I had always tried to be even-tempered when it came to the referees and officials of sporting events. As the spiritual leader in sports, recreation, and fitness programs, I felt it was important to not lose my witness over a bad call or a missed call in a game.
If one mentions the 2019 NCAA Final Four Basketball tournament to an Auburn fan, they are likely to hear about a foul call or a missed double-dribble call at the end of the game. If you mention the Los Angeles Rams being in last year’s Superbowl, the New Orleans Saints’ fans will scream about a missed pass interference call. Even my beloved Kansas City Royals benefited from an incorrect call at first base in the ninth inning of game six of the 1985 World Series to help them win their first championship.
Again, relying on my leadership of sporting events, I would be quick to talk the angry fan off the ledge. If the official makes the correct call, there’s no guarantee Auburn doesn’t turn the ball over, the Saints score the winning touchdown, or the Cardinals would get the final two outs to claim the title. My attempts receive a loud and resounding, “But.” What follows is speculation, rationalization, and justification of the call and how the remainder of the game could have played out.
I’m good at taking the higher road until it’s my team.
My middle son was playing on one of the church’s high school baseball teams. We competed in the Germantown city league as we did not have enough support to include baseball at that age in our church sports program. The city league, as most youth leagues, had a home plate umpire and one on the bases. I found our participation in the city league to be another and viable use of church sports as we could influence the community with our righteous behavior during games.
My son’s team had not been successful in terms of wins that year. So we were excited when we were only down by one run in the bottom of the last inning in the last game of the season. The first two batters reached first base and second base safely. The next batter pops up a pitch to the shortstop. The umpire, as he should, called the batter out due to the infield fly rule. The runners retreated to their respective bases and stood on top of them.
That’s when things got crazy. The shortstop dropped the fly ball and threw to the second baseman who touched and tagged the runner standing on the base. The umpire then ruled the runner on first out on a force play and the man on second out for not running to third. The team in the field ran off as victors as the umpire ended the game with a triple play.
That’s when I, and remember I’m the “spiritual leader,” leaped to my feet in the bleachers and started screaming that the runners should not be out. The base umpire conferred with the home plate umpire and both agreed the game ended on the play, which only made me scream even louder. As I was having my tirade, my wife at the time and other parents from our church were quietly moving away from me as if to say, “We’re not with him.”
One of the men came to me and was able to settle my extraverted emotions for a moment. I then went on a quiet tirade for him, which included speculation, rationalization, and justification of the act and my subsequent behaviors.
How is it that I can speak of the “high road” in respecting the calls of referees and umpires and with the same mouth scream at them in what I perceived to be total ignorance and sight impairment? James wrote about it in a letter he wrote to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations. He said, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” (James 3:9-10 NIV)
What made it so easy to show my true nature in a heated moment? That, my friends, is one of the reasons we participate in sports, recreation, and fitness ministries. It is in our leisure moments that the real personality comes out in all of us. One of my fellow ministers once told me that the sports, recreation, and fitness ministry gets to deal with people at their lowest level of immaturity. He’s correct, and that’s why we devote ourselves to this calling.
Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17 NIV)
Programs and facilities in sports, recreation, and fitness ministries are created and used to help people know about the love Jesus has for them as well as demonstrating how people can become followers of Jesus. Thankfully, grace extends to someone like me that talks the talk but doesn’t always walk the walk. There are hundreds of “me” in your programs. Give them grace and show them the way to know Jesus personally.