Being the Best and Being a Believer
Christianity in American sports is usually one of three narratives: (1) athletes using their fame to share their faith and their money to do good works (think Tebow), (2) athletes wrestling to live out their faith in a milieu full of temptations (lust, materialism, power, ego), or (3) athletes confronted about their views on contemporary social and political issues (gay marriage, Israel).
I want to go in a slightly different direction today, which is to say that it is possible to be a Christian and an elite professional athlete. I have been pleased to read more about the faith journeys of Clayton Kershaw, Russell Wilson, and Kevin Durant. You will not find three more successful athletes in their respective crafts of baseball, football, and basketball. By all accounts, you will also not find three nicer people to be around, which is nice to know.
Sure, these three have used their fame and money to share their faith and do good works in ways that you and I cannot. And, obviously their day-to-day lives are markedly different than ours, making living out their faith a different challenges than what we face. But, in other ways, they are ordinary followers like you and me: they read their Bibles, they struggle with sin, and they strive to be better people and better Christians every day.
In other words, they are no different from us in terms of what they want and how they go about it. Where they are different from us - practically other-worldly - is being good at something physical, and putting in the preparation time to take those physical gifts and convert them into elite professional athlete status. Kershaw just signed a seven-year, $211 million contract and is by all accounts the best young pitcher in baseball, Wilson is playing in the Super Bowl next weekend, and Durant leads the NBA in scoring.
Something I tell my kids all the time is to not be afraid of being really good at something, and to not be afraid of the time and commitment that it takes to get really good at something. Sure, becoming world-class in something can be thought of as a means to an end: to gain fame and fortune, or to use that fame and fortune to share your faith and do good works. And, sure the pursuit of becoming world-class can be fraught with temptation: to make the thing you're pursuing your god instead of God Himself, to cut corners, to step on people on the way up, or to become full of yourself along the way.
But, being the best at something is not something that is incompatible with being a follower of Jesus. It can, by itself and not as an end to something else, be something meanwhile and worth pursuing. I appreciate the humility and professionalism exhibited by Kershaw, Wilson, and Durant as they seek to be better Christians and better athletes each and every day. They know what's really important in life, and they live lives worthy of the things they believe in. But they also take pride in their craft, and they aspire to the highest heights in their respective leagues. All of that is worth emulating.