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From the Rev: Abusers in the Game

Apr 14, 2013

If you have ever been around professional sports environments, you know that there are often polarizing figures who not only play the sport, but coach or work at the executive levels of sport as well.  Amongst those involved in the game, there are varying levels of the antagonist  – from recent extremes such as former Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice and former White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen to former pro and basketball commentator Charles Barkley or owner Mark Cuban. In the world, these personas have a voice amplified by the high cultural value placed on sport but there is often a lot of controversy surrounding the comments or behaviors of these iconic figures.

ESPN’s Rick Reilly comments on the latest Nike ad campaign which attempts to atone for Tiger’s behavior on and off the course, suggesting winning as a cure-all.

It may go without saying that there are tremendous pressures tied into professional sport – whether for a coach, player, or executive but does this necessarily serve as an excuse for abusive language and behavior sometimes exhibited by those who are in the sports spotlight?

In my years working in professional sport – whether in public relations or as team chaplain – I have seen plenty of chairs kicked across rooms, vocalized and gestured profanities. Some of them coming from persons claiming to be Christ-followers. Some of them coming from persons making no such claim. For those claiming to be Christian, there is a more profound condemnation as this is not to be part of our character (see Colossians 3 and Ephesians 4 which speak to putting off unwholesome talk and attitude).

For the Christian in these environments, the pressure is immense, the off-color locker room language and behavior has mob majority acceptance and tends to dishearten and disquiet those who might speak and act otherwise. There are few who feel strong enough to stand up against it – instead choosing to join in to gain acceptance or withdraw entirely. Here is where I have found from time to time, the presence of a chaplain is often helpful to abate or limit some of the behavior and language that goes on.

I recall one moment, walking into the training room, a player uttered a profanity in casual conversation with a team mate. Seeing me come to greet them, the player apologized, “Sorry, Rev., I shouldn’t have said that.” As chaplains, we have a preservative quality. We are like salt and light in the locker rooms and stadiums where we serve. The Holy Spirit inside of us often works to convict and limit the abusers in the game from getting out of control. It is often hard work – to be present to the sometimes verbal and emotional abuse that surrounds the professional game and to not carry that with us. It is only by the grace of God that we can be a helpful preservative.

In my prayer times for those in professional sport, I am challenged to pray for the abusers – that they would come to an awareness and conviction of their words and behaviors, that they would repentantly change, that God would honor and protect his people. Please join me in praying for them and for the chaplains that serve them.

Blessings,

Rev. Brad Kenney

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