Football and Jesus go together like America and apple pie. In Texas, football is a religion. Some high school stadiums are larger than small colleges. In the Bible Belt, who you root for is as important a question as where you go to church. Georgia Bulldog coach Mark Richt had a cameo role in the Christian movie, Facing the Giants. Further north you find Touchdown Jesus at Notre Dame. Tony Dungy has made a name for himself as the NFL's spiritual mentor based on his outspoken beliefs and willingness to take troubled players under his wing.
It is against this backdrop that the news Tuesday out of the Ohio State University came as a shock. But if you follow college football (or make random blog posts about how the priorities of college ball are all out of whack) it really comes as no surprise. It turns out Ohio State's head football coach, Jim Tressel, knew about the allegations I mentioned in my earlier post all the way back in April. That means he let his players, who weren't just being investigated by the NCAA but by the FBI, participate the whole season capped by their appearance in the Sugar Bowl. His penalty for lying to his university and to the NCAA? A two game suspension and a $250,000 fine. The fine sounds like a lot until you learn that Tressel makes more than $3 million a year. His excuse of an excuse? He didn't want to breach the confidentiality of the investigation. (Sorry, that's not when you choose to stay quiet, it's when you choose to call your lawyer. There's this thing called privilege, coach.)
The irony is that to face the music, coach Tressel had to cancel a book signing tour. The book? Life Promises for Success, Promises from God on Achieving Your Best. This isn't his first Christian book either. He is also the author of The Winners Manual (which includes a forward by John C. Maxwell). I don't follow Big Ten football that closely, so I have no idea if Tressel wears his faith on his sleeve, but I'm not sure I want to learn about God's promises on achieving my best from someone who is now known to cheat, or follow a manual on winning from a coach that plays a soft schedule every year just to choke in the BCS. (Sorry, had to throw that jab in there)
In America, we worship a lot of things other than God. We worship money, fame and fortune, gadgets, status, and on and on. Add sports to that mix. In the cathedral of football, we worship at the altar of wins and losses. If a coach doesn't meet expectations, bring out the pitchforks. (A few years ago Nebraska fired a coach who had just won 10 games. And don't get me started on how Arkansas ran off Houston Nutt.) Churches change their schedules around on Super Bowl Sunday while attendance drops during the NFL season. Christians in America are more likely to strike up a conversation with someone about sports than about Christ. We wear jerseys, hats, and other apparel signifying our allegiances, but hide our faith in the public square. I'm not casting stones. We are all guilty. The scandals that keep piling up require us to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask the honest question: in the heart of the playoff race, who do we worship?