Saturday, March 26, 2016

March Madness

This is definitely a different type blog for me to write. Sports fan or not most of us are aware of March Madness. I am going to probably lose many of you with the following admission. I am a Duke Basketball fan & have been so since I was seven years old. There is one thing only those that know me best realize & that is that I value fairness/honesty above being a fan.

If you hate a player who plays for your rival would you love that same player if he wore the jersey of your team? Can you answer that honestly? That call you thought went against your team that you are certain was a charge. Would it still be that if your team got the call? Do you take partial accounts of stories & run with them if they support your dislike of another team?

I accept that the word fan is short for fanatic & we can all be that at times. Even though I will not go on social media & taunt when my team wins or whine when they lose doesn't mean I don't behave like a fool at times. Ask my wife. Wait... maybe don't do that.

I was involved in sports for much of my life. Playing as a kid & as a young man, though certainly not on any level near March Madness. The most meaningful thing I did was coach young boys in the sport of basketball for twenty years. No one wanted to win more than I did. I actually believe sports competition for kids is a good thing but that is not a story for today.

As a coach I failed miserably at times, both as a winner & loser. I tried not to rub victory in the other team's face because if you are a part of sports you know what it is like to lose & losing hurts. Still, there are times when we won championship nail biter games that I wish I would have been more calm. Celebrated less. One incident in particular, comes to mind. We had an injury bug the week of the tournament & somehow still won by two points. I forgot this for many years until someone reminded me I sank to the floor & screamed, "Yes," repeatedly. Many years later I saw it on video. I was embarrassed. I still am. I know it was the sheer relief of the week but there was a coach, who I thought a lot of who was waiting to shake my hand. I don't think he thought badly of me. We were rivals but respectful rivals. Not the I hate you because your jersey is a different kind of color.

Today, I would never do that. I will not argue sports or much of anything else. Duke won it all last year & I was thrilled but I never rubbed it in the face of my friends who love a different shade of blue. I wonder sometimes if we don't hate our rival more than we love our team. I have had to think about that one for sure.

Grayson Allen, who plays for Duke, did a bonehead thing & tripped two opponents in games earlier this year. Now he is a villain. People are just looking for the next thing he does & when you look for things with such zeal you will find them whether they are true or not. It reminds me of people who look for the devil behind every bush.

These incidents will follow him thanks to our age of social media, which is both a blessing & a curse. I did similar things in games on a far less stage. Thankfully, there are no videos of it looping on social media.

So today, I can say I would not do those things but here is a big difference. I am almost sixty. Grayson Allen is twenty years old. How many stupid things did you & I do at age twenty? We need to think about those things before we become so judgmental. I make no excuses for his behavior. He was wrong. I just am not comfortable labeling him a bad person now for the rest of his life because of poor decisions that came out during competition. Those that never cared about sports you may not get this but those of you that have participated I think that you will, because I doubt any of you have always behaved in an exemplary fashion, especially when we care so much about winning and losing.

Sure you can say I would have a different opinion if he played for another team. But what you wouldn't know is when P.J. Hairston, who played for the other shade of blue,  kept making bad decisions in life I took no comfort in that. I prayed for him. He is a young man who has made mistakes but that doesn't mean he always will.

Making a bad choice does not make someone a bad person. If that were true there would be no hope for any of us.

Fortunately, God does not keep playing a loop of our mistakes. His grace is far better than that. Maybe some will share negative comments about this because of their allegiance to a sports team. So be it. There are people who seem to live for that sort of thing. I read a nice article online this week about a young player & the comments turned ugly quickly. People going back & forth calling each other names in the comments section. That is not a life for me.

I surely do not want to be judged for the times I acted or reacted poorly during a sports contest. We that believe in God have pretty much all heard in one message or another on Sunday, that we are not our mistakes.

Couldn't we apply that same grace to athletes? Coaches? Each other?