Unsportsmanlike Conduct

What is wrong with professional sports? Time and time again we hear about the actions or downfall of athletes, coaches, and others associated with professional athletics. Stories headline the news in our society:  domestic abuse, fluffing up tennis balls to slow them down, corking bats to hit longer balls, taking human growth hormone to increase performance, point shaving, betting on sports, and the list goes on and on.

This past week the NFL fined Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks football team $20,000 for an obscene gesture. In fact, the league had fined him previously for rudeness in not addressing reporters following a game, which is an expectation of professional players. Now, I recognize that professional athletes make huge sums of cash, but $20k is a lot of money, none the less. Lynch is just one of thousands of professional athletes that get fined for making bad decisions. Throughout the year, both athletes and coaches have to pay penalties for things like arguing with officials, unsportsmanlike conduct, fighting, illegal actions, taunting, etc. As I write this, the NFL is still investigating the AFC Champion New England Patriots for letting air out of footballs. I cannot begin to imagine what the fines will be for this.  

As I read about these latest infractions, I can’t help but wonder what difference it might make in society if every professional athlete committed to going an entire season without incurring any financial penalty. I understand that it is human nature to make mistakes, especially in the throes of a sports match. What I am referring to is the conscious decision by coaches and their players to conduct themselves in a way that they know is right. What would it look like if the same people donated the money that they would have paid in fines to help out the disadvantaged? For Marshawn Lynch, who is estimated to make $8.5 million dollars this year, a $20,000 fine might not seem like such a bad deal (it breaks down to roughly a day’s wages for him). But $20k can make all the difference for thousands of people living on the streets or in shelters. Imagine the effect it would have, taking into account all of the fines incurred annually in all professional sports. This would not be asking a lot. It would just mean teams work and live according to the rules. The game as a whole would be better for it!

But a second thought came to my mind. What if instead of going this route, we began to fine all professionals for their inappropriate actions or other misconduct. I do not mean athletes; rather, I am referring to the plumbers, doctors, electricians, engineers, salespeople, and lawyers in society. This would include any occupation that would be considered a career: landscapers, grocers, chemists, teachers and more. Imagine industries policing their own employees for misconduct like throwing a coworker under the bus or taking advantage of a client. Think of the fines that would follow such infractions. Unfortunately, a trip down a major highway during rush hour would show how ubiquitous poor behavior is.

When taking an average ballpark salary like $50,000 a year, this only amounts to a fine of $137 (using a similar percentage as charged to Lynch). Obviously $137 is not going to make a lot of difference in changing somebody’s life. Yet, the population to monitor is so much greater. If each profession monitored its own, the balance of funds provided by fines would be overflowing (or people would begin to act with better character, which is a topic for another post). Millions upon millions of dollars could be redirected into transforming impoverished communities.

I realize that none of could ever happen. The point of this post is not to inspire actions that would allow financial penalties for societal infractions. Instead, this is a call for each of us to quit using professional athletics as a scapegoat of what is wrong in our world. I do not want to give a pass to these individuals and their infractions; rather, I want to point out that they are merely a drop in the bucket of what happens in the rest of the world on a daily basis. Christ makes clear in Matthew 7:3 that it is more important for us to look at the log in our own eye, rather than the speck of dust in others.

While frustrated by the constant antics that take place in professional sports, it gives me pause to reflect on the actions I take in my daily life. Each day I rack up a list of my own misconduct that should be fined. It could be my attitude, actions, words, or how I live my life. If I want to be honest with myself, I am guilty of living a life in which my conduct is not always becoming. The truth is, each and every day we add to our debt, fines that we can never repay. It is only through the blood of Christ that this debt can be washed away.

I hope that we can use stories like the current one involving Marshawn Lynch as a reminder to be introspective. These fined actions should prompt us to remember the daily failings in our own lives and the cost that Christ has paid to forgive them.

Romney Ruder is World Impact's Senior Vice President and COO.