If you are a fan of college athletics, you are no doubt aware that the University of Alabama – my alma mater – lost one of its most beloved sons this past weekend. Mal Moore, who recently stepped down as athletics director , passed away on Saturday, March 30. A gentle, unassuming man in many respects, Coach Moore was a giant. As a player, coach and administrator, the man was part of ten – ten! – national championships in football. The athletics programs at the University are performing at a very high level, with excellent coaches and strong revenue streams. Perhaps most importantly, Coach Moore calmly shepherded the University’s athletic department through its darkest days during the early 2000s, when scandal of every imaginable source was lurking around every corner.
(You want tumultuous? The dreaded Mike Price story broke wide open the night before I graduated. I still have nightmares.)
As an alumnus of the University of Alabama and a life-long Bama fan, I will openly admit to being sad about Mal Moore’s passing. I am especially saddened by the loss of memory that goes with it; the number of men who played for and coached with Coach Paul W. Bryant are rapidly dwindling. Other fan bases know the feeling – these legendary coaches, almost mythic in their stature are fading from our sight and, we fear, our collective memory, only to be replaced by coaches with fake tans and slick hair that remind us all too much of C.S. Lewis’ “men without chests.”
But for me, here is the twinge of pain and regret I feel over Mal Moore’s death. I never knew the man, but I have friends and acquaintances who did. The recurring theme in all the eulogies and obituaries, once we get beyond the football stories – is that every one recounts that Coach Moore was a complete and total gentleman. He loved his dear wife who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease at a very young age. He was kind to players and coaches. On a personal level, it is said – and it’s quite possible that reader and contributors to Mockingbird can vouch for this – that Coach Moore was as fine a gentleman was one could expect to meet.
I love this,because I value – perhaps too much – the existence of civility and virtue. I think these are important traits in a man; traits that I hope to exemplify and pass on to my son(s). Yet I also find this to be a crushing weight, because though I would love for it be said of me that he was thorough gentleman, I know that is not the case. I know that I am intemperate, cantankerous, impulsive, thoughtless, rude and often vulgar. The line of people who would say that I am a gentleman would be short, while the line of people – friends, family, coworkers, students, acquaintances and random strangers – who could recount some act of rudeness would make for a very long line indeed. It might rival Hands Across America for all I know.
So I find lately the law is not much of an abstract concept. Mal Moore was clearly a wonderful man and a fine coach and leader, but this is where I am. In mourning, from a distance, even, the loss of my alma mater’s athletic director, I am confronted with depth of my sins, the burdens of which are downright intolerable. I will freely admit that one of the things I really want out of life is to be one of those mythical Southern, Christian gentleman, but I fail at it on a regular basis. I don’t even have a very strong Southern accent. But the weight of the law is crushing. This isn’t simply a case of failing to measure up to Mal Moore or – who else is a good southern gentleman? Walker Percy? Shelby Foote? Joe Warren? – but in holding myself up to the light I see fully the reality of my sin, and it kills me.
Thank God for Easter. New life in the risen Christ means no more worries about manners or customs or rituals, however important (temporally speaking) those things are. Instead I am a new creation, accepted perfectly by God. In Christ, my imperfections are washed clean and whatever I manage to get right is counted as worthless (Philippians 3) and that, dear friends, is very good news. No more worries about being a perfect gentleman or lady, a prep or a hipster…it is all consumed in the sacrificial fire that is Calvary and reborn into perfection on Easter morning.