Integrity is More Important than Sports Victories

Jeff Long was in a no-win situation.

Placed in a difficult place by Bobby Petrino’s personal life (an affair) that had begun to impact his duties as Arkansas’ football coach (hiring his mistress for an administrative position with the football team), Long had two choices: Fire Petrino for cause and upset a fan base that expected the team to be ranked in the preseason top 10 or ignore the situation and allow Petrino to do damage to the school’s public image while, likely, placating fans and supporters.

Long should be applauded for doing the right thing. When many expected that Petrino would not be held to any moral standards as a football coach, Long said otherwise. By doing so, Long set a precedent that, hopefully, many schools will follow.

That is integrity is more important any amount of athletic accomplishments.

Integrity and Petrino are not words that often go together. Throughout his successful football career, Petrino has burnt bridges and acted as though he believed he was above reproach. This could be seen during his time in Louisville where Petrino was always looking for a better job. It was on display when Petrino left the Atlanta Falcons midway through a disastrous 2007 in order to take the Arkansas job.

It was certainly on display when Petrino entered into a relationship with a 25-year-old, paid her $20,000, and then, essentially, helped her to get an administrative job with the football team. This is manipulative behavior. It also behavior that will have an impact on his relationship with his wife, his children, and others in his life. It also will likely impact his future employment possibilities. By focusing only on himself and his own desires, Petrino caused a pathway of damage that will take months and years to repair.

Petrino is a broken man. He is someone who needs help and, if he would seek it, counseling.

We should applaud Long for his decision to fire Petrino. Many would suspect, and rightfully so, that Long would protect his successful coach. Petrino had built a program that was to be ranked in the top 10 and a contender for BCS births. Some would suspect that an athletics director would separate on-field performance from personal indiscretions.

However, Long chose the more difficult path. In making his decisions, Long said that leaders should be held to a higher standard. Whether Petrino recognizes it or not, but as a coach of college athletes his actions off the field are as important as his guidance on the field. Leadership is more often about our actions than our words and, it appears, Petrino lost sight of that as a college coach.

Long is not the first to fire a coach for personal indiscretions. Pittsburgh fired Michael Haywood, before ever coaching a game, in December 2010 after his was arrested in a domestic violence incident. But, Long’s decision is the first in recent memory of a coach of a top 25 team being fired for a moral failing and not as a result of a NCAA investigation. What Long and Arkansas showed is that integrity is an important aspect of leadership. No amount of sports victories can replace the lack of integrity in a leadership position.

In a generation of athletics where scandals seem to happen more than an athletic contest, let us hope that this is a decision that will inspire others. For coaches, let it be a moment to reflect on their personal lives and a reminder that they are called to be leaders by both their words and actions. As well, may it be a moment of strength for athletics directors to maintain a level of integrity in the world of professional college athletics.

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Is it OK to be a Doubting Thomas?

Thomas isn’t a popular disciple.

If we were to rank our favorite disciples in a way similar to how we rank our favorite presidents or foods, Thomas would likely be somewhere near the bottom. We’d at least rank him above Judas among the original disciples.

We know little about Thomas, but what we do know of him has earned him the moniker of “Doubting” Thomas. The nickname has come about because of a scene in John 20. In a resurrection scene, Thomas questions the other disciples when they report that Jesus is resurrected. Thomas was with them when they saw Jesus and so, John writes, he has doubts. It wasn’t until he saw Jesus, eight days later, that Thomas believed.

I don’t entirely buy the fact that simply because Thomas doubted is the reason he has become a less-than-favorite disciple. Truthfully, I think it is because Thomas is more like us than we care to admit.

We each struggle with things about our faith and life in general. There are aspects of Scripture where we struggle to see God’s love or elements of Jesus’ teaching that seem hard for us to grasp. If we were being completely honest there are moments when we doubt God’s love for us or if God is there.

The question is what do we do when we have moments of doubt?

Many of us have been told, and unfortunately I might add, that we shouldn’t doubt. That we should just ignore them, accept things as they are and move on. This is unhealthy and damaging to our faith in Christ. If we suppress our doubt for too long they become hindrances and obstacles to true faith in Christ. We end up carrying a guilt that can prevent us from embracing a relationship with God.

The call for each of us is to embrace our doubts. I think this is the story of Thomas. Here is someone who was willing to embrace his struggles and the difficulties he had with his faith. He is not someone who hid from his doubts or put on a facade to claim that he never doubted. Thomas knew his struggles, admitted them, and wrestled with them. In doing so, Thomas gives us a path to follow in working through our moments of doubts.

Thomas knew his struggles and admitted them with his fellow disciples. He knew what his weaknesses were and shared them with those whom he trusted and shared relationship with. We should never feel like we are alone when we have moments of doubts. In those moments, we should seek out the friends who will be willing to listen to us and help us through these moments.

We also must be willing to wrestle with them. This is what Thomas did in going back with the disciples to the Upper Room. He could have easily walked away, but yet he approached his doubts. He gave the doubts over to God and allowed God to show him a deeper reality. We can wrestle with our doubts by embracing them and seeking out God in the midst of the doubts. This can be through prayer, pouring through Scripture, seeking commentaries, or talking with a pastor.

Embracing our doubts can be a scary prospect. Often times, we feel like we are alone in our doubts. The truth of the resurrection is that we are never alone, especially when we have moments of doubt. God’s love never abandons us.

The hope in wrestling with our doubts is that we experience what Thomas experienced. He saw a greater reality. He met the resurrected Lord. As we work through our doubts, the hope is that, through the Holy Spirit, we will experience a greater reality and greater truth of God’s love.

Our times of doubt then can be great opportunities of spiritual growth. So, yes … it is OK to be a “Doubting Thomas,” if we are willing to embrace our doubts and allow God to show us something deeper about faith.