

4. UL's AD says he stands by Pitino "One million percent," while UL's president says he accepts Pitino's apology and wants to move on.

So, there are no repercussions. What Pitino did certainly wasn't illegal, therefore it isn't immoral either? 20 years ago coaches at major universities got fired for having affairs. Not so anymore.

Are you contributing to this behavior? Are you buying the tickets and boosting ad revenue by watching the games on TV? Are you donating money to the program and buying the memorabilia? Are you demanding the people in charge to change? Are you holding anyone accountable? Can Christians be "salt" and "light" and the church be "the pillar and support of truth" without Christians crying "foul!"?

Many of my Christian friends still defend MLB despite the weekly revealing of players who cheated and lied, and a commissioner (Bud Selig) who has tried to cover it up for several years while making millions in salary. They just fork over their cash. Yet many are incensed about Democratic politicians who are pro-choice (ie: immoral in a different way) and claim a moral high ground. How is this not hypocrisy?

If I don't agree with the huge salaries and benefits paid to coaches and programs which create debatable value in terms of academics and live lives that don't value life and demonstrate character then how can I keep watching? How can I wear the t-shirt? How can I root for them? Would Jesus?

*Update* This Adrian Wojnarowski article on Yahoo! sheds more light on the Pitino culture.


jprapp said...

JD, does this mean I cannot root for “TouchDown Jesus” while watching Norte Dame games?

I have a very dear friend, a Church of Christ minister (NON-INSTRUMENTAL!) who is a graduate of Southern Cal, and who tells me all the time how immoral TouchDown Jesus is – but, only when the Trojans are playing Norte Dame, and only when things aren’t going “righteously,” for So, Cal, that is!

Seriously. I agree in part and disagree in part with your analyses about sports-olatry.

You make good points about the Vick and Stalworth cases. The NFL probably runs differentials on what fans can accept. Not for morality. For money. At the not-so-narrow gate of ticket sales.

I wonder, though.

King David did worse than Patino.

Patino did not have sex with the woman and then kill his university president, nor her husband, nor kill the second-in-command chief of his coaching staff.

I’m not sure about all the illative steps you take in capturing moral inferences from your Moral Prime to judging the MLB.

I’m not saying it can’t be done.

Only that I don’t follow step-wise.

And would your moral metric apply equally to an in-the-pew sports approach taken by pew-sitters who are really in church on a subjective Pascal’s Wager?

Not being contentious. Just wondering.

Parts of the work that I do involve rehabilitation of fallen ministers, and rehabilitation of fallen church members – sexual improprieties, ripping off the church treasury, drinking on the job, abuses of office, spousal abuse, and tons of just plain lousy inter-personal relations – rehabilitations using prayer and a few professional tools.

I’ve seen a time or two a sort of character trait of God happen in these cases, a trait that I would call (by my Bayesian guess) – mercy.

If for David, why not for Pitino?

What’s the moral assay for the old criminal law chestnut of, “paying one’s dues?” Say as applied in the case of Vick, in jail?

Open questions.

Not that I have answers.

I like your blog.

JDTapp said...

For David there were consequences. His son died, and his chief advisor who was related to Bathsheba betrayed him and worked to deliver his kingdom into the hand of another. His kingdom never became what it could have been due to his sin.

Why go out of your way to have a morality clause in a contract and then clearly choose not to enforce it when appropriate? Pitino's apology speech seemed to say "I'm a good coach, I got you to the Elite 8 last year, and this was 6 years ago so forget it." How is that right?

If you counsel fallen ministers, it must mean that they've acknowledged their sin as wrong and probably resigned because of it. Right?

My point is that we, the fans, keep forking over money which creates a culture of indulgence and narcissism for players and coaches no matter what those players and coaches do. And I'm asking if we can seriously call ourselves Christians and do that.

JDTapp said...

I updated the post with a link on the bottom to an article that sheds more insight into Pitino's world of "sychophants and enablers."

jprapp said...

Yes. David suffered consequences. Far fewer and far less severe consequences than David’s “morality clause” called for in an ordinary citizen no less in a reigning king, that is, the consequences of death penalties under the morality clauses of the 10 Commandments.

Consequences on a spectrum are not the same as spectral consequences.

An inverse point holds in Paul waxing wise advising on acting in proportion (analogia) to our faith. And for redundancy, he adds: according to the “measure” (metron) of grace (Romans 12). As one friendly interlocutor said to me recently, mercy is in part (not in whole) what caused Luther a breakdown because mercy shattered Luther’s sense of smooth homogeneity in God’s justice.

I’m not defending Patino. I frankly am debating it all inwardly. Here, outwardly. With no settled position, yet.

Morality clauses are not what the title implies. It’s an extraordinarily misleading legal appellation. Morality clauses confer power on the invoking party to enforce or to ignore infractions on almost a tort law sort of rationalized balancing test, based on objective criteria (lost revenue, threat of collateral lawsuits, defenses to severe triple damages of intentional torts, inter alia) plus a cascade of subjectives (tiredness of controversy, or loss of reputation: ala Bobby Knight at Indiana). Morality clauses can be as prohibitively costly to enforce as old fault based divorce cases were to prosecute in the bygone era of fault-based divorce. And any university that took Pitino to the bar would face profound uncertainty in calculating popular responses from a fan base dirtier than Pitino.

Even Samuel took the stage with Saul in a courtesy curtain call. Before the random arrow got Saul. And that, after warnings so numerous as to be ubiquitous.

Which is sort of why morality clause enforcement faces an ultimate Bar.

jprapp said...

NB on fallen ministers and fallen church members. You make an excellent point about confession and resignation as steps in restoration. No doubt. Some cases are chaotic in presenting step wise features like this by the time I get them. The most difficult cases involve attempts to apply vague and wistful theological proverbs to close facts. Denominational churches in contrast to congregational ones can suffer catastrophes in these cases: catastrophes in changing their in-house rules before making a rational judgment that feels wrong for intuitive reasons. It’s a Forrest Gump box of chocolates. But, you’re right about confession and resignation as markers for the real thing of contrition before rehabilitation. Even when sheer mercy holds in some cases without external consequences, accountability groups can be set up for oversight.

Keith Walters said...

This really has nothing to do with anything but I assume you enabled advetvising on your blog but for some reason there is a scantly clad woman asking me to play now unnoticed! MAybe google needs to work a little harder at matching advertising with blog content.

Keith Walters said...

Back to the topicat hand. You ask "My point is that we, the fans, keep forking over money which creates a culture of indulgence and narcissism for players and coaches no matter what those players and coaches do. And I'm asking if we can seriously call ourselves Christians and do that."

I think we can say this with everything. I think this is really the eart of capitalism and the american dream. It really goes back to Schlitz Beer "You only go around once in life so you've got to grab for all the gusto you can." I think we see that in sports just as much as anything else. I am sure that smeone is rich from making the computer that I am using, and I would bet money that they are a self-obsessed narcissist. But I just avoid the topic at hand by not liking sports that much!

JDTapp said...

Mmmm... not so fast, Keith.

The person who made your computer is likely a low-skilled worker earning a modest wage. The CEO of his company, however, is probably very wealthy by any standard (and perhaps a narcissist). But the company is probably publicly owned and thus many people own it and share in the profits--maybe you're an owner through your 401k.

But the enterpreneur adds value... he creates a product that people value at a greater price than what it costs him to build it. Thus, he's adding value to those raw materials. The computer increases your (and many others') productivity and allows you to add value to things. So, society benefits from increased productivity.

We value sports (a service) at a price greater than what it costs to produce sports. But what value is added? Innovations in the cross-over dribble do not increase our productivity or help our society produce more. Yet, the person who innovates the cross-over is probably paid more than the CEO of your computer's company.
So, legions of young people aspire to work on their cross-over to hopefully earn money rather than engage in more society-benefiting pursuits. Some of these will earn a college education, so some value is added to society by having more educated population. But is it the best use of resources?

JDTapp said...

But I partially agree with Keith's premise that on the surface you can say "it's like this with everything else too."

Going back to my entrepreneur example: Who adds more value to society, a professional basketball player, or an entrepreneur? A basketball player or a school teacher? A basketball player or a police officer?

But who gets paid the most?

Market demand has driven salaries for athletes and entertainers higher than more valuable professions. Historically, every society for which this has been true has collapsed (Rome a great example).
I don't want my own preferences to contribute to this imbalance.

Make sense?