How Shall A Christian Conduct Himself In Professional Sports?


Occasionally I receive letters from outstanding Christian athletes or their parents as to what to expect when choosing sports as a profession, and how one can remain a Christian in such occupations. Professional sports present special hazards for the Christian and tend to encourage lifestyles out of harmony with Christian principles. This is especially true today. I have written about this in bits and pieces, but here I am addressing the overall concept without becoming overly verbose. What I write here is not intended to negate the positive contribution of sports in terms of the benefits of honest competition, striving for excellence, goal setting, work ethic, overcoming obstacles, competing by the rules, etc. which I have emphasized in several articles. I have also found that every reference to sports in the Bible, and there are many, is used to illustrate the importance of faith and godly living rather than the promotion of sports. In my honest opinion, choosing professional sports as a profession does present some special challenges as to maintaining faith in Jesus Christ. As America’s interest in sports is on the increase, genuine faith in Jesus Christ is on the decrease.

                 Act Like a Christian in All Situations

First, a Christian should think and act as a Christian at all times and in all situations. He should not compartmentalize his life (family, social, business, political, etc.) by placing anything off limits in terms of following the principles taught by Jesus Christ. The path which God has chosen for us is the path of righteousness. Not only does righteousness exalt a nation (Pro. 13:34 ), it also exalts any occupation. Obviously, we can involve ourselves in ill-gotten gain (Pro. 145:11; 28:16) which is destructive to society, although temporary profitable to those so engaged. A Christian’s loyalty is first and foremost to God as, the scriptures teach. Jesus said, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). These principles apply to family, social, business, political and church relationships and ought to be consistently applied. Cheating in business is no more acceptable than cheating on your wife. When it comes to “stretching the truth” we cannot say, “Oh, that is just normal business or political speech!” To believe that cheating does not go on in sports is to be na├»ve. In baseball, this may include applying foreign substances to the ball, stealing signs electronically from the scoreboard, using substances (drugs, amphetamines, steroids, growth hormones) to artificially enhance performance, and other things off limits for the Christian. Seeking to deliberately harm someone is no more acceptable in sports than in any other arena of life. This includes deliberately throwing at batters, or attempting to injure another player (or having no concern about whether or not you injure another player) in basketball, football, etc. Lip service may be given to “sportsmanship” but too often “winning” is the bottom line and the only important thing.

                             Your Word Matters

Rather than making vows we do not intend to keep, Jesus taught, “But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil” (Matt. 5:37). That is your word is to be your bond. Live up to all of your contracts and agreements which includes good training habits and taking care of your body, which in sports is the source of your income. Do not involve yourself in any partnership, agreement or arrangement that would violate your conscience or the teachings of Christ as you understand them. The end does not justify the means. Do not endorse products that you do not personally use or believe in. Your name, which stands for your reputation, should not be for sale. These principles are just as true today as anytime in the past and the millions and billions of dollars going into professional sports does not change any of this. It is this influx of money that tends to have a corrupting influence upon sports. It is hard to put Jesus first when so much money is a stake. This is why Jesus said, “Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt. 19:24) and “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). Nevertheless, money is not the root of all evil as some misunderstand what the Bible teaches, but “the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Tim. 6:10). Should Christians Show Their Faith in Public?  Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”  (Matt. 5:14-16).  That sounds rather public to me.  Does it not sound that way to you?  The “good works” involved are those things that bring glory to God.  Peter, in dealing with this same problem where there might be antagonism shown toward the follower of Jesus Christ, said this: “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12). Good behavior toward others breaks down many barriers. Treat others well no matter how they treat you.  Paul had the same thing in mind when he wrote: “Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). The Christian is to imitate Jesus Christ in his conduct: “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls” (I Pet. 2:21-22).  If the Christian cannot live his faith in the public square, then where, when and how?

                        Show No Respect of Persons

Showing respect of persons is an ungodly trait (see Acts 10:34-35; Galatians 3:28; James 2:1-4). Christians are to show no personal favoritism based upon race, class or gender. This principle applies whether it be the “stars” of the team, the clubhouse man, or the bat boy.  Treat everyone with dignity and respect. Also, do not look down your nose at fans or treat them rudely when they ask for your autograph.  If for some reason you cannot sign, at least give them a polite answer. I do have sympathy for celebrities who are continually being mobbed in public and the fans become rude and crude. Even so, celebrities should know how to conduct themselves even in difficult situations. In certain cities, I would be mobbed and young fans would stick something in my face to sign. I would tell them politely that I would be glad to sign, but I would not sign if they press too close. Then I would deliberately sign for those who were polite and farther back. Soon everyone would get the idea and move back. Actually, one is under no obligation to sign for those who are rude, but you don’t have to repay rudeness with rudeness. There are ways of dealing with fans without elevating anger or showing disrespect. Even signing autographs is a teaching opportunity.

                         Do Not Be Guilty of Arrogance

Avoid all appearances of arrogance. The best way to do that is not to be arrogant. The Christian understands that all good gifts, including athletic talent, come from God, and that many others have sacrificed so that your talent could be developed. (see Acts 17:25; James 1:17). Furthermore, all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (see Romans 1:19). Therefore, all glory and praise belongs to Jesus Christ!  God hates arrogance on the part of man. To be self-righteous, look down our noses at others and have an exalted opinion of ourselves based upon God given talents, riches or worldly honor is definitely a form of arrogance. The athlete should avoid the trap of thinking more highly of himself than he ought to think. (see Rom. 12:3). You cannot keep people from making an “idol” out of sport celebrities, but you can do much in pouring cold water on such ideas rather than promoting or basking in false glory. A good example of pouring cold water on such things is Tebow being interviewed for several hours more than two months ago by the New York press and consistently downplaying the praise of adoring fans. It is fatal to get caught up in this mania. Defect over-the-top praise, but make sure you praise what is praiseworthy in others. Arrogance takes away the ability to understand reality. No one really likes an arrogant athlete. Keep your feet on the ground and keep looking up to God for all strength and power.

       Know When to be Shut Up and When to SpeakUp

You cannot control, nor are you responsible, for the speech and conduct of others in your business and social associations. It is not your role to control the speech and conduct of those around you, even though you may find such language and actions very distasteful. However, this does not mean that you condone or approve such conduct. Nor does it mean that you always remain silent in expressing your own feelings and views when it is appropriate and timely to do so. “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Pro. 12:18). Sometimes it is wise to be silent, and sometimes it is wise to speak out. “The one who guards his mouth preserves his life; the one who opens wide his lips comes to ruin” (Pro. 13:3-4).  That is a good lesson in dealing with the press which has so much to do with professional sports. Pick your battles, and don’t let others dictate them for you. “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col. 4:6). “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29) The most powerful influence that we have is to be consistent in practicing what we believe. Part of this is to treat others as you would like to be treated, to show consideration for all men, for every person has been created in the image of God. In order to do this, it is not necessary to “wear Christ on your shirt sleeve” or turn the clubhouse into a preaching ministry. You cannot force Christianity on anyone, and any method that involves forcing people against their will is counter productive. As the occasion presents itself, be ready always to defend what you believe. Read I Pet. 3:14-17. You are already a target because you are different from the world, so be prepared to defend what you believe but do so in a spirit of meekness. This passage does not have to do with the Christian being the aggressor, but rather, it has to do with the Christian giving an answer when his faith is under attack. Sometimes we live in a hostile environment and so ought to heed the words of Jesus to his disciples: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matt. 10:16).

                            Be Friendly To Everyone

Yes, the Christian should be friendly and kind to everyone, even those who are ungodly. Paul wrote to Titus, who was a believing Gentile, with this instruction as to what he should teach other Christians in regard to treatment of others: “Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.  For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.  But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,  whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.   This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds.  These things are good and profitable for men” (Tit. 3:1-8). There is a wealth of information packed into these few verses. These instructions do not mean, nor have they ever meant, that the Christian should be an easy target for the bully or those who try to intimidate others. Genuine disciples of Jesus Christ are not cowards nor can they be intimidated just because their methods are different from those of the world. It is a serious misreading of the scriptures to think that Christians can be frightened or have no backbone in standing up for that which is right or that the methods they choose are not exceedingly powerful (see 2 Cor. 10:1-5) in the midst of an ever changing world seeking for meaning and true happiness. Make yourself available to those who are having a hard time and need encouragement. Do not cater to the rich or powerful for personal advantage. Do not do your “good works” to be seen of men, or make a public display of your religion. Christianity does not work that way. On the other hand, do not hide your faith or be ashamed of what you believe. Let others rant and rave, yell and scream. Such outbursts of anger do not become a Christian. Work hard and expect a lot of yourself, but do not be too hard on yourself when you fail. Be aware of your own failures and weaknesses but do not allow these things to crush your spirit or leave you in despair. Everyone has weaknesses and “ups” and “downs” are part of life and part of growing. Such things are an integral part of sports. My final point is this: Christians cannot survive sports morally and spiritually unless they are a genuinely committed to Jesus Christ! It is nice to do something that you enjoy, makes a lot of money, brings a lot of glory and praise and is popular with the people, but not at the cost of your soul. Paul wrote: “In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. 7 But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; 8 for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Tim. 4:6-8).

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This article is electronically published in the May, 2012 issue of “Pitching For The Master”.   If you or others you know would like to receive advanced copies of PFTM attached to E-mail let me know at my E-mail address: lindymcdaniel77@reagan.com. You may access my blog by first going to lindymcdaniel.com and clicking the blog button. I welcome all comments and stand to be corrected on any point of factual error. Photo at the beginning of this article was taken recently along the “River Walk” close to the “Alamo” in San Antonio, Texas where my wife Nancy and I took a 2 day vacation. Nancy asks me, “What does that photo have to do with your subject?” I reply, “Nothing.  I just like the photo."  As always, we met a lot of interesting people and had a great time.

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