Jim Tressel and Ethics

May 31, 2011

Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel has resigned. His program is under investigation for violating NCAA rules. It appears (and Tressel has admitted) that at a minimum he looked the other way when players received benefits and gifts that were against the NCAA rules.

Many of my fellow Michigan (and MSU) fans are jubilant. OSU is going to be a weakened program. They are going to lose scholarships and be much more beatable. Just as Michigan appears to be on the rebound. But I am sad. I am sad because Tressel, by all accounts, takes his faith seriously. A few years ago, he got attention for handing out religious tracts in Columbus. He emailed players psalms. He made a point to talk about God at any given opportunity. His two books were about faith and integrity.

Which brings up the issue of ethics. I can’t speak to Tressel’s mindset but I am sure he justified his actions. He didn’t break any laws. Further, in sports, rules are often part of the game to be broken when possible. In basketball, fouls are when you do something against the rules (bump a player, slap a hand etc) but part of the game is that you have fouls “to use”. Good players use most of their allowable fouls at opportune moments in the game. Is this unethical? Of course not. Similar thought can be given to acting on the field of football. Kickers often go through great theatrics to make sure that the referee notices that they were touched by a defender (a big penalty). Similar actions are found in almost every sport (fighting in hockey, arguing with umpires in baseball, and etc). It is possible that Tressel put his actions in this category. Don’t break any laws but stretch (or break) the NCAA rules understanding that consequences are clear and fair if you get caught. I don’t know this is the reason but it is one way that a Christian in good conscience might convince himself that such behavior is ok.

With that being said, whatever justification Tressel made in his own head, he was wrong. What he did was not part of the game. He has brought shame upon himself, he has brought shame upon his school, and most importantly he has brought shame upon the faith. I listen to sports talk sometimes and I cannot tell you how many mockers (both hosts and callers) have noted Tressel’s faith and laughed at his fall as hypocritical and “typical of Christians”. Whatever justification, it is clear that only Tressel saw it that way (an indication that he misjudged things).

This brings up the issue of ethics and Christians. It is important that as we go through the world that we not only justify our actions by judging them in accordance with the Bible but also that we live in such a way that we are beyond reproach. This means going beyond proof texts and understanding the culture around us. How will our actions be perceived by others? How will our actions reflect on the faith? Would God be honored if our actions were reported in the newspapers?

And realize that, if we are open about our faith, we will be held to a higher standard. This may be unfair and difficult but it is actually a good thing. When Christians have a reputation for honesty and fairness, God is glorified through our lives.


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