Anyone who listens to sports radio or watches sports talk TV will have heard about the Jim Tressel/Ohio State story. As a primer for those who don’t, Tressel is the head coach of the Ohio State football team. The NCAA, the governing body for college athletics, forbids athletes (who are required to be amateurs) from benefiting from their athletic ability. So, for instance, when athletes get involved with agents, accept gifts from boosters, drive free cars from local dealerships, etc, and the NCAA finds out about it, trouble ensues.
NCAA rules also require coaches and administrators to report violations of which they are aware. So, with all of that background, here’s what happened at Ohio State: Over 20 players traded signed memorabilia to a Columbus-area tattoo-ship owner for discounted tattoos and cash. As trivial as that sounds, it’s a big deal to the NCAA, because it infringes on the players’ amateur status. When these shenanigans became public, Tressel claimed that he didn’t know anything about it. This turned out to be false. Tressel had been informed of the violations months earlier and had participated in a cover-up designed to hide the infractions from the NCAA. After all the dust settled, Tressel resigned on Monday.
The REAL reason this story has so much traction in the sports media, though, is Tressel’s to-date persona. The description for his book The Winner’s Manual: For the Game of Life describes the book as “a perfect blend of football stories, spiritual insights, motivational reading, and practical application, The Winners Manual provides an inside look at the core philosophy that has positively impacted the lives of thousands of student athletes and served as the foundation for two of the most successful college football programs of all time.” Tressel has presented himself as a man of faith who does things “the right way.” Now, he is revealed to have done several things the wrong way, and knowingly and determinedly so.
On his show Jim Rome is Burning yesterday, Rome asked his guest, Matt “Money” Smith what he thought of Tressel. Smith called attention to the dichotomy between Tressel’s spiritual claims and his worldly actions. ”You can’t have it both ways,” Smith said, claiming that Tressel’s facade was a fraud. How indeed, can Tressel be BOTH a man of faith AND a selfish sinner. Rome, on the other hand, suggested that he could be both, even tough the two were irreconcilable.
Martin Luther would have agreed with Rome. Luther’s description of the Christian condition was simul justus et peccator, or “at the same time righteous and a sinner.” Faith such as Tressel’s (or yours) doesn’t prevent you from still being human. Remember when a young Britney Spears was a young Christian? She was a sex-symbol, but claimed that she was saving herself for marriage. When it came out that she had slept with Justin Timberlake, she said, “I thought he was the one I was going to marry,” and the world accused her of hypocrisy and stopped taking her seriously as a Christian. Matt Smith and many of his colleagues in the media (with Rome’s notable exception) are doing the same thing to Jim Tressel.
Christians need to be able to say, “I’m a Christian and I messed up. My messing up is the reason I’m a Christian.” This is the Christian answer to the world’s accusation that those who mess up can’t really be Christans, that we can’t have it both ways. We live in two worlds, inescapable sin and glorious salvation.