A Post About A Christian Athlete
Today’s post is the first from my good friend Chandler. Chandler is a pastor-in-training who works with college students. Along with being a solid dude, he is also funny sometimes and also enjoys writing. Therefore, it just makes sense for him to start writing semi-regularly for The Greatest Blog Of All Time.
My goal for this year was to write more often, and to write more humorous stuff. I’m thankful for the GBOAT and the opportunity to have a place to do that. I wrote a post about the movie Space Jam for this blog that I really enjoyed writing and hopefully will be run soon. But this whole thing came up, and it just felt way more important to me, so this one is, as we like to say, “real talk.”
So, stop me if you’ve heard this one before – hot shot baseball prospect. Gets drafted, then loses everything – his career, his family, almost his life – because of drugs and alcohol. He meets Jesus, cleans his life up, and becomes an All-Star and wins an MVP award. He lives happily ever after, because that’s what Jesus does, right? He gets you out of a jam and fulfills your wildest fantasies and everything is ok after that…right?
Well, that’s what happened in this story.
I’m talking about Josh Hamilton, the outfielder for the Texas Rangers. Josh’s story is pretty incredible. In 1999, he was drafted number one overall by the Tampa Bay Rays. In 2001, he started abusing drugs and alcohol, and by 2004 he was out of professional baseball completely. He was, at one point, living on the street despite having a wife and daughter. But by 2007, he was back in the bigs, playing for the Reds. Then he got traded to the Rangers in 2008, and the story became too good to be true. He became one of the best hitters in baseball, earning multiple trips to the All-Star game and winning the American League MVP in 2010. It’s one of those stories that’s too good to be true.
And…in a way…it was too good to be true.
In 2009, Josh was seen drinking at a nightclub in Arizona. Then, this week, Josh was seen drinking again. And not just “oh, he had a beer” drinking. Like…relapse drinking. If you know anybody who has struggled with alcoholism, you know that for them, there’s not much of a difference in the two.
After both incidents, he took full responsibility for what happened.
So much has been written about Christian athletes recently. The Tim Tebow story headlined Sportscenter almost every week, and it was pretty rare that his story was mentioned without bringing up his faith. And it made sense – he’s a guy who apparently practices what he preaches. He’s the guy kids looked up to. Men wanted to be him and women wanted to be with him. And the whole time, he was giving glory to God, where all glory rightly belongs. Regardless of how you feel about his football prowess, you have to admire a guy who speaks his beliefs and seems to live them.
But Josh’s story is different. Here’s a guy who is also up front about his faith. He has given full credit to God for his turnaround, and also glorifies him as much as he can. Yet he still has had a couple of major slip-ups that have been majorly publicized. He’s definitely not Tim Tebow.
Yet I find that I identify with Josh Hamilton probably more so than any other Christian athlete that I’ve ever followed closely. And I think his screw-ups are a big part of why. He’s human. He reminds me that I, too, need grace as much today as I did the day I first believed. He reminds me that the Christian life is not about being perfect, it’s about being perfected (Romans 12:1-2). He reminds me that I, too, am never more than one step from a fall. And above all, he reminds me that my salvation is not based on my actions, it’s based on Christ’s actions, both in his perfect life and undeserving death. Josh Hamilton didn’t lose his salvation because he relapsed. And I have to remind myself of that in my own life almost daily.
I really don’t know how the media (Christian or otherwise) are going to handle this story. I do know that we tend to hold athletes to a higher standard in general, and we hold Christian athletes to a standard that is literally impossible to maintain. I’ve seen guys who are confessing Christians get written off because the TV camera picked up a curse word let out in an intense play in a game.
But if Tim Tebow is a guy we can get behind (and I think he is – the guy clearly has leadership abilities and is a great role model for all of us), Josh Hamilton is a guy we can – no, we must – stand beside. He is a brother in the faith, a brother who needs our encouragement, our prayer, and our support, just like each one of us needs it as well. Because aren’t we all recovering addicts? Drugs, alcohol, pornography, eating disorders, gossip, selfishness, thinking we’re better than others, etc.
I doubt Josh Hamilton ever reads this. But if I had a chance to speak to him, I’d want to tell him to keep fighting. Grace is, in part, about being picked back up after being knocked down. Grace is a God who is not surprised by our sin. Grace is, in fact, a God who continues to love us in spite of our sin. Grace is a God who knew we couldn’t do anything about that sin, so he solved the problem for us.
I’m reminded of the song “Be My Escape” by Relient K and the line “The beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair.” And I am thankful for that grace. And I am thankful for guys like Josh Hamilton, because his story reminds me that none of this is fair.
If it were “fair”, I’d have been cast out a loooooooong time ago.