Monday, February 8, 2016

Gotcha!


Cam Newton has been a polarizing figure within the national sports media. He's fun-loving. He's a talker. Some would say he borders on arrogant. Some would say he has the right to be. And up until last night, everything went right for him and his team. He's the reigning NFL MVP. His team was 15-1. His team had dominant victories in both the divisional and conference championship games. He played nearly flawlessly. His interviews leading up to Super Bowl 50 were engaging; his charisma filled the room.

Now, he's an enemy. His team was overwhelmed by the best defense I've seen in a long time, and they played with a swagger much like the Seattle “Legion of Boom” did a couple of years back when they pulverized the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. In a game that many thought would be Cam's coronation, it instead became a massive speed bump. And now, because of his contract, because this is professional football, he had to do his responsibility as the starting QB of the losing team of the Super Bowl to answer questions. And, after a couple minutes of short, one or few word answers, he walked off the podium saying “I'm done,” leaving reporters and the twittersphere to rail against him as immature, disrespectful, and a coward, amongst other unflattering remarks.

Yes, Cam wasn't the most professional. He walked out before his interview was over. He was curt in his answers. He didn't do a great job of publicly accepting his share of blame for the loss, refusing to say “I” and instead saying “we” in terms of where the team fell short. And now the media firestorm begins. It's a cautionary tale in how to be wise in how you answer and present yourself, as well as how to be gracious in defeat.

It's also a reminder that self-righteousness reigns for those of us who judge him so quickly. “Punk.” “Sore Loser.” “Classless.” I guess we all have a lot of experience in losing a championship in front of the biggest TV audience of the year, in that we can comment on how to handle the pressure. When we respond this way, we refuse to look in the mirror at our own sinfulness.

Now, don't get me wrong. I think we should call people in the public eye to a high standard of how they represent themselves. They are role models, whether they like it or not. And when you are ascending to be the face of the NFL, the most popular professional sports league in the country, you have a responsibility to not only do all the duties of your job, but to do them professionally. It's part of the multi-million dollar contract he signed. He's not being victimized by being ushered in front of the media after losing the game, even if he doesn't want to.

BUT, this doesn't give us the right to pile on. Look, I've never been a Cam Newton guy. I didn't like him when he was at Auburn. I've always suspected there was something fishy with the transfer, with rumors that the school gave his family money to attend there (that have never been proven.) But many are using this as the “gotcha” moment. This is the proof that Cam is a bad guy. This is “proof” that he is a jerk, that he's a brat, and much worse. Maybe he is. I don't know his heart. I'm not going to justify his behavior. I'm not even going to counter-argue by saying all the great things he has done (although I could fairly easily, just research all he's done for the children of Charlotte, NC). What I do know is that my heart is always ready to pounce when the “prideful” fall.

“See, he's not that great.”

“See, he just showed his true colors.”

“See, that's how he always is.”

We relish in piling on someone who climbed the mountain only to be brought low, particularly someone who we perceive as rubbing our faces in it. But consider these verses a reminder:

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2)

“The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.” (Proverbs 8:13)

It would be easy to apply this to Cam, but isn't it always the case that we like to apply it to everyone but ourselves? How often do I think with a prideful and arrogant heart? How often do I seek to go a way different from Christ? How often do I hate the evil that I often see inside me?

The apostle Paul was a great example of how the first evil he hated was within himself. “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (I Timothy 1:15)

Paul, while a great man, knew of his great sin. He didn't look back and say, “I used to be bad, but now I'm good.” He said “I am the foremost!” He is transformed by the grace of Christ, which allows him to see with far better clarity. And because of that same grace, we can look at our own hearts before we point the finger at Cam. We can empathize and hold him to a professional standard at the same time. We can teach our children both the need to be professional and respectful as well as the fact that even our greatest heroes need grace. All except one. Our greatest hero was the one who both gives us grace, as well as the one who transforms us to extend it.

So don't play the “gotcha” game with Cam. Don't play it with anyone. Instead, remember that if you are in Christ, Jesus could have said “gotcha” to you, and instead chose to forgive and transform. May we all do likewise.