My ambivalence toward professional sports drives me nuts. On the one hand, I grumble about the ridiculous salaries and I sneer at the objectification of women, proliferated through professional cheerleaders and dance teams (yes, I know that sneering is not nice, but come on – the outfits and choreography are cringe-worthy). But despite all my misgivings, I really enjoy the NFL with all its hype (I would say “love” but we know that word is overused). I love (oops) the larger-than-life personalities, the competition, the feel-good community that comes when our team is doing well, and the armchair quarterbacking that happens when they aren’t. Although we seldom go to the games, eating football food, wearing our team’s colors, and watching social media explode after a Cardiac Cats win is just about as fun as it gets for our sports-loving family.
In my little part of the world, basketball is king, especially in March, but this week– even as the tourneys begin – all eyes are on our favorite NFL player, Steve Smith. The Carolina Panthers, by preparing to cut ties, are losing their head and heart. The fans love (well, yes, we do) this man. He is fiery and relentless and electric. Steve Smith plays with the heart and spirit that we want in every player. His presence ignites his teammates, competitors, and fan base. And at 34 years old, he’s not ready to give up. Smith has been doggedly rehabbing a knee injury with the intention of returning (and eventually retiring) as a Panther. But the administration is ready to say goodbye, except that this news was new to Smith when it was made public to everyone else. It’s all business, you know. But in our hearts, fans believe that Steve Smith has shown enough fight, investment, dedication, and leadership to this team to be allowed to leave on his own terms and in his time.
And so, we’re furious. We cry that it’s not fair. He hasn’t been treated properly. Steve Smith has always been a Panther. How can a team be so vague about his future while quietly removing his jersey from the team store? Fans are angry about the seeming lack of communication and respect. How can we see bear to see Smitty in colors other than black, silver, and blue? Ugh, it makes me so mad.
Obviously, I have thought more about Steve Smith in the past few days than I’ve thought about a lot of other things.
And that’s where it gets convicting. Ouch.
My daughter copies what she sees. So she moans and groans about how unfair all of this is. And although my standard reply to “It’s not fair!” is “Fair ended in the Garden of Eden,” this time I don’t have a response.
And this afternoon, I didn’t have an answer for the question that came very quietly but clearly to my spirit:
“Do you care about the slave?”
“What about the orphan? The refugee? The outcast?”
Ouch, ouch, ouch.
There is a public outcry in Panther Nation about what we perceive as mistreatment toward one of our favorites.
There are less-known people who are mistreated every single day and have no one to speak for them. And they are not millionaires. They are poor, abused, sold, and alone.
This is where it gets uncomfortable, I know. But this is my blog and my conviction and my confession. It doesn’t have to be yours.
In the past 2 days, I have been more concerned with the fate of a very wealthy, famous, and successful man than I have cared about someone – anyone – who is pushed to the farthest margin of society.
This is nothing against Steve Smith. Many fans remember his less-than-sportsman moments. Like any one of us, he’s not a perfect person. But I believe him to be decent and caring and generous. He has loyally supported his community, his church, his wife, and his kids’ and their school. After every game, Steve Smith walks barefoot off the field to remind us that there are people in our community and in our world who have no shoes. Smith and his family have washed the feet of impoverished families in Tampa Bay, Lima, Peru, Charlotte, New Orleans, Memphis and Atlanta. This is a person who is doing his part to make a difference.
So this isn’t about Steve Smith. It’s about me. What have I done today to speak up and show support, not only for a professional athlete, but for someone who has a coerced profession in unspeakable things that no person should be forced into?
Did you know that there are 27 million people around the world (that includes the US) trapped in slavery today?
Who is lighting up social media with anger about this? I haven’t. Until now.
There are women going to abortion clinics because they think that no one has truly loved them; so they ask themselves – how can they love a child? I know that they ask this question because I once sat and looked in the eyes and talked to women like them. That was before I got so busy. Because I think my time is so important like that.
And perhaps Steve Smith himself would rather that I be more concerned with the millions of people around the world who have no closets filled with shoes. They have no closets. And they don’t fight the crowd at the grocery store before the big game to stockpile on wings and burgers and beverage (soda, of course). Because their decision is not between mild or spicy salsa. They are deciding between clothes or food. Or medicine.
Yes, “fair” ended in the Garden. But unfairness is so much more than the minor things that I whine about. The world is fallen through and through, but how is it that I live under a solid roof with a trash can full of food and bags of clothes that don’t fit anymore? I have a responsibility. I’m haunted by the words of Christian activist William Wilberforce: “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”
So, I admit that I am torn. So torn. While I bemoan our greedy, celebrity-driven culture, I also buy into it. I can’t answer for all the contradictions in my spirit. This Steve Smith deal and this simple little question in my spirit raise far more questions than I can address with these inadequate words. I’m not telling myself and my family to never purchase a jersey or to feel guilty for enjoying burgers at the game.
I am just trying to learn how to live as a Christ-follower who has a little perspective for things that really matter in the end.
What riles my spirit? What makes me mad? What am I doing with the real injustice in the world?
Yes, I’m going to look at social media feeds to see what happens to Steve Smith.
But more importantly, in response to that question in my spirit, I’m not going to look the other way.