Wednesday, May 13, 2009
My 17-year-old son, Cedric is in this week's issue of Sports Illustrated! Below is an on-line brief.
GIG HARBOR, WASH. > Flatwater Kayak
Cedric, a junior at Covenant High, is the nation's No. 1-ranked junior flatwater sprint kayaker after winning all four events he entered -- the 500- and 1,000-meter solo races and two-man events (with Luke Potts of Lanier, Ga.) -- at the junior world trials in Chula Vista, Calif. He will represent the U.S. at the junior world championships in Moscow.
All of which reminds me of what I wrote about sports in STAND FAST In the Way of Truth, from chapter 4, The Way to Fall:
Sports and pride
Moments before the 500 meter US Sprint Kayak Nationals final I asked one of my sons what his race strategy was. “I win, they lose,” he said with a grin. He’s a big Ronald Reagan fan and likes quoting Reagan’s Cold War strategy. Two days earlier he’d lost the 1000 meter sprint to a Hungarian-born paddler by 4,800ths of a second and was absolutely determined not to cut things so close. He did win the 500 and by a bigger margin. And then the monster pride rears his ugly head.
Competitive sports, young men, and pride are a union forged in hell. If you are an athlete—or the father of one--you must particularly beware of pride. Why? Because, as C. S. Lewis put it:
"Pride is essentially competitive—is competitive by its very nature. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. It is Pride—the wish to be richer than some other rich man, and (still more) the wish for power. For, of course, power is what Pride really enjoys."
Most young men love competition. Men thrive on it. And we love power. We love being strong and being in control of people and situations. Many great things have been accomplished by powerful men straining to be the best. Consider General Bradley’s quip as George Paton led the 3rd Army in victory after victory, ever deeper into German-held territory in WW II: “Give George another headline and he’ll be good for another thirty miles.” It’s embarrassing, but we’re inclined to do more if we’re getting lots of credit for doing it. Feed our pride and we’ll conquer the world.
Unlike war, where pride might motivate a young man to do great deeds that benefit others, in sports young men are easily consumed with shameless self-interest. Listen to the boasting of professional athletes. Watch the swagger of the varsity basketball jock. See the jutted chin and hauteur of the All-American quarterback. Gaze in disgust at the unabashed self-conceit of the running back as he struts and preens in the end-zone. Listen to your teammates. Hear your own words. Look into your own heart. If you are a competitive athlete, beware of pride.
“If sports are supposed to build character,” wrote Brad Wolverton in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “recent evidence suggests that college athletics is falling down on the job.” He cites a study of the moral reasoning of 70,000 college students conducted over two decades. The result? “Athletes have significantly lower moral-reasoning skills than the general student population.” Moral reasoning—what the ancients called virtue--leads you to use your strength and skill in the interest of others. Competitive sports can flip things around. So impressed with your own athletic prowess, you sneer in disdain at others. Gradually, you begin to think of yourself as a worthy object of the most devout—and disgusting--self-worship.
Once on your knees before yourself, the absurdity of it all never occurs to you. How ridiculous for you to be puffed up over strengths and skills God ultimately gave you! But seeing your pride for what it is requires a changed heart.
Only a grateful heart will keep the nonsense of your pride in check. Just when you’re swelling up at your victory, offer thanksgiving that God gave you a healthy body, that he gave you the opportunity to develop your skill, and if you’re really good at it, the particular talent that sets your performance above the pack. Remind yourself that this is God’s doing.
Then brace yourself like a man. The devil slithers near. “Yes, but you’ve worked hard—harder than the rest,” he hisses in your ear. “You’re first on the water and last off every workout.” Stop your ears. The devil woos with “honest trifles.” Believe him and, as Shakespeare put it, he will “betray you in deepest consequence.”