- The Fédération Internationale de Football Association is holding the World Cup in Brazil, June 2014.
- Six men have been arrested for fixing Premier League soccer matches.
- Earlier this month, two British men were arrested for fixing Australian soccer matches.
- Retired English striker Alan Shearer is calling for “zero tolerance” for fixing of soccer matches.
There’s an old proverb, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
Life is often difficult, full of challenges, trials, and travails. But it is a testament to the human spirit, created in the image of God to mature and develop morally, spiritually, and intellectually, that in the face of such troubles human ingenuity often wins out. Brad Morgan, a dairy farmer turned fertilizer magnate featured in the documentary The Call of the Entrepreneur, put it this way: “You put your butt in the corner, you’ll be surprised what you can achieve.”
I was reminded of this insight in reading a story this week about a local company, National Nail Corp., whose recent experience embodies this reality. As Jim Harger writes, “When the bottom fell out of the home building industry in 2008, the National Nail Corp. was forced to regroup and diversify, says W. Scott Baker, president and CEO of the employee-owned company.”
One of the new products is called Camo, which “created a new way to nail down deck boards without having nails or screw heads poking through the surface to create slivers, pop up or discolor a deck surface.” As Baker puts it, “Camo was birthed when we found ourselves in a place where no one would have willingly gone.”
I’m not very handy, but Camo looks pretty cool to me.
When your butt is in a corner, you’ll be surprised what you can achieve.
This is an important lesson to remember, especially in the midst of economic turmoil and fiscal crisis. Yes, we live in an age of dizzying change, but with these changes also come new opportunities. God has given human beings the august responsibility to be moral agents, to work productively in service of others. Rather than bemoaning our fate when adversity comes, we ought to look forward in hope and creatively exercise those talents God has given us to find innovative new solutions to the myriad challenges facing the world today.
This past weekend in Chicago a luncheon was held for the kickoff of college football’s Big 10 Conference. Michigan State University quarterback, Kirk Cousins, was featured at the conference, giving an honorary talk on his journey through four years in college football, and the important lessons he took away from his experience.
Cousin’s stresses the opportunity given to him at MSU was one of privilege. Unlike most haughty star athletes, Kirk Cousins seem to understand what it truly means to be privileged in the world of sports, he says:
“It is in this place of privilege where danger lies. I have been taught that human nature is such that the place of privilege most often leads to a sense of entitlement.” He goes on to say, though, that “Privilege should never leave to entitlement. In fact, I have been taught to believe that privilege should lead to responsibility. “
After these impressive words spoken from the quarterback Kirk Cousins, he then goes on to quote from Scripture; a verse that the Acton Institute has heavily used in informing the position that businessmen, politicians, and educators in our world hold today. The passage comes from Luke 12:48, “Any person that has been given much will be responsible for much. Much more will be expected from the person that has been given more.”
This message, reiterated to us from a college football quarterback, should teach those of us who hold positions of leadership- that it is a privilege, and the privilege comes with a responsibility given to us by the grace of God. Those of us, who are given the great responsibility of leadership, have the freedom to choose what we will do with this great gift; but we should pray and hope we will choose what we ought to.
We of course have a ton of content in our blog archives at the Acton Institute. Radio legend and former Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell passed away yesterday. The infectious joy and moral quality he exuded was so grand it is worth pointing you to a post I wrote in 2008. It has a good deal of information on Harwell, including these lines:
Harwell has many thrilling encounters and prestigious awards in his long life, but his most important encounter he says came on Easter morning in 1961 at a Billy Graham Crusade in Bartow, Florida. “Something told me I should go, and then I turned to Jesus, and ever since then my life hasn’t been the same since,” Harwell says.
As a follow-up note to my previous post, “Wealth and Fidelity, Golf and Marriage,” it’s worth exploring in some more detail the multi-billion dollar phenomenon that has been called “Tiger, Inc.” and the relationship between power in sports, wealth, and politics.
Lord Acton’s dictum, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” has found relevance in a number of contexts beyond those of its initial utterance. It is most frequently used nowadays to refer to the kind of fullness of power enjoyed by politicians, celebrities, and pop royalty, those who are or consider themselves above the law, morally and sometimes legally.In its January 2010 issue, which went to print before Tiger Woods’ alleged affairs became public, Golf Digest featured a section on what Tiger Woods could teach Barack Obama (and vice versa). It makes for some painful, awkward reading at times in light of what’s happened since.
For instance, author Joe Queenan says that “Tiger never does anything that would make him look ridiculous.” Jackie Burke Jr., who shares Tiger’s permanent locker at Augusta National, similarly notes that “Tiger never answers questions recklessly, and he often pauses to consider his answers before he speaks.” Sometimes those pauses can stretch into days and weeks, apparently.
The critiques of Tiger and what he might learn from Obama sometimes read prophetically. Veteran player and commentator Judy Rankin notes that Tiger “has the ability to be even more memorable than he already is, simply by giving people the occasional personal moment.” Author Bruce McCall says Tiger needs “to be more than grudgingly civil to the vast human throngs awed to be in your presents. That adoration is what supports your empire and unimaginable wealth, so give something back.”
The Acton Institute knows a thing or two about poor fortune in the timing of a publication. An issue of our own Religion & Liberty went to press featuring a cover interview with South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford right before his international affair became the stuff of tabloids and gossip pages. This interview was in fact the last one in which he gave an in-depth look at his view of faith and public life before his adultery became public, and so even as painful as it might be to have this kind of thing happen as a publisher, it often does in fact serve some journalistic purpose, as a baseline for critique if nothing else.
In the case of the Tiger Woods feature in Golf Digest, it gives us a permanent snapshot of how Tiger Woods was viewed right before all of this came out, such that the nominal leader of the free world was considered in need of learning a thing (or ten) from him.
One of the comments on the previous post noted a connection between infidelity in so-called personal life and public life, citing Bill Clinton in particular. A recent SNL sketch makes this kind of connection even more apparent:
Sports are still able to foster human virtues, especially classical virtues like courage and fortitude. Like any good thing, sport all too often risks becoming an idol, not because of any fault within the institution itself so much as the fault lying within each human participant.
If there’s anything that distinguishes modern sports from classical antecedents, I suppose it would be the wealth that is often attached to high-profile sports today. You might call it the professionalization of sport. Yesterday’s cover story in USA Today examined the extent to which nominally non-professional sports, like college basketball, have become major industries. This is even more the case with overtly professional sports. It seems to me that in the ancient world, there was a great deal of glory or prestige that was associated with victory. But in addition to that aspect of sporting endeavors, we have the added prospect of great wealth for those who excel at golf, tennis, basketball, or football.
Glory may have been an appropriate motivation for pursuing sports in the ancient world, although there’s no doubt that this kind of fame-seeking can become idolatry in its own way. But I’m sympathetic to the view that sports’ ability to foster human virtue is at least potentially compromised by the additional motivation of wealth-seeking. For every athlete that excels today from a deep “love of the game,” there are a dozen others who are in it just for the paycheck.
From the question of performance-enhancing drugs to antitrust issues in the BCS, government involvement in professional sports is a common occurrence nowadays. Then-President-elect Obama said that he would favor a playoff system for Division I college football and that he would “throw” his weight around a little bit in pursuit of that agenda. Congress recently announced plans to take up the question of antitrust issues with the BCS.
The powerful influence of professional sports on today’s culture raises complex questions about the intersection between business and government, as well as education and moral formation. Perhaps nowhere is this influence more apparent than in the midst of March Madness.
It is timely then that tomorrow the Acton Institute’s Rome office hosts a talk by Fr. Kevin Lixey, LC, head of the Church and Sport Section of the Pontifical Council for the Laity. Fr. Lixey’s talk is titled, “Fighting the good fight: The promise and peril of sports as a training ground for virtue,” and is introduced in this way:
2000 years ago, St. Paul wrote “athletes are disciplined in every way.” But in nearly every country and every popular sport, the news reports as much scandal as inspiration. Can sports still foster human virtues? Or has the desire to win at all costs, please the crowds and increase profits destroyed the nobility of athletic competition? In this year dedicated to St. Paul, would he still use sports as an example for Christians?
So this week’s PowerBlog Ramblings topic takes up Fr. Lixey’s question: “Can sports still foster human virtues?”
This week’s commentary by Anthony Bradley, “Obviously, Sports Do Not Build Character,” (along with our poll question) made me think of the series of articles appearing in the current issue of Christianity Today, which included a cover story on the NFL and an editorial addressing faith and the NBA.
And that made me think of this parody (HT: the evangelical outpost):
Update: See also the new “Centre for the Study of Sport and Spirituality.”
Just say “No!” to corporate welfare. That’s a pretty good motto, I think.
And it seems that one form of corporate welfare, the vast system of farm subsidies, is getting some increased critical mainstream coverage. In today’s WaPo appears a story with this headline: “Federal Subsidies Turn Farms Into Big Business.”
I’ve seen quite a few stories in this vein over the past few months, exploding the mythical image of the down home family farmer. Here are some unintended consequences of the subsidies: “The very policies touted by Congress as a way to save small family farms are instead helping to accelerate their demise, economists, analysts and farmers say. That’s because owners of large farms receive the largest share of government subsidies.”
And here’s what farmer John Phipps has to say about the subsidies: “It’s embarrassing,” Phipps said. “My government is basically saying I am incompetent and need help.”
Phipps got $120,000 in subsidies despite the fact that he “harvested nearly 170,000 bushels of corn and soybeans last year on two square miles of fertile soil. He grossed nearly $500,000, putting his farm in the nation’s top 3 percent.”
These subsidies are big money, as “last year the government paid out about $15 billion in income support or price guarantees.”
Why does somebody like Phipps take the money even though it’s not a necessity? Because not taking it would put him at a great competitive disadvantage: “I’m not proud of it,” he said. “I would like to have the moral courage and financial clout not to take them. But if I don’t, I won’t be able to compete when it comes time to bid for land.”
Our own Kevin Schmiesing has some good things to say about agriculture and subsidies. Kevin says that in policy debates, “Our focus should be not so much on the preservation of the farm as on the preservation of the dignity and self-respect of the farmer. That federal subsidies will further that goal is a questionable proposition indeed.”
Geoffrey Norman at NRO offers a delightfully sarcastic discussion of the move by a couple of Michigan state senators to use the BCS title game controversy as an opportunity for political grandstanding. “Keep your hands off our football,” is Norman’s message to government.
In point of fact, however, there is a long history of government intervention in American sports. An early and famous example is the Supreme Court’s 1922 decision granting Major League Baseball an exemption from antitrust laws. The financial stakes and cultural importance of athletics are too great a temptation for participants not to seek advantage through political maneuver.