Relativism and Sports

The Lord says:
“These people come near to me with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
    is based on merely human rules they have been taught.

  • Isaiah 29:13

He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
“‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are merely human rules.

  • Mark 7:6-7

The topic of relativism will not let me go lately.  I was watching a television show where a young man walks around college campuses with a microphone and camera crew.  He asks people questions about Christianity, morality, and religion.  In one recent episode, the student that he asked a question answered with something along the lines of “Nothing is absolute.  Everything is relative.  There is no concrete truth in the world.  We each have our own truth.”  My thought was that Mommy and Daddy should cut off your college fund if that were the case.  With everything being relative and no truth, you have nothing that can be learned.  Thus, you are wasting your time and Mommy and Daddy’s money, going to college.

That got me irritated, but not in the mood to write anything about it.  Then I saw a commercial appear about an online beating system that was offering an ironclad guarantee of winning $100 on a $1 bet to kick off the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.  Of course, I did not sign up.  I was taught a long time ago that if you cannot afford to lose a dollar, do not bet one.  I have a feeling that you would have to make more than $100 in bets before the gambling company would let you collect on the free money.  Then again, the evil psychiatrists have probably run the calculations.  They know that people cannot stop when the first bet was so easy.  They will then lose that money and a lot more.  Otherwise, why would the gambling company simply give the money away?

But as I was angered over how society had gone totally down the toilet…  To explain, years ago, that kind of commercial would not be allowed on television.  Sportscasters would, and did, lose their job if they mentioned betting odds before or during the game.  Now, the networks have their own gambling systems.  I remember when distilled spirit (bourbon, whisky, etc.) advertisements were removed from television as being a bad influence.  I remember when cigarette advertisements met the same fate.  Now during the hockey game that I saw part of, if the commercial was not about gambling, it was about vodka.  Now, being a bad influence upon society is encouraged.

But I digress, I started thinking about the money exchanging hands over an amateur athletic competition, and I wondered how many bets would be won or lost on the calls of the officials.

You know the officials.  In many sports, they wear black and white striped uniforms.  As a result, they are called “Zebras.”

I conversed with a fan of professional basketball once.  I claimed little to no interest in it.  When I played the game, it was strictly enforced as a non-contact sport.  At the time, one of the big stars was a huge man who shoved people out of his way to make the dunk.  I complained that if he did that on the street corner, it was violent enough to warrant jail time for mugging.

I was reminded by the other person that hall of famer Bill Russell once said that if you thought basketball was a non-contact sport, you had never watched what happens in the paint (near the basket) during a game.

But when I was taught the rules, it was non-contact.  I was called for fouls when I bumped another player.  I was called for a foul when the other player bumped me and pretended that I had done the bumping, although I had never moved.  I was called for a foul when I placed my hand on the other player, a hand check.  Yes, I got little exercise as I fouled out quickly.  These three things are done all the time in college and professional basketball, but the officials rarely if ever make the call.  If they did, they might be inconsistent and alter the course of the game.  But then, does the winning team simply become the team that better tests the limits of the official, finding the non-existent gray area?  The win goes to the team that cheats, but not bad enough to get the official to blow his whistle?

While basketball brought up this subject, the other sports are no better.  I have heard former football players state that pass interference could be called on every pass play, but the official swallows the whistle and only calls the egregious fouls, and only if he notices.  The same could be said for offensive holding.  There is always holding on every play, according to more than one hall of fame offensive lineman, but only the really obvious calls are really called.  Again, the better cheaters win the game.

A recent advancement in technology shows how inaccurate an umpire’s eyes are in baseball.  The software shows the exact position of the ball as it crosses the plate.  It is amazing how the umpire will call the ball or strike incorrectly.  The key is whether the umpire makes the strike zone wider for one team and narrower for the other team.  But every time the team goes onto the field, they must learn how the umpire is calling the pitches, even if the umpire is consistent.

In all these cases, there are some things that are clearly against the rules.  Some things are against the written rules, but allowed… to a point.  But then, in tournament play and championship series, the officials are even more worried that their calls may alter the outcome.  They prefer to “let them play,” thus allowing the better cheating team to win.  Allegedly.  I make no claim that Tampa Bay cheated their way to the Super Bowl win, but all sports have an element of “bending” the rules.

When I was young, I was taught that I could develop my character by playing sports.  It was not just a matter of athletic performance and building muscle.  It was an opportunity to show leadership skills, work as a team to accomplish a task, and “fair play.”  What is that?!?!  Today, “Fair play” is not getting caught.

Eddie Guerrero (1967-2005), a wrestler, said, “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.”  For one thing, he was a “wrestler.”  But I have heard people who played football quote him, along with NASCAR drivers, and people who played just about every sport there is.

Except golf.  Golf self-policed until the age of social media.  Upon social media interference, they have had people call in complaints, having a player penalized for accidentally moving the coin marker one or two millimeters.  The player “who got caught on live television” ends up with a one or two stroke penalty, losing the tournament and a lot of money, because they moved the ball less than the width of a blade of grass, and there was never any intent of getting an advantage, and no one at the tournament saw it with their own eyes, only someone three time zones away with a zoomed image on an HD television.  You wonder if the person calling in had bet on that player losing.

So, I guess I have come full circle.  As in business, much criminal activity, and politics (loosely differentiating that from criminal activity – I know, it’s hard to do allegedly), if you follow the money, it starts to come together when you wonder why.

But in the meantime, we are teaching the next generation that there is no absolute.  The official lets you cheat a little.  If the game is more important due to championship issues, the official lets you cheat even more.  And when you are guilty of mugging three people to dunk a basketball, everyone will wonder who initiated the contact in the first place, thus swallowing the whistle and letting you perform assault and battery.  Another great lesson is that if you are not cheating, you are not trying.  And the old stand-by, if you did not get caught, did you really cheat?

And then I wonder why I bother watching sports.  What did that old baseball manager from Little League say?  “Sports teaches you character.”  But did he qualify the type of character?  Maybe Little League was for the fun of the game – maybe only back when I played about 55 year ago.  Even Little League is big business these days, and there are probably people gambling over the results.

Enjoy your March Madness.  I doubt if I will fill out a bracket this year.

I am more interested in Truth.  Something that is either right or wrong.  Especially Someone who forgives when I do wrong, instead of assessing a penalty.  While some people learn what the officials in life will let them get away with, I am more interested in the One who invented life’s rule book and His doctrine of Grace when I make a mistake.

In this world, there are a lot of fifteen-yard penalties, fouling out, and red cards.  In God’s world, there is a personal relationship with the Writer of the rule book, who is willing to treat you with Grace.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.


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  1. More than thirty years ago, one of my professors wrote and published a scholarly paper about “professional” wrestling. His principle concern was that the “good guys” cheated as much as the “bad guys”–there was no reason to choose one over the other, except that some had been labeled good and others bad. He noted that as a change from social norms in prior generations, norms in which you could identify the good guys because they played by the rules, even when the bad guys cheated. Food for thought. J.

    Liked by 1 person

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