Big Ben and The Sporting Culture

April 16, 2010

I am a huge sports fan. Every day I try to sneak in at least a few minutes of Sportscenter every day to get my daily fix. I regularly read espn.com and tune into sports radio in the car on occasion. I played basketball (not very well) in high-school and twice a week play pick-up games at a local church. My favorite sport is the NFL. I love football on Sundays after church.

So you have to know that I’ve been following the Ben Rothlisberger story with interest. Ben is one of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks, but apparently off the field, his morality is very loose. It has the proud Steeler’s organization thinking trade and the NFL talking suspension. But something struck me in the statement Roger Goodell, the NFL Commissioner made yesterday in a memo to all the NFL teams. He urged them to act and not cover up criminal offenses. That’s good. He urged them to remind the players who they play for, etc. That’s also good.

But this little nugget struck me:

We must conduct ourselves in a way that “is responsible, that promotes the values upon which the league is based, and is lawful.”

The Commissioner wants players to conduct themselves in a manner consistent with the “values upon which the league is based.” What are those values? This got me to thinking. Maybe Big Ben was conducting himself in a manner consistent with league values. And maybe that’s the problem.

All you have to do is watch an NFL game and you get a good education on league values: drinking, sex, and violence. Now I’m a huge football fan, but as a Christian, you must have your finger on the fast-forward button and your eyes ready to look away during an average football game. The league makes billions on beer sponsorships. Sure, they give the obligatory “be responsible” tag at the end, but honestly every commercial portrays “the good life.” They use scantily clad women and sexual innuendo to sell beer. The message is clear: all the cool people are drinking and messing around. Then you have the Super Bowl, which is less about the game and more about the big giant party. ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and other sports media giants make millions of off swimsuit editions. And I’m not even thinking about the huge link between sports and gambling. Do you see where I’m going?

You pay guys like Ben Rothlisberger millions of dollars. You send the message consistently that drinking and sex are what the cool people do. And you wonder why guys like him actually act on on the values you project.

Now, I’m not condoning Ben’s reprehensible behavior toward women. He will stand before His maker one day. I pray that Ben uses this time of brokenness and humility to see His need for a Savior. At the end of the day, Ben’s sin is a choice. He can’t blame the devil or the worldly system. Adam and Even lived in Eden and still fell. Sin lurks at the door of the human heart.

Yet the sports media, which engages the locker-room, frat-house lifestyle, is hypocritical in suddenly acting self-righteous about Big Ben. The Commissioner’s concern about “the values of the league” ring hollow. And sports franchises getting all religious is somewhat hypocritical. Because all of these entities promote the worldly, undisciplined lifestyle that Big Ben is living to excess.

It powerfully proves a Biblical point. Sin always has a wonderful, alluring package, but while it may offer a season of pleasure, it always leads to death. If the sporting culture really, really wanted to solve the problem rather than covering it up, it would abandon its greedy partnership with the baser instincts of our society, such as drinking and illicit sexual activity.

It’s foolish for us as a society to wonder why we get stories like Big Ben’s when we so eagerly push the behaviors that lead to it.