I'm a diehard college football fan. And as a fan of the University of Alabama for more than 42 years, I've come to expect nothing less than excellence from the Crimson Tide.
However, what I have also learned is that these football players are young kids. Like the rest of us, they often make mistakes on the field and in life, and they deserve grace as much as you and I do when they mess up.
Yet because of what their sport has become to mean to a mixed-up—if not somewhat deranged—society, these players carry a larger burden on their shoulders than most of us can fathom. They're expected by many rabid fans of their school to be perfect and to lead their team to victory every Saturday—because victory in a college football game is life or death, right?
The question doesn't deserve an answer.
Consider last Saturday's game between Michigan State and Michigan. With 10 seconds remaining in the game and Michigan leading 23-21, all the Wolverines needed to do was punt the ball away. For all intents and purposes, the game would end and Michigan would snap a three-game losing streak to its arch-rival.
As fate would have it, though, Michigan punter Blake O'Neill bobbled the snap and then fumbled the ball away, and a Michigan State player caught the ball and ran for a touchdown in one of the most incredible finishes ever in college football.
It's not enough that O'Neill will have to live with the fact that his team lost to its in-state rival, and that Michigan is most likely now out of the national championship hunt. It's not enough that his strong two-year career at Michigan will be marred with the legacy of this one mistake, and that it will be replayed over and over again and could haunt him for the rest of his life.
On top of that, the young man received death threats on Twitter because of the outcome of a football game. One, according to Michigan's mlive.com, told O'Neill to "head for the equipment room and start chugging that bleach my friend." Another told O'Neill to "jump off of a cliff into a pool of spikes and cyanide."
Those tweets were quickly deleted, but collegespun.com took screenshots of the worst offenders. Some were not death threats, but this one doesn't exactly offer a Christlike attitude: "The entire state of Michigan hates you."
Come on folks—are you serious? Over a football game? Things like this are only a microcosm of how sick and demented facets of our society has become. Don't get me started on the whole Planned Parenthood thing.
Where's the grace? Where is the compassion? No matter what type of person he is, Blake O'Neill deserves better. You know he is hurting inside. "If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts rejoice with it" (1 Cor. 12:26).
Let us pray for the hardness of these people's hearts that have maligned Blake O'Neill and for the love of God to overwhelm them.
This week our publisher, Dr. Steve Greene, began the week here at Charisma Media with a great message, preaching from the book of Galatians. He quoted chapter six, verses 1-3: "Brothers, if a man is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore such as one in the spirit of meekness, watching yourselves, lest you also be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if someone thinks himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself."
It's all about restoration. Bear one another's burdens. If a pastor commits adultery, confesses the mistake and repents, bear the burden with him or her. If a person steals something, admits the transgression and repents, bear the burden with him or her. If an employee misses a deadline, don't beat him or her up for it.
If a punter fumbles the ball away and his team's arch-rival wins the game in the last seconds, bear the burden with him. Encourage him and help him to know that losing a football game means absolutely nothing in Christ's plans. "So comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, just as you are doing" (1 Thess. 5:11).
And as I always like to say, "there is that."
Shawn A. Akers is the online managing editor at Charisma Media. He is a published poet and published a story about Dale Earnhardt in NASCAR Chicken Soup for the Soul. You can read his blog here. To sign up for his newsletter, "Step Out of the Boat," and other Charisma newsletters, click here. You can also listen to his podcasts, the Javelin Sports Show, on the Charisma Podcast Network.
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