“If you build it, he will come.”
That is the classic line in the 1989 movie, Field of Dreams. In this iconic baseball movie, Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) is inspired by a voice whispering in a corn field to build a baseball diamond on his property. A farmer dependent on the corn crop for his livelihood, Ray is determined to build the baseball field whether or not he goes bankrupt and loses his family in the process. Ray wrestles with what is right, what is wrong and what his duty is. In an existential encounter with his deceased friend Terance Mann (played by James Earl Jones), Terance says,
“This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”
Indeed, baseball is a part of America’s past. Often hailed as “America’s pastime,” baseball has held a prominent position our national consciousness, with names like Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron inspiring multiple generations of Americans. Through the decades, however, the sport many grew up loving has experienced multiple black eyes.
In 1919, the Chicago White Sox threw the World Series intentionally to line their pockets with cash, resulting in eight players being excommunicated from the game. In 1989, Pete Rose was given a lifetime ban from baseball following a gambling scheme. Throughout the 1990s, performance enhancing drugs and steroids were commonplace in baseball locker rooms, blighting the reputation of many star players and their accomplishments. And in the past few weeks, the Houston Astros were caught in a sign-stealing scandal that helped win them the 2017 World Series.
According to official Major League Baseball investigation, the Astros were using electronic equipment to steal signs, giving batters the distinct advantage of knowing what pitch was coming next. This inside information led them to capture the 2017 World Series title and win many games in subsequent seasons.
The controversy resulted in moral confusion. Some, including current professional baseball players, called for harsher penalties. Others merely shrugged. Such was essentially the reaction from Jim Crane, owner of the Houston Astros, during a recent press conference expressing minimal regret that the franchise had been caught breaking the rules, but not admitting they had cheated or that they had tampered with the integrity of the game.
We enjoy sports because we enjoy delighting in what God has created.
How should believers with a biblical worldview think about this massive sports scandal?
1. Sports can be a good thing.
First, we need to remember that sports can be good. We could argue that sports finds its roots in the cultural mandate of Genesis 2. When God placed Adam in the garden, he gave him instruction not to eat of the fruit from the tree of good and evil. Adam had the ability and the freedom to enjoy the fruit from all the other trees around him. His purpose for being in the garden was not only to maintain and develop it, but to enjoy it. Leisure and play become sports when they are governed by rules and a reward is offered to the competitor. We enjoy sports because we enjoy delighting in what God has created. At its best, sports celebrates the dignity of humans in personhood, knowledge and freedom.
2. Sin taints everything — including sports.
The fall of man has corrupted every sphere of life, including sports. The conflict between the serpent and man in the garden revolved around competing views of God’s character. The serpent deceived Eve into believing that God was keeping something from her and her husband, stating, “In fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). From that moment, desire took primacy over obedience to God, and idolatry entered human history. We should not be surprised to see things like idolatry, greed, narcissism, violence and a blatant disregard for rules in all spheres of life, including sports. This is the reality of brokenness in the world.
3. We can use events like these to share the gospel.
We’ve witnessed little remorse or asking forgiveness in this baseball scandal because in a society that embraces postmodernism, there is no right and wrong. Subjective morality will always lead to crisis. The current cultural confusion, however, whether it be sports, entertainment, education or politics, presents believers with an opportunity to share the gospel. We as believers can incarnate the gospel, living by a higher standard and boldly being obedient to that standard just as Jesus did. So many people will see the injustice of this cheating scandal and ache for it to be made right. We have the message of hope; let’s look for opportunities to share it.