Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

Writing for Bleacher Report

Posted: February 8, 2012 in Sports

I love sports and I enjoy writing.  It only makes sense that I would love sportswriting.

I’ve recently received the opportunity to do just that.

Bleacher Report is the US’s 4th largest sports media site with approximately 20 million monthly viewers.  It attracts sports fans who are better labeled as “sports nuts.”

Think about a person you know who loves sports so much that he won’t stop talking sports after he gets started.  Opinions, stats, and trade rumors ooze out of him faster than what he can even breathe.

If you can now picture this person (and it may be yourself), then you’re beginning to understand who visits Bleacher Report.

Bleacher Report is endless sports banter on whatever league, team, or topic you wish.  It provides the latest rumblings in very reader-friendly articles and slideshows.  Moreover, the site is operated like a well-oiled machine.  Writers feed their work to trained editors, and the best pieces from the most accomplished writers receive high visibility status on the site.

Anyways, I got approved to write for the site a couple weeks ago and I was super stoked.  Then, after my first couple posts, I already was sworn at and called a retard by hostile fans.

Now, I’m recovering from my cyber-skirmish while having fun pumping out articles on the NBA, the Bulls, and whatever else comes to mind.  I plan to continue doing this for the coming weeks and months, and potentially the rest of my life…let’s just be honest.

With that said, my personal blog has suddenly grown lifeless.  The crickets are out and things are pretty silent on “The Jumbled Backpack.”  I do, however, still plan to post on occasion.  My blog will now warp into a place where I solely process thoughts on Christian discipleship, because the sports are obviously taking care of themselves on Bleacher Report.

If you’re interested in checking out a few of my B/R articles, here’s a sampling:

A piece on NBA contenders and pretenders;

A piece questioning why Derrick Rose isn’t treated like typical MVP’s;

And a piece on the Bulls having the NBA’s best fans.

That’s the latest from me.  I know my personal blog only generates about 5 loyal readers, but I still figured it was worth cluing those readers in on my latest disappearance from the blogosphere.

Cheers!

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Brian Scalabrine is Better Than You

Posted: January 25, 2012 in Sports

Look, I get it.  Brian Scalabrine is fun.  If you’re a Bulls fan, you inevitably get excited when “the White Mamba” enters the game.  There’s something fun about rooting for the guy on the end of the bench, especially when he’s the token white guy with red hair.

But I don’t think there’s anyone who actually takes Brian Scalabrine seriously — like he really was a stud at the Division I level in college, like he really has been in the league for over 10 years, like he simply really is an NBA player.  People disregard this when it comes to the White Mamba.  He’s practically become a joke.  It’s as if we assume the Bulls nabbed him at the local YMCA and it could have very easily been any one of us.  We act like Scalabrine has no skills, no athleticism, no game, and no purpose being in the NBA.  Many of us probably think we could even take him in 1 on 1.

But Brian Scalabrine is better than all of us.  Yes, he’s even better than you.

I know you laugh your head off when his pasty skin checks into the game.  Next time you do that, remember that he’s better than you.

I know you chant his name late in games as if he were the greatest scrub basketball has ever known.  Next time you do that, remember that he’s better than you.

I know you think he gets lucky every time he scores.  Next time you think that, remember that he’s better than you.

And I know some of you think you’re just as good as Scalabrine.  Next time you think that, ask yourself if you can even dribble behind your back.

I hope you know this is satirical.  I’m making a point by exaggeration.  If you think I’m really trying to prove that Brian Scalabrine is better than you, then make fun of me.  I’m just magnifying the common notion concerning the White Mamba these days.  He’s become a joke.  And it’s to the point where we must be reminded that he’s actually an NBA player.  You don’t just land a job in the NBA like you land a job working at Dunkin’ Donuts.

Frankly, Brian Scalabrine has shown some serious flashes of game lately.  Due to a host of injuries, the Bulls have been forced to give Scalabrine some spot minutes and he’s performed greatly.  One thing about his game is undeniable: his basketball IQ is off the charts.  In the past couple games, he’s always in the correct spot on defense, he’s notched a handful of dimes, and he hasn’t forced anything out of his repertoire on offense.  Coach Thibodeau is undoubtedly pleased.

The White Mamba is better than all of us, must we be reminded once more.  He’d throw you around like a rag doll in the post.  He’d take you in H-O-R-S-E by the score of H to H-O-R-S-E.  He’d D you up way better than the all-conference dude who guarded you in high school.  And he could probably even dunk on you and make a poster.

Next time your friend makes fun of Brian Scalabrine, tell him, “Dude, he’s better than you.”  If that doesn’t leave him speechless, then I don’t know what will.

A recent Sports Illustrated issue featured an article entitled “Tom Brady As You Forgot Him.”  Author Michael Rosenberg flashed back to Brady’s college days at Michigan, when he was viewed, in Rosenberg’s words, as “an ordinary Big Ten QB — average arm strength, limited mobility.”  This article snagged my interest instantly, because I’ve followed the Michigan Wolverines my whole life and I vividly remember when Brady wore the maize and blue.

What I remember most about when Brady wore the maize and blue was exactly what the article was about — his awkward quarterback battle with prized underclassman Drew Henson.  Henson showed up to Ann Arbor when Brady was a fourth-year junior, and Wolverine-nation knew it was a matter of time before Henson would usurp Brady’s throne.

Brady endured scorn, doubt, and adversity from coaches and fans — to the point in which he considered transferring.  But he persevered and made the most of his remaining two years.  Interestingly, his senior year featured he and Henson sharing playing time.  Brady played the first quarter, Henson the second, and whoever was on more of a roll got the ball for the second half.  I can’t recall any other QB situations that have been this peculiar.

Brady went on to start most of the second halves, showing leadership, grit, and an unfading work ethic, which included hours upon hours of film study.  Brady’s career was capped off with an Orange Bowl victory against Alabama, in which he threw four touchdowns.  Despite his solid play, everyone figured he would vanish from the football landscape as he departed from Ann Arbor.  Perhaps he would mosey NFL sidelines for a couple years as a third stringer, but most believed he would soon find himself in the business world like all the other average Big Ten quarterbacks.

We all know the rest of Tom Brady’s story.  Sometimes I still can’t believe Tom Brady has become an undisputed Hall of Fame quarterback.  In my mind, he too often lingers as the skinny, slow kid who once couldn’t fully earn a starting spot in college.  It remains hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that he’s a 3-time (could be 4-time in the next few weeks) Super Bowl Champion and a 2-time MVP.

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Many people also know what came of Drew Henson.  He teetered back and forth between football and baseball, but the draw of baseball ended up winning.  Unfortunately, Henson totaled one major league hit in his career.  Then, in a desperate attempt to still “make it” in the professional sports world, he tried to revert back to football.  He had a few stints in the NFL, none of which showed promise, before officially hanging up both pairs of cleats.

The story of Brady and Henson is one that will be told for many years.  Nobody would’ve predicted this.  Brady’s story creates the picture of how some of the great ones sneak up on the sports world like a cat after a mouse.  Henson’s story details the reality of another “bust.”  Despite what scouts or analysts may say, one can never really know the true potential of an athlete.

What most people don’t know about Henson’s story is his dad underneath it all.  The SI article described Henson’s dad hovering around the Michigan practices and in a sense seeking control over Drew’s career.  The article even states, “his [Drew’s] choices were not entirely his.”  It’s evident that Drew’s dad was seeking to live vicariously through his son, and it led to manipulation and a corruption of what sports are about.

This is all too common in the modern world of athletics but not many athletes are aware of it.  However, the degree to which Henson’s dad was involved was obvious.  It was enough that Drew reflects on it with disappointment.  Despite remaining on good terms with his father, he was quoted in the article, “If I’m fortunate enough to be a parent someday, I won’t try to control every situation that my child may be put into as an athlete — not try to dictate every time line or micromanage every aspect of the child’s development” (pg. 79, January 9, 2012 issue).

Those are sincere and deeply revealing feelings.  What Henson’s dad perhaps envisioned as good intentions throughout his son’s career turned out to be overbearing and manipulative.  There’s a drastic difference between enjoying and encouraging a child in sports and controlling and micromanaging them.

The corruption in Henson’s story is not that his career turned out to be a flop.  This happens all the time.  Add his name to the list of hundreds of sports “busts.”  The corruption in Henson’s story is that he didn’t enjoy the game as a gift — something to delight in, something to experience camaraderie, something that was created by God to be enjoyed.  Rather, sports were deified in his life and he is now able to discern it.  Ultimately, it appears he was playing the game for the wrong reasons (Click here for a blog post on “Playing for the Wrong Reasons” by Dr. Tim Gombis, a former professor of mine).

The story of Tom Brady and Drew Henson will be told for many years to come.  Brady’s story inspires, at least from a football standpoint (As far as Brady’s underlying reasons for playing the game, I do not know).  Henson’s story, on other hand, is all-around alarming.  Unfortunately, most will view Henson’s story with alarm because “he didn’t pan out,” but the true tragedy in his story is how sports grew corrupted and a superb athlete like him didn’t fully enjoy one of God’s good gifts.

Brian Urlacher has been unwavering in his loyalty to the Chicago Bears throughout his years.  He’s stood by management, his teammates, and the city during his 12-year tenure.  With his track record, I’d expect him to still be supportive during this tumultuous ending to the Bears season.  It’s in his nature to remain loyal and to say the respectable things.

The same goes for Lance Briggs, who is not near the same figure in Chicago as Urlacher but is certainly near the same caliber of player (if not better).  Throughout his 9-year productive career, he’s remained fairly quiet and has consistently been one of the league’s top outside linebackers.  He’s only recently expressed angst with management because he desires a contract extension, which he most likely deserves.

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The play and persona of Urlacher and Briggs are exactly what an NFL team desires from their linebackers.  Fierce, fast, aggressive, and loyal.  They are truly the heart and soul of the Chicago Bears.

Because they are the heart and soul of the Bears, and because they are getting up years and their prime years are dwindling, now is the time for them to voice displeasure.  The Bears threw away their season because they chose not to make needed upgrades before the season, and as a result, they essentially wasted a season where all the other pieces were in place.  Truthfully, if Cutler would’ve never gotten hurt, the Bears would most likely be 11-4 right now.  They’d be rolling into the playoffs, with as good of chance as anyone to dethrone the Packers.

But because of management’s decision to not sign a reliable backup quarterback, and the choice to resort to wide receivers Roy Williams and Sam Hurd (which were more downgrades than upgrades), the Bears Super Bowl run went from a legitimate possibility to a knee-slapping joke.  Watching them the past five weeks has been utterly painful, and no one should be more upset than Urlacher and Briggs.

Imagine the feeling for Urlacher and Briggs when they have to take the field after another offensive 3 & out or another turnover.  At some point, their motivation and drive has to wane.  And they simply don’t deserve to have to continually take the field like that.  They are too good and too loyal.  At their level of play and age, they at least deserve an offense that has an adept option if Cutler goes down, and receivers that aren’t as washed up as the retired Michael Irvin.  Heck, Terrell Owens would’ve been a better option than Roy Williams.  I’m serious.

Because of this embarrassing ending to what should’ve at least been a playoff-appearing season, it’s time for the heart and soul of the Bears to voice displeasure and a desire for change.  And change that happens soon.  Urlacher and Briggs likely only have a couple stellar years left together, and if these blatant holes aren’t soon plugged, you can throw away any chance at the Bears making a Super Bowl run before Urlacher and Briggs hang up the cleats.

I’m not saying Urlacher and Briggs need to bash Jerry Angelo or rip on any players.  There is no need to get violent.  But there is a need to voice warranted displeasure and a desire to fill gaps where needed.  This can be done in a respectable way.  And people will listen to Urlacher and Briggs.  They are the last people that management wants upset in the Bears locker room.  Their frustration will trickle throughout the whole team.  They are the ringleaders and people feed off them.  It’s important to keep them happy.  Because of this, their frustration will be heard by management and hopefully their longings bring needed upgrades.

The core pieces to the Chicago Bears are in place.  Cutler has shown that, when healthy, he can be elite.  The offensive line has made significant progress.  The defense is solid as usual, with perhaps just a need for an upgrade at safety.  But the holes in the Bears are obvious and the Bear stalwarts don’t deserve to play for a team that is unwilling to field a more efficient squad.  It’s time for this fact to be declared by the Bears’ finest.

Have We Gone Mum on the MVP?

Posted: December 21, 2011 in Sports

Prior to last season, Derrick Rose asked the media, “Why can’t I be MVP?”  People chuckled at this remark.  Surely Rose dazzled in his first two NBA seasons, but this audacious question seemed to be a bit premature.  In a league featuring the likes of Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, and Dwight Howard, such a question seemed like a good individual goal, but not an attainable reality.

Then, D-Rose backed up his words and deservedly took home the league MVP after guiding the Bulls to a league-best 62 wins.  He poured in 25 points a game while also dishing out nearly 8 assists an outing. The wins and the numbers speak for themselves.  And when the Bulls came up short against the loaded Heat, it was obvious that Rose’s play was not the Bulls’ shortcoming.  It was their lack of another adept scoring option to help keep pace with the Big Three in Miami.  Despite this, Rose still humbly took the blame for the loss to Miami, evidencing a superstar with all the skills and the responsibility to handle the NBA limelight.

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The strides Rose has made in his first three NBA seasons is remarkable, but it seems as if entering the 2011-2012 season, hype towards the reigning MVP has gone rather mum.  In the wake of the NBA lockout, most NBA talk has been focused upon Chris Paul and Dwight Howard trade rumors.  Paul’s name has specifically been buzzing in the news and he’s finally landed in Los Angeles as a Clipper.  People have “ooed” and “aaed” about Paul teaming up with NBA Jam-esque forward Blake Griffin.

There have also been rumors about Howard landing with the soon-to-be Brooklyn Nets, where he would partner with playmaking point guard Deron Williams.  Moreover, there have been a bevy of discussions about the current Lakers situation (i.e. the failed attempt to get Paul and the subsequent Lamar Odom fallout), and the return of the Heat and if they can reach the NBA pinnacle this season.  These are all worthwhile stories that should be covered, but amidst all of this noise, the reigning MVP is a rather mum topic entering the lockout-shortened season.  But maybe that’s just how D-Rose likes it.

In addressing the media prior to this season, Rose once again posed a question laden with audacity, hinting at, “Why can’t we win a championship?”  Once again, most NBA analysts aren’t thinking much of this. In a conference with the star-studded Heat, veteran Celtics, and surging Knicks, many view the Bulls as a team that lacks firepower.  They don’t have much punch besides D-Rose.  The addition of Rip Hamilton may help a little, but can he put them over the top?

In all of these doubts, people are forgetting the work ethic and utter determination that is the core of Derrick Rose.  Last year, nobody considered the Bulls a team that could contend but Rose and company proved that wrong.  Despite what Rose proved last season, there is currently little hoopla concerning if he can lead the Bulls to take the next step and gather a championship this season.

Frankly, it was mind-boggling to witness ESPN.com’s player rankings that they ran in the offseason, in which Rose came in at #8.  Excuse me?!  The reigning MVP and the man who essentially single-handedly drove the Bulls comes in at #8?  There’s something wrong with this.  Call it a flagrant foul.

It could be understood that Rose may not be the #1 selection.  Perhaps after Dirk’s heralded playoff performance, he deserves #1 (Although ESPN.com strangely gave it to Lebron).  But to slide D-Rose all the way down to #8 is shameful.  Downright inexplicable.

Interestingly, Chris Paul was listed as the #4 player in their rankings.  Explain how Paul, who averaged 15.9 PPG (a career low) and 8.9 APG last season while guiding the Hornets to 46 wins and a first round exit in the playoffs, comes in ahead of Rose.  Don’t get me wrong, Paul is quite the floor general.  This is no knock on him, but his numbers, wins, and overall ability to dominate a game are not at the same level of D-Rose.  It simply appears that despite Rose’s game speaking for itself, people are still questioning how good he really is.

Derrick Rose is not the kind of person or player to go quiet on.  He uses it as motivation.  He is not another flashy point guard like Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis, or Gilbert Arenas, who each had impressive years in the early stages of their careers but faded over time.  No, Rose has the fire and tenacity to not just win the MVP, but to win a championship.  Whether or not that happens this year is irrelevant, because he is a name to be talked about, feared, and consistently regarded.  There is no limit on what he can do but people don’t appear to believe this.

It’s obvious there have been other stories (i.e. CP3 to L.A., Dwight rumors) to focus on as the season nears, but going silent on the MVP is bewildering.  Guys like Lebron, D-Wade, and Kobe always garner attention, as there have been features and interviews with them as usual.  But it’s obvious that D-Rose has not received that type of respect yet.  And it’s not because he hasn’t earned it.

Lance Berkman on God and Sports

Posted: December 19, 2011 in Sports

Because of Tim Tebow’s recent success, there has been a great deal of talk about God and sports, and the interplay between the two.  Does God tweak outcomes of games?  Has he been “siding” with Tim Tebow because Tebow’s a Christian?  Can Christian athletes attain success in ways that non-Christians cannot?

Frankly, I believe such questions to be quite silly.  God doesn’t pick favorites.  Moreover, his way of working is much grander than intervening in sporting events.  Surely God works through sports and uses the pedestal that Christian athletes possess, but the way this looks comes in various forms of success and adversity.  Listen to this recent message (link below) from Lance Berkman, who just won the World Series title with the St. Louis Cardinals.  Berkman, a professing Christian, humorously reflects on his veteran career, which up until this year has featured some steady heartbreaks.  He shares thoughts concerning God’s activity amidst it all.

Click here and then scroll down to the bottom, where Pt. 1 and Pt. 2 of Berkman’s speech are posted.  The message is a total of about 20 minutes.

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When I first heard the Bulls were after 33-year old veteran Rip Hamilton, I was somewhat indifferent.  I thought he’s past his prime, is too skinny, and can’t create his shot as well as other potential options.  But such thoughts were premature.  Here are four reasons why Rip to the Bulls is not just a good idea, but could be the missing link to a championship.

1. People have been quick to point out that Rip put up some of his worst career numbers last season, hinting that the twilight of his career has arrived.  But Rip didn’t receive the minutes he’s been accustomed to receiving last season, and even developed a tension-filled relationship with his coach (which is not customary of Rip).  It appears his lack of production was more a result of a clogged Detroit backcourt and a young, impulsive coach.  Therefore, Rip’s decline in numbers last season is exagerrated, and I don’t believe him to be far from the stable two-guard he’s been for years.

2. Rip’s body and playing style are conducive to succeed for a long time.  He’s never relied on athleticism or played “above the rim.”  He’s not like some of the other options the Bulls could have pursued, like Vince Carter or Tracy McGrady, whose careers are quickly fading with every inch you take off their vertical leap.  Hamilton has produced because of his endurance and ability to read screens and defenses.  These are things that won’t fade with age.

3. Hamilton’s strength is running off continuous screens and draining energy from whoever is guarding him.  This could end up being crucial, especially against the Miami Heat.  Dwayne Wade, who will most likely guard Rip, virtually got a “night off” defensively last year against the Bulls, as he guarded the offensively lacking Keith Bogans and Ronnie Brewer.  Now, Wade will have to chase Hamilton all over the floor like he’s chasing Reggie Miller.  This will surely wear on Wade and zap worthwhile energy from all opposing shooting guards.

4. The last main reason is that Rip’s a winner.  He’s won a collegiate and NBA title.  Plus, his stint in Detroit featured competitive, championship-caliber teams for the most part, besides the past couple of seasons.  His experience and competitiveness will undoubtedly mesh well with a Bulls team that is not far from a championship.

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While landing Rip may not be as endearing as guys like Eric Gordon, Joe Johnson, or Monta Ellis (none of which were realistic options), his signing is much more valuable than we may think.  He can still produce a very efficient 15 PPG while supplying veteran tutelage and underrated defense (with his long wing-span).  Give him a couple months to learn his niche with the Bulls and he could soon be the final piece that has Chicago on the verge of a title.

Is God “Rewarding” Tim Tebow?

Posted: December 12, 2011 in Sports

Let’s be honest, if you watched yesterday’s Bears vs. Broncos game, you couldn’t help but think it ended supernaturally.  Midway through the fourth quarter, it appeared Tim Tebow’s improbable run of comeback victories would come to a screeching halt.  The Bears had owned him all day.  The legend of Tim Tebow simply did not look alive.

Then, somehow another Tebow-led miracle occurred.  We suddenly witnessed a transformed Tebow in the waning moments of the game.  This transformation coupled with a handful of bad decisions and miscues by the Bears quickly turned the game on its heels.  Before long, it felt as if the Broncos were “supposed” to win.  Almost like God was on their side.  Sure enough, they did, much to the chagrin of my diehard Chicago Bears heart.

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I’m a Christian and I believe my worldview lines up very similarly, if not identically, to Tim Tebow.  I admire him for his willingness to proclaim his identity as a Christian.  Interestingly, what is coming to the surface amidst all of Tebow’s success is that perhaps God is on his side, “rewarding” him with victories because of his faith.  People see him thank God and it can almost seem like: “Become a Christian and find prosperity!”  In Tebow’s case, this seems to be working.

While I do believe God has uniquely gifted Tebow with a skill set and a fiery competitiveness, I do not subscribe to a view of God that portrays Him as a big, cosmic rewarder.  There are numerous problems to such a view.

Chuck Klosterman, a writer for ESPN’s Grantland, noted this whole idea of God rewarding Tebow in a recent column. If we look at Tebow and believe God is “rewarding” him for his faith, we validate (in Klosterman’s words) “the idea that believing in something abstract is more important than understanding something real.”  Therefore, this view of God becomes an abstract idea to uphold and its motivation is to obtain worthwhile success upon earth.  Thus, Who cares if God’s real?  If my life is better and a Higher Power finds ways to “reward” me, then I’m on board!  

This is blatantly opposed to what the story of the Bible presents.  Faith in God is understood because of its reality, not because of some “feel-good” inspiration that creates potential success on earth.

Another problem in seeing God as a cosmic rewarder is that things simply don’t always work out in favor of Christians.  That’s part of life.  God doesn’t put a hedge over Christians and throw down failures and nuisances towards everybody else.  No, His goodness is bestowed on us all.  At the same time, our world is broken and we cannot escape failures, disappointments, and wounds.  That’s the nature of this planet.

We’ve witnessed such disappointments many times in the careers of Christian athletes.  For instance, a couple years ago former Texas Longhorns quarterback Colt McCoy had the opportunity to play for the National Championship.  He’s a professing Christian and a close friend of Tebow.  Early in the National title game, he got hurt and couldn’t play for the remainder of the game.  It altered the entire scope of the game and Texas lost.  Everybody felt so badly for McCoy.  It was almost as if you wanted to say, “Really, God?” (For the record, McCoy’s postgame interview was an intriguing testimony towards God being at work during difficulties.  To view it, click here.)

Another interesting instance just occurred in the recent World Series.  Josh Hamilton, another professing Christian, hit what would’ve been the World Series-winning home run in extra innings, but the Cardinals rallied for a remarkable comeback in the bottom half of the inning.  When Hamilton hit the home run, Christians ’round the nation thought this was perfect!  Hamilton hit the game-winner and will now praise God on the championship podium!  Welp, guess not.

I point out these instances (and there are many more) to allude to the fact that God doesn’t always pull the strings in the way one might think.  Christian athletes aren’t consistently “rewarded” because they are “God’s.”  There isn’t a history of this consistently happening.  Yes, Tim Tebow’s recent surge is quite compelling, but let’s be careful in chalking this up to God’s intervention.  I mean, there are most likely numerous current Chicago Bears who are professing Christians…so why wasn’t God on their side yesterday?  I don’t think God is picking favorites here.

To ramble a bit further, I must also say that non-Christians certainly cannot stand the idea that the Christian God is somehow “rewarding” Tim Tebow.  When we advocate this, we come across as prideful and condescending.  Like, “Take that, all you nay-saying non-Christians.  Look at what our God is doing through Tim Tebow!”  This is not only annoying, but also wildly off-based.  God has moved in an immense amount of ways throughout history, and many, many, many of those ways have led people to lives of surrender, suffering, and weakness, where they were forced to depend on God.  Life often brings about hurts and Christians aren’t shielded from this.  Thus, a view of God that elevates Him as a cosmic rewarder who tugs the strings in favor of Christians is not only silly, but also quite impractical.

Lastly, I will say that Tebow is maximizing the gifts God has given him.  He is glorifying God through the way he plays.  He works wholeheartedly and is the definition of leadership.  He’s a true role model.  Frankly, I believe God has placed him in this unique position to magnify the name of Jesus Christ and to display God’s beauty.  I also believe we can’t run to conclusions that entertain God as Tim Tebow’s cosmic rewarder, who suddenly shows up (as if someone entered “cheat codes”) to provide supernatural miracles at the end of games.  This appears to be quite a stretch.

The reality is that if God is granting Tebow success, it isn’t about a “reward” for Tim Tebow.  It’s about exalting the name of Jesus Christ through Tim Tebow.  And maybe God’s way of doing that right now is by using Tebow’s success.  But God’s way of bringing glory through Tebow could very well change in the coming weeks.  God’s not a cosmic rewarder who picks sides, nor is He is a “cheat code” entity whom we should access for our own personal, worldly “prize.”  Such a view of God is not in line with the grandiose manifestation of His glory, which truly occurs through a vast array of successes, failures, joys, pains, and more.

When I graduated from high school, I was as moldable as a wet chunk of clay.  I professed to be a Christian but interest in seeking out what that really means was wavering.  I could talk like a Christian but no roots in that identity had been dug.  I entered college searching for purpose and in a place where my peers had an overwhelming amount of influence.  They had the opportunity, knowingly or not, to impact and mold me in deeply formative ways.

At that stage of my life, I could have been sculpted in a handful of ways, but thanks to God, I was blessed to land at Cedarville University and soon become a member of the Men’s Basketball team.  I was soon surrounded by men who did not just profess to be Christians, but were enriched in this identity and were embodying it towards others.  Cedarville was incredibly unique in this regard.  This type of godly fellowship is rare in this day and age and its value cannot be underestimated.

I remember arriving as a freshman and soon rubbing shoulders with senior teammates who seemed more like theologians, such as Tyler Yoder.  I was called up to the varsity team a few weeks into the season, which meant that the varsity players had already received lockers and everyone already had their niche on the team.  I didn’t know how I, the newcoming freshman straggler, would be received.

They gave me a locker sandwiched right next to Yoder, which blatantly eliminated space for him to dress his 6-4, 250 pound body for practice.  This was undoubtedly inconvenient for him.  Moreover, my addition to the team hiked the total of freshman players to around half of the team.  We were immature and thought we were pretty sweet.  For the upperclassmen, the thought of having yet another freshman saying stupid, incoherent things in the locker room was not necessarily appealing.

Despite such obstacles, Yoder welcomed me with a consistency I will never forget.  Truthfully, he probably doesn’t remember much of this.  But little did he know how influential it was at the time.  I listened to him and the other upperclassmen have conversations and latched onto every word like a little boy listens to his daddy.  They could have talked about putting pickles on ice cream and I probably would’ve done it in the campus cafeteria that night.

This was why it was a major blessing that I was surrounded by godly fellowship at Cedarville, because the camaraderie of the team drove me towards pursuing Christian identity myself.  There was an “iron-sharpening-iron” feel to the team, where everybody was spurred on by one another.  The fellowship of the team molded me in ways that would’ve otherwise gone untouched.  Truthfully, if I would’ve been surrounded by a team that had no family like feel and no godly trajectory to it, I could have easily lost sight of my faith as a Christian and never critically engaged what Christian identity really means.

I will never forget my freshman year at Cedarville because of how formative it was.  It was more than a timely blessing.  It was the type of fellowship I needed to instill God’s goodness in me.  I will be forever grateful.

During my sophomore, junior, and senior years, this fellowship continued.  I graduated with a class of teammates who are like brothers to me and I consider them the reason God led me to Cedarville (Oh, and I also met my wife ;)).  The refining, the fun, the conversations, the laughter, and the unfading fellowship was the story of my time as a Cedarville basketball player.  On paper, I was a backup point guard, but in my heart, I was a story whose script was desperately longing to be written.  And the fellowship of the team at Cedarville helped guide my story towards a grander story–towards Christ.

I hope the fellowship that has been seen at Cedarville can infuse more athletic teams.  Being a part of a team is such a joy and it can be handled in different ways.  This is why when I now give a piece of advice to a high school kid who wants to play in college, I tell him to look at the players on the team and try to get a feel for their character. Is it going to be a godly, maturing environment, or is it going to build immaturity, impurity, and prompt one to make decisions that will just end up being regrets?

We need more Tyler Yoder’s out there, who set an example and help shape teammates in life-changing ways.  Guys like him light a spark of fellowship, a torch that gets passed down to the next class, and then the next… The interesting thing is that by the time I was a senior, I hardly realized I could be another Tyler Yoder.  When you’re a senior, it doesn’t feel as if the younger guys really look up to you.  But they do.  How you handle adversity, competition, relationships, and life in general are things that are constantly taken note of.

I hope that professing Christians will seek to wear their identity on teams more and more, because it is such a unique arena that comes and goes.  Yet in the time this fellowship is present, godly character can be nourished and radiated towards others.  This establishment of godly character should be the real reason to play sports, because what it leaves athletes with is far more valuable than putting a ball in a hoop, hitting a home run, or catching a touchdown pass.

Josh Hamilton and Tim Tebow are two of the most well-known Christian athletes.  Both have boldly declared their allegiance to Jesus Christ and seek to exemplify Christian character.  What’s interesting about these two athletes is sports culture has received them in different ways.  While Hamilton has garnerned some attention, Tebow has virtually become a national icon.  He has quickly become one of the most scrutinized athletes in history.  People are coming at him full speed with every move he makes and no one appears ready to put on the brakes.

Why do we treat these two successful, Christian athletes differently?

Hamilton and Tebow possess drastically different Christian testimonies.  Hamilton was known as a “wild man” for years, specifically dabbling in drugs.  He was once a top draft pick, but because of his voluptuous lifestyle he appeared to be forfeiting much of his potential.  It seemed as if his baseball career would be defined as a bust.

Then came his redemption.  He sought help for his addictions and put his faith in Jesus Christ, longing for restoration–both spiritually and physically.  This happened in a remarkable way.  Hamilton soon found his niche as an All-Star caliber hitter in the Texas Rangers’ lineup.  He has now anchored their lineup to two consecutive World Series trips.  This year, he even hit what would’ve been the World Series-winning home run in game 6, but the Cardinals manufactured an improbable comeback.

Hamilton’s story has been inspiring because it consists of a 180-degree turn.  He cast away his old life for a new life.  His life is a living redemption that we can relate with.  We see it.  We grasp it.  We respect it.

(Watch this powerful video of Hamilton describing his redemption.  Seriously, watch it.)

Tebow’s journey has been much different.  To the eyes of the public, it appears that Tebow has never sinned. He grew up as a missionary kid and arrived at the University of Florida rooted in his Christian identity.  He never “dabbled.”  He even claims to be a virgin and that he’s saving himself for marriage.  In this day and age, this is not only unusual, but this is something that unfortunately causes laughter.

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Therefore, when it comes to Tebow, we aren’t prone to look and see redemption and hope.  Despite his consistency in his faith and conduct, Tebow has not received wide-ranging respect.  Some surely do respect him, but many view him as someone to question, someone to search for any flaws to be found, someone whose life should be distinctly examined.  He is too good to be true and many voices in culture simply do not like this.

The stark difference between Hamilton and Tebow is that Hamilton is relateable.  He is easier to handle because he has a bad past.  We connect more with Hamilton because his flaws have been exposed.  He was lost, but now he’s found.

In the world’s eyes, Tebow has never appeared lost.  Tebow’s life seems like a living miracle.  It’s what we dream of our kids being like one day but we know they never will be.  Thus, we’re almost jealous of Tebow.  We essentially want him to fail so we can at least relate to him.  We can identify with Hamilton and his redemption story, but Tebow is tougher to handle.

I must say that at the core of the Christian faith is that we’re all in need of redemption.  Everyone falls under the umbrella of sinful humanity and needs redemption through the Savior Jesus Christ.  This is the lens in which God sees the world.  Hamilton, Tebow, you, and me are all lost and can only be found through faith in Jesus Christ.

But our humanly eyes often distort this perspective and it is seen in how Josh Hamilton and Tim Tebow are viewed.  Hamilton is esteemed and respected because of his faith and the way his character has changed.  Tebow, on the hand, often receives the brunt of unwarranted criticism.  Truthfully, we can call this criticism, but at the core appears to be a society that is skeptical, perhaps even jealous, of Tebow.  There’s always “a catch” to things that are too good to be true.  But what is “the catch” to Tim Tebow?

Frankly, it is quite silly that there is currently more talk centered around Tim Tebow than Aaron Rodgers.  Rodgers is having the best season a quarterback has had in NFL history.  The numbers and wins don’t lie.  And yet Tebow is the story of the 2011 NFL season.  He’s the story because there are so many stories about him, whether it’s praise for his team leadership and grit, criticism of his throwing mechanics, praise for his faith in Jesus Christ, or criticism of his overly zealous admonitions of faith.  Praise and criticism are raining, check that, downpouring on Tebow.  Everyone has an opinion and everyone is voicing it.  We’re now overly hyper over him.  Tim Tebow literally has us going bonkers and we don’t know whether to praise or criticize.

Maybe we should just calm down and let Tebow live, both as a player and a person.  He’s 24 years old and a second year NFL quarterback, but we’re treating him like a presidential candidate.  Truthfully, we should be thankful for a man like him in professional sports.  The reality is that both Hamilton and Tebow instill hope, and they do this in different and similar ways.  Hamilton gives hope to the blatant rebel and his life reveals the loving forgiveness and transformation found in Jesus Christ.  Tebow shows the steadfastness of a godly man’s character, a person who presents the next generation with a true role model.  And they both ultimately hold the keys to life that is rooted in their faith.  Above all else, this is what should be examined.  There is something about both of these athletes that is compelling, and it should warrant our intrigue rather than our skepticism.