“Winning Takes Care of Everything”? by Pastor Scott Carson

Last April Nike launched a new advertising campaign featuring Tiger Woods. The slogan of that campaign was “Winning takes care of everything.” As the morally disgraced golfer resumed his place as one of today’s best golfers, his chief sponsor, Nike, unveiled a slogan that provoked heated debate about forgiveness and redemption…and had Tiger Woods attained it. Nike was making a statement. They were affirming that in their opinion, Tiger had completed his long climb back to the top ranking as one of the world’s greatest golfers. His adulterous relationships that ruined his marriage and embarrassed him, his ex-wife, Elin Nordegren, more than three years ago, didn’t matter anymore because “Winning takes care of everything.” Tiger was winning again. That was all that mattered.
One can’t help but wonder if Nike, which is one of Ryan Braun’s endorsement deals, will launch a similar campaign when Braun returns to the Brewers next season after his 65 game suspension? The star leftfielder has agreed to accept a season-ending suspension for violating the Major League Baseball drug rules. In essence he’s admitted to both using performance-enhancing drugs and lying about it, though he’d vehemently maintained his innocence since overturning a positive drug test in October of 2011 that he never used PEDs. Finally, (sort of) he’s admitted his guilt in a released statement. Maybe I missed it, but I haven’t found that Braun has ever really clearly admitted that he used steroids, at least publically.
What’s a biblical response? How’s a Christian to handle things like this? Since most of us are Brewers fans and like Ryan Braun, we need some objectivity. Relationships and team loyalty must not be allowed to color our view of what’s right or wrong. For example, how would we feel if Alfredo Aceves of the Boston Red Sox had used steroids and been suspended? Throughout this, a few things have stuck out to me.
None of this is a big surprise. We live in a culture that’s obsessed with winning, no matter what the cost. The late Vince Lombardi, former great coach of the Green Bay Packers, was famous for his statement, “Winning isn’t the most important thing; it’s the only thing!” Shortly before he died, he looked back at that quote, saying, “I wish I’d never said it. I meant the effort. I sure didn’t mean for people to crush human values and morality.”
Many involved in youth sports, high school, college, and professional levels have adopted a “win at any cost” philosophy. Situation ethics abound as players and coaches are willing to do “whatever it takes to win.”
When our boys were young, they played soccer and basketball. I was shocked at the meltdowns parents had over a game being played by five year olds. I’ll also never forget being called out as the Police Chaplain one Sunday night to minister to a family with three young boys. Dad had been arrested after firing a shotgun in the house and threatening his wife. He was raging because his team lost that day’s professional football game.
In a culture obsessed with winning, are we really surprised that professional athletes take drugs or will virtually do anything so that they can win, so that they can be on top, to make more money? The question each of us needs to ask is: Where is my ethical/biblical compass when it comes to winning? While the Bible encourages healthy competition, how one wins is more important than if one wins. And that applies to every aspect of our lives, not just sports. It means that how I work and compete on the job, even how I grow my church…must be done in a way that’s ethical and honors Christ. Along with it, I need to periodically ask: What am I modeling before my children when it comes to winning?
There are critical steps that must be taken before there can be forgiveness and restoration. Some are already rushing in to forgive Ryan Braun, yet I have yet to hear that he’s admitted he’s done anything wrong.
Confession is necessary. Even God can’t forgive unless there’s owning and confession of wrongdoing. Let’s not forget that he was caught and didn’t come clean on his own. Back in 2011, his denials and media charades made life very difficult for at least one lab technician who didn’t follow the precise chain of evidence guidelines and was accused of either incompetence or even contaminating the test specimen.
Repentance is necessary. A vital spiritual action that’s all but been forgotten even in the Church today is repentance. Repentance means a sincere turning away, in both the mind and spirit, from sin and self to God. In the biblical context, repentance is recognizing my sin is repugnant to a holy God. Yet, “repentance” can be shallow, such as the remorse we feel because of fear of punishment (like Cain) or it can be deep, such as realizing how much our sins cost Jesus Christ and how His saving grace washes us clean (like the conversion of Paul).
The Bible clearly teaches that salvation is impossible without repentance. Even on a sociological level though, how can there be forgiveness and restoration unless there is repentance? If Ryan Braun is going to ever play professional baseball again, it’s pretty simple, there must be a change in his behavior – he can’t use steroids again.
Do I believe that Ryan Braun should be allowed to play professionally again? Yes, but I believe, that like us, he needs to come clean, admit what he did, and change the direction of his life. And it seems to me, too, that there’s a larger message for us as believers. It’s not enough to know and admit that we sin; we must also repent, turn from sin and turn towards God. The Bible knows nothing of mere verbal confession, or even just verbalizing regret or remorse. Salvation means that there’s life change. It begins with confession and repentance. If one has been regenerated, there will be life change. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
It’s not enough to say, “I’m sorry.” There must also be evidence that, by God’s grace and regenerating work in my life, I am also headed in a new direction. It’s much more than just a game. Eternity hangs in the balance.