Do cheaters never prosper? That is the question we set out to answer a few weeks ago. We have determined Theologically that it is sinful. We have determined Philosophically that all cheating should be judged and treated the same. We have even looked at how we should handle cheaters in our ministry. But the fact is that the Houston Astros are still the 2017 World Series Champions, and so it appears that Cheaters do prosper, but today we see if that is actually the case. “Being able to watch a Houston team that you believed was one of the best teams in the world, that run that they had gone on. You're gonna see this year if they're the truth — if they're really gonna go out there and do what they do, and if they do, then nobody can really say anything. I think they do have really good players but the things they did do in the past is gonna taint what they did.” - Bryce Harper Bryce Harper’s word provide us with a unique view within professional baseball at the moment. Perhaps the Astro’s deserved the title in 2017, and that although they cheated, if they win it again this year cleanly, then it doesn’t matter if they cheated in 2017. While it sounds like a dream world scenario, we have seen this play out in other sports. The New England Patriots have had multiple cheating scandals, but the amount of times they have dominated football without cheating has in many ways given them a pass in the athletic community. Baseball culture is a bit different though. Baseball players and fans have a different view on rules and punishment, for better or worse. Players have self-governed the game for centuries with many unwritten rules and agreed upon punishments. The most glaring example of this is the comment sections of MLB or other Baseball pages when the topic of steroids come into play. Here is a stat that was posted recently on a MLB fan page: “Barry Bonds drew a walk 1,086 times from 2001 until his retirement in 2007, and in those six seasons he only swung and missed 686 times.” This is an incredible feat, but when you look at the comments all you see is the words “steroids”, “juiced”, or even pictures of syringes. Even though the stat presented is not one that steroids would impact, people see “Barry Bonds,” and steroids are the immediate response. Why is this? He arguably was headed to a hall of fame level career before the steroid use, but now he is only remembered for cheating. In Paul’s day, Athletic competition was just as much, if not more, a part of the cultural fabric of the world. All throughout the Roman empire, Stadia’s were constructed to hold races, fights, and other entertainment. And like today, each cities construction had different features or additions. In Olympia, one of these additions was a “hall of shame” that greeted participants as they entered the field of play. This hall was full of busts and names of athletes who were caught cheating. The names and offenses were cut so deep into the stone, that they can still be read today. They are forever labeled a cheater. It is highly likely that in Paul’s travels he may have seen a race or two in this stadium or at least passed by. And this hallway is what gave him the imagery needed to portray the message he had for the Corinthian church clearly, in I Corinthians 9. “Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize. Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. However, they do it to receive a crown that will fade away, but we a crown that will never fade away. Therefore I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” - I Corinthians 9:24-27 Paul lays out proper athletics in this section very plainly. If you do these three things, you remain a qualified competitor: 1. Play to Win 2. Exercise Self Control 3. Exercise Self Discipline Barry Bonds is forever linked to steroids, because he sacrificed his Self-discipline and Self-Control by taking PEDs, in order to retire with the crown of Career and Single Season Home Run King. While it appears that his cheating brought prosperity, he was disqualified in the long run. He will never make the Hall of Fame in his lifetime, and His legacy is forever tied to steroids, not records. But there is another side to the steroid story that needs addressed. Jason Giambi, a twenty year veteran of Major League Baseball, is a story like non other. He, like Bonds, was a known steroid user, but when he is brought up among fans today, you see a different reaction than you do with other steroid users. This is because in 2005, Giambi openly and apologetically admitted to the use of PEDs. He then went on to play another 10 years in Major League Baseball, and although no longer a Hall of Fame prospect, he was a leader in the clubhouse and a fan favorite everywhere he went. Although the first half of Giambi’s career is one that was not self-disciplined or self-controlled, he did not let that continue to define him. This is the reality that Bryce Harper was talking about at the beginning of this post. The Astro’s, like Giambi, have the opportunity to change their legacy still. They can go out and finish their careers qualified if they practice what Paul lays out for us in I Corinthians. "Everybody is always looking for an advantage. It’s no different than the PEDs. There's always going to be things going in this game when you're talking about people making a lot of money and wanting to win. I sleep at night great. I don't have to worry about it. The biggest thing that came out of it is I created a whole new set of fans who first gave me a second chance, but also I don't know how many parents I run into that say, 'Hey, thank you so much for coming forward where I can tell my children if they make a mistake to tell the truth.’ I think that's the biggest thing that came out of that, and I think that's what helped me be embraced for the second time around. It was because of that situation.” - Jason Giambi For us in Sports Ministry, there are a few important lessons we need to learn out of the 2017 World Series, Bonds, and Giambi.
It is important for our leagues and teams to be redemptive in nature. Athletics is a great way to show people redemption in action. Whether its recovering from a bad play to being the hero, or recovering your career from a scandalous act. Cheating does not have to define a player or program. The God we serve is “kind and ready to forgive, rich in faithful love to all who call” on Him (Psalm 86:5). That is what we need to be showing.
It is important for our leagues to be prioritizing the “crown that will never fade away.” When Jesus is the focus of our decisions, we will be able to maintain Self Control and Self Discipline, while still maintaining our competitive spirit alive. When the crown that fades away becomes the priority, we will lose sight of what truly matters.
Regardless of the how the outcome may look now. Cheating never prospers. Records are broken, Championships are won and lost, but the legacy you leave is what will define you. Will you be remembered as someone that remained qualified in all things, or not?
“The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God remains forever.” - Isaiah 40:8 It will be interesting to see how the story of the 2017 Astro’s plays out, especially with this delay in the 2020 MLB Season. Will we see disqualified athletes continue on in their ways or will we see players repent and seek redemption? Will we see a league ready to condemn or a league ready to condemn? A decade from now, will the comment section on posts about the Houston Astros be full of trash cans, or stories of careers and lives reborn?