Last night Barry Bonds broke one of the most prestigious records in sports by hitting home run No. 756. But some believe his accomplishment was tainted through his alleged use of steroids. This controversy brings to light a greater conversation about the current state of sports in our culture.
Sports are just a microcosm of life, they say. Participate in sport, and you learn important lessons about winning and losing, about hard work and teamwork, about perseverance and dedication.
And, if you’re good enough, you might learn a thing or two about lying, cheating, gambling and dog fighting.
The definition of “sportsmanship” ain’t what it used to be. It’s harder in some ways to name a sport that HASN’T been rocked by scandal the last few weeks. Consider the following report (by YouthWorker Journal’s Youth Culture Update columnist Paul Asay) as families in your church get ready to head back to school and another year of school sports:

Going to the Dogs

 The federal government believes Michael Vick ,the Atlanta Falcons’ superstar quarterback, was involved in an illegal dog fighting ring and apparently helped run his own pit bull business from a property he owned in Virginia. The indictment proved to be a massive blow to Vick’s already smudged reputation. To begin with, dog fighting is, of course, illegal: Dogs sometimes don’t survive the fight. What has shocked the public even more, however, is that Vick and his partners allegedly killed unsuccessful dogs, by hanging, drowning and electrocuting them – and, in at least one alleged instance, bashing a dog against the ground.

“Why would someone kill a dog this way?” said Humane Society animal-fighting expert John Goodwin. “The only reason I can think of is that they took some pleasure in it, which is just sick.”

In late July, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told Vick not to report to the Falcons’ training camp while it conducts its own review of the indictment. Vick, meanwhile, has said he’s innocent, setting up a potential trial during the heart of the NFL season. (Sports Illustrated)

Whistle Blower

The FBI is investigating National Basketball Association referee Tim Donaghy for allegedly shaving points off games in which he officiated. The story goes like this: Donaghy, plagued by unsuccessful gambling decisions, was coerced by organized crime to work off his debts through his “day job.”
Though Donaghy has not yet been accused of fixing the actual outcome of games – that is, who won or lost them – it’s the worst gambling-related scandal to sully any major sport in decades. Donaghy worked 131 regular-season and 20 playoff games the last two years, including Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals, when the Phoenix Suns’ center Amare Stoudemire played only 21 minutes because of foul trouble.
“Every player is going to try to remember their games that he worked,” said NBA forward Mark Madsen. “If there were any close games or late calls, players are definitely going to think about that.” (Sports Illustrated, Associated Press)

Pedal Pushers

Alberto Contador won the Tour de France inlate July, but his victory was merely a footnote to the scandal-ridden race.

Michael Rasmussen had worn the fabled yellow jersey through much of the race and looked to be cruising toward victory when he was booted from his team for skipping mandatory drug tests and then lying about where he was. Two other cyclists tested positive during the race and were disqualified, and two other notables were canned for positive tests before the race began.

Indeed, racers actually passed by the headquarters of Chatenay-Malabry – the drug lab that had uncovered most of the race’s doping scandals — during the Tour de France’s climactic swing through Paris: A fitting nod to its “real” story. (Sports Illustrated, Associated Press)

The Ties that Bond

Nearly everyone living outside San Francisco believes Barry Bonds took steroids to help him hit the long ball: People in San Fran believe so, too – they just don’t care. Bonds and performance-enhancing drugs are so synonymous now that Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly gave some tongue-in-cheek suggestions on how to celebrate the milestone.

In a reference to the tendency steroids have of making a user’s head grow, Reilly wrote, “Call the Hall of Fame and ask which cap will appear on Bonds’s head in his Cooperstown exhibit – the size 7, the 7 1/2 or the 8?”

Hank Aaron, who set the current record in 1976, holds Bonds in such disdain that he refuses to be on hand when Bonds does break the record. Commissioner Bud Selig will try to be there, but he goes reluctantly. And some pundits believe Bonds will purposefully save his record-breaking home run for, well, home … the friendly confines of San Francisco.

“For Bonds, this city is the land of make believe,” writes Tom Verducci of CNN. “It forgives the shame he brings to the record because, well, because he wears the uniform of the home team. It’s not any more complicated than that. Reality, though, exists outside of this safe house, and it threatens to be rather ugly.” (Sports Illustrated, CNN)

All the scandal is enough to make one wish the networks televised more curling. It’s hard for us to see heroes go down with such a hard and bitter thump.

But perhaps it’s an important lesson for Christians in one simple, straightforward truth: We mere mortals disappoint. Even the Bible’s best and brightest had their low points. Jacob cheated. Peter lied. David slept with another man’s wife. We are good at disappointing our public.

Charles Barkley was right: We aren’t role models – or very good ones, anyway. There’s only one hero who will never fail us. And we know who that is, right?
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