Plagued by Pragmatism: How Your Actions Show What You Value

Within the next few days (maybe even hours) several MLB players will be officially suspended 50 games for using PEDs.  As one of our Tigers is on that list, the radio waves of the sports talk station here in the Detroit area have been flush with callers representing a myriad of positions.  Some think a suspension is too light a punishment, arguing that the Tigers should cut any player caught using banned substances.  Others argue that the problem is the rules themselves, saying that players should be allowed to use whatever substances they choose in an effort to make themselves the best athlete they can be.  What is interesting to me in the whole debate is how easily integrity is shoved to the back-burner.  Whenever I hear a caller bring up the integrity of the game or its players, they are usually met with a sympathetic nod followed with “But if you’re going to be competitive against other teams that are doing it, you might have to do it too.”

Maybe I’m over-analyzing (which I can admit I am prone to do), but when I hear statements like that I always think of the unintended consequences that arise when we jettison the concept of truth.  We are all aware of the ongoing conversations about the “big ticket items” like sexuality and abortion, but rejecting the notion of absolute truth affects every aspect of life, even sports fandom.  As Gene Veith put it in his book Postmodern Times, “Today people have little patience for systematic thinking and abstract ideals.  Pragmatic questions dominate contemporary discussions, from Congress to church boards”[i] (emphasis mine).  You might also add discussions about PEDs to that list.  In the absence of a universal standard of right and wrong, judgments about the acceptability of an action are often made on the basis of pragmatism (Does it work?).

We like to be entertained – we want our athletes to routinely execute feats which we could only dream of doing ourselves.  And if they have to break the rules to do it, many fans don’t care (as long as their players don’t get caught).  What bothers me about the whole discussion is how glibly and casually the notion of integrity is brushed aside like crumbs off a tablecloth.  But, I suppose, integrity is measured according to the moral standard one is attempting to uphold.  If pragmatic results like performance are truly all that matters, then we should not be surprised when players go beyond the rules in an effort to produce the desired results.  It also shouldn’t surprise us that owners who are looking to make a profit and manager and GMs who are looking to keep their jobs tend not to notice these things.  If everyone involved continues to make their money, then it is foolish for outsiders to expect change.

We can only control what we can control.  We ought to keep a close watch in our own families on what standard we are using to measure an action in our homes.  What are you teaching your kids is truly important in life?  What do your choices show your kids is important to you?  One of the things I remember getting disciplined for as a child was calling my sisters names.  I was taught from an early age that the words you use toward another human being, especially family, are important and not to be treated lightly.  I also try to teach my children that their words matter, that the tone of their voice is often times even more important than the words they actually say.  I want to teach my children that while using harsh words may get you what you want in the moment, it also alienates other people and drives them away from you in the long run.  There are bigger questions to consider than, “Does it work?”

Ultimately, the foundation in our families should be forgiveness founded upon the truth of our Lord’s Word.  In the words of the Apostle Paul, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,  bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Col 3:12-13).  As we have been forgiven by the death of Jesus, so also we forgive those around us – especially in our own families.  Demonstrating this spirit of humility to our children will instill in them its importance.  Rather than cheating or manipulating the system to get our own way, we demonstrate lives of mutual confession and forgiveness.  Let this be the thing that impacts our children the most.

While the world around us is obsessed with pragmatism and results, let us hold firmly to the truth of our Lord’s Word to determine the worth of an action, confessing our sin when we have done wrong, and forgiving those who have wronged us.


[i] Veith, Gene. Postmodern Times: A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture. Wheaton: Crossway, 1994 (p.83)

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