Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

I know that most folks are tired of hearing about the whole LeBron James saga. For the past few weeks, it’s been nonstop speculation and rumors. Then, finally, last week James shocked the world, especially Northeast Ohio, with his decision to bolt to Miami for better weather—and presumably a better chance to win an NBA championship. I reflect on the drama in a commentary at UrbanFaith.com, where I explore the various messianic monikers that have been attached to James by his marketers and himself (e.g., the King, the Chosen One) and I wonder whether now a more appropriate biblical metaphor might be “the Prodigal Son.”

I know there are more important things happening in the world, and that when it comes down to it LeBron is only a basketball player. But, as Washington Post columnist and ESPN analyst Michael Wilbon says in this great piece, the LeBron story touches on so many other cultural flashpoints beyond simply sports. We’re talking issues of money and power, family and friendship, civic pride and loyalty, manhood and responsibility, and, of course, race.

You’ve got Dan Gilbert, the bitter owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, posting a scathing anti-James screed at the team’s website, accusing his former employee of betraying the team as well as his hometown. You’ve got folks in Ohio burning jerseys and scrambling to dismantle the gigantic downtown murals of LeBron that, to the outsider, always appeared just a little bit too excessive (like a shrine to a Greek deity, or like the Jackson brothers strolling triumphantly over the earth). And now you’ve got Jesse Jackson accusing Gilbert of viewing James as a runaway slave.

You knew the race angle was coming. It’s never too far away when you’re talking about professional sports in America, especially in the NBA, where 99 percent of the ballplayers are black and 99 percent of the franchise owners are white. William Rhoden’s controversial 2006 book, Forty Million Dollar Slaves, is just one of many commentaries linking pro sports in modern America to the slave trade of yesteryear. 

I wish Rev. Jackson wouldn’t have been the one to verbalize the obvious pachyderm in the room (“There he goes again, injecting race into everything!” folks will say), but there it is.

Personally, while I think it’s probably impossible to completely extract race from the issue of power relationships in pro sports, I believe Gilbert should be allowed to rant, rage, and generally come across as an emotional jerk without being accused of racism. He simply reacted like any scorned human being whose business just lost an estimated $100 million in value probably would. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. That said, I think it would’ve been wise for him to wait a few days before issuing a statement. The unintentional damage that he caused his franchise through his outburst could be worse in the long term than losing LeBron James.

Still, it’s unfair to imply that Gilbert is acting out of a “slave master mentality” just because he happens to be white and LeBron is black. That doesn’t excuse the fact that Gilbert might be a mean, arrogant, and impulsive billionaire who was trying to save face. But why add “racist” to the equation without sufficient proof?

But back to LeBron James. As long as he’s still able to do the things that LeBron James does on the basketball court, his reputation as a superstar player, though tarnished, will recover. The real tragedy, in my view, is the way James made his announcement. He had every right to leave Cleveland, but why do it in such a … ahem … cavalier manner? He was apparently so disconnected from the reality of his decision—and focused on his own self-interest—that he could not grasp the full implications of rejecting his former team and his devoted fans in Northeast Ohio on national TV in an overblown ESPN special. Or, as some have speculated, maybe he did it that way to inflict maximum pain on Gilbert and his franchise for some behind-the-scenes reason.

Either way, I hope James will someday grow into a more mature understanding of humility and compassion. Come to think of it, in an odd way, maybe that’s why he’s going to a place with two other elite stars in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh (not to mention team president Pat Riley). Maybe he’s leaving the comfort, security, and adoration found in Cleveland because in his home state he’ll always be venerated as “the Chosen One.” Maybe he needs to escape to Miami to become human again.

Read Full Post »

A Facebook friend sent me a link to a wonderful YouTube video. The clip, which apparently has now gone viral with over 366,000 views so far, captures 3-year-old Hannah as she recites a freestyle prayer before bedtime. Her exhausted dad rests on the bed beside her while her mom records the proceedings and offers a running supply of “Amens” and “Hallelujahs” and “That’s right, Hannahs” from behind the camera.

The video starts off as one of those sweet little things that you see on YouTube (you know, like the little girl quoting a mashed-up version of the Twenty-Third Psalm or the little boy awaking from an anesthesia-induced fog following a visit to the dentist). But after a couple minutes, you realize that Hannah is not your ordinary precocious 3-year-old; this little girl is an evangelist-in-the-making who is literally preaching her bedtime prayer. Clearly, the child is speaking out of an anointing of the Holy Spirit—and I’m not one to casually throw around statements like that. This child is on fire!

Check out the video below.

After watching the clip, I was truly moved. But then I clicked through to YouTube and noticed some of the viewers’ comments. Most of the viewers were as awestruck as I was. Here’s a few of their comments:

WOW! The Bible says train up a child; I applaud this mom and dad and say” Well done.

Jesus asked us to come to Him with childlike faith. Hannah is a great example of this! You can tell she believes everything she’s saying with her WHOLE heart! We should all be like that. Keep praising Jesus, Hannah! Don’t ever let age take away your PASSION!!

God’s word and praise from the mouth of a baby! Praise God for Hannah!

This is amazing!! It’s always great to see the results of parents raising their children up with the Lord in their life. we need more kids around like this and then maybe things like Columbine wouldnt happen. Keep up the good work with your daughter!!

But then I began to notice a string of comments from viewers who were disturbed by Hannah’s prayer. They felt her behavior was evidence of brainwashing and of her parents pushing their religion on an impressionable young child. At least one compared it to abuse. Some examples:

I passionately oppose religious brainwashing on children… THIS IS CHILD ABUSE AND BRAINWASHING POOR KID.

The only thing this video is proof of is behavioral modification….normally referred to as brainwashing. It’s what cultists and Islamic Madrasas do to create the kind of unthinking obedience necessary to martyrdom. This kind of thing is disgusting and abusive. A child this age has no conception of what the words she is saying even mean.

This is not to down nobodies religion as I was raised a Christian…. What I DO have a problem with is fundamentalist thinking those want to convert others ESPICALY YOUNG CHILDREN into their cult. Im disturbed by this.

The kid doesn’t understand anything more than the feedback she’s getting from Mom. You can get a kid to recite the quotations of Chairman Mao like this. This is how the Taliban programs future martyrs. It’s ugly, unthinking nonsense.

I was dumbfounded. I’ve heard these types of arguments before, but as I watched that little girl share from a heart that was obviously overflowing with God’s Word and wonderful values from her parents that had stuck, it never crossed my mind that this little girl was being programmed to parrot her parents’ narrow-minded beliefs. Her faith looks real to me. She owns it.

At the same time, a child does not embrace a faith like that without the ongoing nurturing and encouragement and prayers of her parents, grandparents, Sunday School teachers, etc. After all, as Christians, isn’t it our job to pass along these values to the next generation?

But can we, as Christian parents, ever cross the line? There are certainly stories of children who have been indoctrinated into religious or ideological beliefs that have been damaging to their young psyches. I think of the news reports I’ve watched of little children who are growing up under the firm hand of white supremacist parents, or children who are being raised under the influence of any number of cult-like movements.

Then there are parents who raise their children under the religion of money, fame, and commerce. I think of little Falcon Heene being pimped out by his parents for the promise of a reality-TV show and driven to the point of vomiting on live television.

Or what about Marcus Jordan, the son of Michael Jordan?

Marcus, a freshman at the University of Central Florida, is currently causing his new school all sorts of grief with his insistence that he will be wearing his dad’s brand of Nike shoes during games rather than the Adidas brand that the college’s athletic teams are contractually required to wear. So far, UCF has been scrambling to accommodate its famous freshman (and that potentially lucrative link to his famous dad) while trying not to jeopardize its $3 million agreement with Adidas.

I love Michael Jordan the ballplayer, but I can’t help thinking Michael Jordan the dad has apparently raised a son to believe that consumer marketing and product placement and Nike brand loyalty are more important values than humility and team unity and honoring the obligations of his athletic scholarship. As Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard (who is a Christian) has said, “If you’re going to be on the team, you have to do what the team asks you to do.” You would think Marcus’s dad would be dispensing that same type of advice.

Or, how about the Ohio teenager from a strict Muslim family who ran away from home after converting to Christianity because she claims her father threatened to kill her for becoming a Christian? After seeking refuge at a Christian couple’s home in Florida, a judge ruled that the girl must be returned to Ohio. Yikes!

Parenting is no easy task these days—and neither is being a kid. There are so many dangers, toils, and snares—gray areas that will trip up even the most well-intentioned, well-prepared folks who have read all of Dobson’s books.

Having spent the last nearly ten years raising little people—or, perhaps more accurately, helping my wife raise them (just kidding)—I sincerely have to salute parents who are able to instill an enthusiastic faith and passion for God into their children. This, I believe, is one of the most important jobs in the world. As Chris Rock has said, “Sometimes I look at my daughter …  and I realize my only job in life is to keep her off the pole!” [Here’s the YouTube clip of Rock; beware of his explicit language.]

Anyhow, back to little Hannah’s prayer. I’m curious to know what you folks out there think about the video and the criticism that this 3-year-old girl is somehow being brainwashed or abused by her parents because she demonstrates such a strong and ardent faith in God. Should we rejoice or be concerned?

Read Full Post »

urbanfaith logoThe past week saw a spike in public rudeness and incivility, at least in the worlds of politics and pop culture. By now, you’ve read the tweets and watched the YouTube clips of the various offenses, right?

Most of the incidents have led to multiple apologies (both sincere and compulsory), as well as a surplus of opinion and chatter that has confirmed the central role of Twitter and Facebook in relaying real-time commentary on breaking stories. But most of all, these outbursts have demonstrated, in often shocking fashion, just how impulsive, mean, and disrespectful the human heart can be.

(This is the intro to a new commentary I wrote for UrbanFaith.com. Click here to read the rest of the article.)

Read Full Post »

collegebballrough

Well, March Madness is over and tonight Michigan State and North Carolina face off in the men’s college basketball championship. Every year around this time, there’s a disturbing report or two highlighting the low graduation rates of African American college athletes, particularly in the NCAA basketball programs. This year, a study by the Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sports exposes some of the sad facts: While they excel on the court, most black players in elite college basketball programs leave college without a diploma. And it’s not just because they’re skipping out early for lucrative NBA careers. In “Got Game, But No Diploma,” a story featured today at The Root.com, once again hits us with a sobering dose of reality. Some excerpts:

If the championship in NCAA men’s basketball was based on the graduation rates of black players on the teams, it would be Duke and Villanova taking the court tonight in Detroit rather than Michigan State and the University of North Carolina….

 In general, white male student athletes graduate at 80 percent versus only 58 percent of their black teammates. That disparity represents a slight improvement over last year’s numbers which showed a 24 percent gap….

 None of the teams that made it to the Sweet 16 this year can boast a 100 percent graduation rate for its black players. Two colleges—Arizona and Gonzaga—didn’t graduate any black players at all. Arizona, Duke, Michigan State, Missouri, UNC, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh and Xavier graduated all of their white players….

 Some critics say that teams with especially poor graduation rates—like UConn with an overall graduation rate of 33 percent and Arizona with an overall rate of 20 percent—should not be eligible for the championship tournament….

 Michigan State had the greatest disparity in graduation rates among those Sweet 16 teams. All of its white players graduated; but only 43 percent of the black players got a diploma….

 Boyce Watkins, a professor at Syracuse University, sees the NCAA graduation numbers as just another tragic chapter in the lives of poor, black young men. “It’s like they back the bus up to the black neighborhoods, load up all the good players, then spit them out in a couple of years when they are done,” Watkins said. And when that happens, they often return to the poverty and distressed social conditions they left behind….

Debates about the treatment of African American student athletes in the big-time business of college sports will certainly continue (Should they be paid? Should they be required to stay in school longer before jumping to the NBA? Should there be greater attention paid to their academic eligibility?). But with literally billions of dollars at stake for the colleges, sponsors, TV networks, etc., I don’t anticipate anything changing soon. Still, as we’re watching those players run the court tonight in one of the biggest moneymaking sporting events of the year, I think it’s important to be mindful of these issues. Ultimately, those players are responsible for their own choices regarding their education and future success, but how complicit are we as consumers (and citizens) in enabling a system that may be doing more harm than good to the lives of these young athletes? And what, if anything, can we do to change it?

Read Full Post »

Lots of articles and posts to call your attention to this week. Though one friend recommended I post something on the lighter side, I think I’m still trending heavy with these. Forgive me.

  • A couple week’s ago, I posted about Michael Emerson’s UrbanFaith.com article on “The Redistribution Question.” It generated lots of feedback, mostly negative. Many disagreed with Michael’s perspective on the issue regarding what a Christian vision of economic justice might require of us. Last week, blogger Black Wasp presented a passionate defense of sorts of Michael Emerson’s commentary on redistribution. Needless to say, the topic stirred up a lively conversation over there as well.
  • Denise Wilmer Barreto, a Judson College classmate of mine, also posted a provocative commentary last week.  In it, she wonders about the motives of some Christians who advise “we really need to pray” for President Obama. Denise acknowledges that she’s treading on delicate ground, presuming to know the true intent behind what some folks are saying. But I think her willingness to “go there” can help us get one of the current evangelical “elephants in the room” out there “on the table” for discussion. (How’s that for mixing my metaphors? Sorry.) 
  • Did anyone see this article about the Christian high school in Texas that fired its girls basketball coach for allowing his team to run up the score and defeat their opponent 100 to 0? The story raises some interesting questions about competition, sportsmanship, leadership, and character development. I think the reader comments attached to this one are especially fascinating; you can see the “survival of the fittest” mentality in clear opposition to the “mercy and good will” spirit. 
  • Finally, I can’t resist offering one for Just Meee, who, as I said earlier, suggested I lighten up. Back in November, I did a post about the need for a new Barack Obama impersonator on Saturday Night Live. Well, in case you missed it, here’s one of the follow-up skits to the Obama parody that I highlighted by Jordan Peele from FunnyorDie.com. Be sure to watch it carefully for a subtle dig at one of President Obama’s (hopefully former) habits. 

Read Full Post »

When NBA coaches lose their jobs, it isn’t quite as shocking or gut-wrenching as when Republic Windows suddenly shuts down or AT&T lays off thousands of ordinary folks. Even so, when I heard yesterday that Philadelphia 76ers head coach Maurice Cheeks had been fired, I felt a twinge of sadness. Don’t misunderstand me; I’ve never been a big fan of the 76ers or any of the basketball teams Cheeks has coached or played for. (I’m a hopelessly devoted Bulls fan.) But Maurice Cheeks has always struck me as a humble and genuinely good man.

My respect for Maurice Cheeks increased back in 2003 when he was coaching the Portland Trailblazers. A 13-year-old girl had won the honor of singing the National Anthem before a big playoff game, but she forgot the words about halfway through. (I have to confess, I’ve never been able to successfully retain all the words to “The Star Spangled Banner” in my head either.) As the young girl stands there with the microphone shaking in her hand, clearly humiliated but not knowing how to regroup, Cheeks suddenly swoops in beside her, feeds her the lyrics, and stands there with her until she completes the song. It was a powerful moment that spoke volumes about what it means to be an American—and what it means to love your neighbor.

I’ll never forget Cheeks’s bold act of compassion and grace. I can only hope that I will have the same presence of mind to help someone in need, in the daily opportunities that I’m given to do so, the way Maurice Cheeks reached out to that young lady five years ago.

Read Full Post »

UrbanFaith.com posted a short article about the “Huxtable Effect.” This is the notion that the middle-class African American family portrayed in Bill Cosby’s famous ’80s sitcom, The Cosby Show, had an impact on the way Americans voted in last month’s presidential election. The theory is that the show helped normalized black people in the minds of white citizens to the point that they felt comfortable voting for an African American candidate. In other words, Cosby was Obama’s Jackie Robinson.

Or perhaps it’s not baseball or sitcoms but, rather, golf that helped lay the groundwork for Obama’s victory. Some commentators have suggested that it was actually Tiger Woods who paved the way for Obama’s breakthrough.

What do you think? If you have an opinion, please head over to UrbanFaith and leave a comment. And, of course, you’re welcome to chime in below as well.

Read Full Post »

This may be a bit of a departure from the usual themes on this blog, or maybe it isn’t. In any event, I was moved by this commentary/essay by Frank Deford this morning on NPR. It’s a cliche to say it, I know, but sometimes sport is the perfect metaphor for life.

Read Full Post »

The Olympic Emblem

Any strong opinions out there about the upcoming Summer Olympics in Beijing? It’s been fascinating to watch the chaotic journey of the Olympic torch, how it’s been forced to take unexpected detours around the various protest rallies. Consequently, the flame’s relay through San Francisco earlier this week turned into a farce. The protests, of course, are against the Chinese government and its oppressive policies toward the Tibetans and its own citizens, as well as its failure to put pressure on its trade partner, Sudan, to stop the genocide in Darfur.

Was the International Olympic Committee (IOC) wrongheaded in awarding this year’s Games to China, given the country’s history of human rights violations? Would the same blinding, international spotlight have been turned on China — which is in the process of becoming the globe’s next great economic player — had it not been awarded the 2008 Games? The IOC claims to be nonpolitical, but do you think they were trying to be politically subversive in giving the Games to China? Or was it all about the money?

I confess to being easily stirred by the spirit of international unity that the Olympics try to engender, at least for a couple of weeks. I could probably do without NBC’s saccharine TV coverage of the athletes’ “very special” journeys to the Games. But I do marvel at the sight of people of all different colors, languages, and nationalities coming together in peace.

Ah, but there’s plenty to be cynical about as well. Did anyone hear Sports Illustrated writer Frank Deford’s biting commentary about the Olympics on NPR’s Morning Edition this week? (You also can read it at SI.com.) He lays into the self-importance of the IOC and even suggests the Olympics have outlived their relevance:

Only the IOC still calls itself a movement and gets away with it. Hey, it’s no more than an international cartel that puts on a big show every four years. It’s just NASCAR with accents. And to tell you the truth, I think the Olympics are yesterday’s party. Once upon a time — before globalism and jet airplanes and cyberspace — bringing athletes together quadrennially in one place might have made sense. Today, it’s an unnecessary excess. And while insular Americans may not understand this, soccer’s World Cup has become much more important to many more people worldwide.

But, back to the China controversy, Deford isn’t all gloom and doom. He does hope the dedicated Olympic athletes are not punished as a result of this year’s politicized proceedings:

But hooray for all the Olympic athletes. Please, everybody, just threaten to boycott, but let the athletes all go to Beijing and have their day in the smog. It was so unfair when, in 1980, President Carter sacrificed our Olympians to make a point against the Soviet Union. But as the torch wends its way, spreading the bad news, I really think we might be seeing more than a censure of China. We may also be witness to the start of the Olympics’ real decline.

I love Frank Deford; he’s a virtuoso of the written word, the way Michael Jordan was with a basketball. Nonetheless, I think the Olympics can still be relevant. Who knows? Perhaps the Games in Beijing will lead to the ultimate undoing of the Chinese regime’s despotic ways. At the very least, maybe it will lead more people to be concerned about — and pray for — the oppressed and dying people of China, Tibet, and Darfur.

Read Full Post »

I just saw this development about the editor of Golfweek being let go after the magazine featured the image of a noose on its cover to illustrate its story about the Tiger Wood/Golf Channel controversy. My first thought was, Here goes the political correctness again. And as you read this report on the situation, it becomes clear that the magazine only acted in an attempt to pacify its consumers, advertisers, and distributors (and probably to head off Al Sharpton’s inevitable attacks).

As a journalist, I can understand the editor’s desire to present a provocative, attention-grabbing cover that communicates the subject matter. Would I have gone with a noose? Probably not. Still, did this guy really need to lose his job over it? That’s up for debate. However, I found one of the best comments about the situation over at the reader forum area of the Chicago Tribune.  A reader named Richard wrote:

This really points out the fact of how much we need diversity in the meeting rooms when these major decisions are being made. And not just having someone in the meeting room as a token or being muzzled, but allowing that person of color to voice his/her opinion without reprisal.

I’m sure it was not the Editor’s intentions to negatively inflame this story, but without having the inherent feeling and sensitivity, of how emotional a “noose” is from a historical perspective for African Americans, he could not make the right and best decision, that is, “not” to illustrate a noose on the cover of a major magazine.

All in all, boardrooms, meeting rooms, workplaces must aim for diversity in the higher halls of management, so that these type of mistakes, that are becoming all too common, will not happen.

While I don’t think having more diversity on a staff absolutely guarantees things like this won’t happen (I’ve missed my share of potentially offensive stuff as I’ve edited magazines), I do think Richard makes an important point.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 42 other followers

%d bloggers like this: