The perils of being a Christian athlete

In an electrifying game the Baltimore Ravens defeated the San Francisco 49ers to become Super Bowl champions of 2013. As Baltimore holds celebrations for their winning sons, reporters will look to uncover any tantalizing details into strategy that won the big game.

Case in point, The Washington Post covered a rumor concerning Ray Lewis’ use of deer velvet antler spray to win. What!?! This takes performance enhancing drugs to a whole new level. Lewis’ response?

Don’t let people from the outside ever try to disturb what’s inside.’ That’s the trick of the devil. The trick of the devil is to kill, steal and destroy. That’s what he comes to do. He comes to distract you from everything you’re trying to do.

Lewis’ faith in God has been well covered. One particular article on his faith in the The New York Times caught my attention with the tile, “A Sinner Holds Tight to Faith And Second Chance.” The article comes right out and jams the two extremes of Lewis’ life: his faith in God and his run ins with the law. During a 2000 Super Bowl party, Lewis was implicated in the murders of two people. The charges were dropped on the condition he pleaded to obstruction of justice and testify at the murder trial. The reporter very clearly had a grasp of Lewis’ conflicted life:

During an interview last year at about this time, I asked Lewis which biblical figure he most closely identified with. Without hesitation, Lewis cited David, who is often depicted as a flawed but righteous king, warrior, musician and poet.

To many, Lewis is seen as hypocrite. He talks about God publicly but his actions do not speak well of his character or faithfulness. This is one of the many perils  religious athletes face. Ray Lewis describes himself as David. Perhaps this is a fitting image. A king of the football world, but is flawed by his temptations and behavior. However, this is the peril of being a famous Christian athlete. You struggle with doing the right thing but your mistakes are broadcasted around the world. More than the average person.

There are other more “clean faced” Christian athletes. That is, their failures are smaller, just well hidden, or minimized. Tim Tebow, Kurt Warner, Jeremy Lin (remember Linsanity?), and Robert Griffin III just to name a few. If any of those guys ever did something wrong, the criticism would be great because the public knows of their Christianity and would be judge more harshly. Why? Because they wear their faith on their sleeve. Their fall from glory is greater because they are viewed as being more virtuous and religious. Those players have told the world they answer to a higher power and therefore have set the piety bar higher.
Ray Lewis, for example, is a guy – a Christian – who tries to follow God. He sins. He fails.  He repents. He is forgiven. He wins football games. He is no better or worse Christian than you or I.  He admits his journey on the road of faith is not an example of piety:The problem with setting the bar higher for a Christian athlete in professional sports is that they are no

different than you or I. We all mess up. Our sins are there, but most don’t see our failures. For the famous athlete, their sins, flaws, and controversies are amplified a million times over.

“Trust me, don’t ever take my path… Don’t ever do it the way I did it, because everyone won’t make it. You got to be willing to walk in a storm. That’s what I tell people all the time. If there’s something in your life that you know needs changing, make sure you change it before God’s got to change it. Because if God’s got to change it, you ain’t going to like it.”

The perils of being a Christian professional athlete abound. Let’s not judge them with a higher standard just because they are famous a Christian.   Abraham, Issac, Moses, David, Paul, and Peter all made sinful mistakes. They were called by God to lead God’s people. We tend to remember their successes but not their failures. Just because a professional athlete is a Christian it doesn’t automatically called to role model leaders for Christianity.

Alan Rudnick

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About the Author
Alan Rudnick has been featured on television, radio, print, and social media and serves as the Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Ballston Spa, NY. He has quickly established himself as a leader, blogger, and commentator in the areas of faith, Christianity, ministry, and social media. He is the author of, “The Work of the Associate Pastor”, Judson Press. Alan’s writing has been featured with the Albany Times Union, The Christian Century, Associated Baptist Press, and The Fund of Theological Education. http://alanrudnick.org

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