March 14, 2009

Praying for Alex Rodriguez

2009 1507 page6 capT NEVER OCCURRED TO ME BEFORE TO PRAY FOR A BASEBALL PLAYER. Well, actually, that’s not quite true. There was that moment at age 10 during the seventh game of the 1967 World Series when Red Sox slugger Carl Yastrzemski came to the plate . . .
And you must know that you’re in the fields of grace when a lifelong Red Sox fan is meditating on the possibility of praying for a New York Yankee.
By the time you read this, the chattering classes will have mostly finished their dissection of New York third baseman Alex Rodriguez’ admission that he took performance-enhancing drugs during a three-year period, even though he had previously denied just these things.
Hundreds of thousands of words have been written and spoken in the last week about the on-camera interview with sportscaster Peter Gammons that confirmed a Sports Illustrated story. With but few exceptions, the “baseball analysts” (the ESPN Web site alone has more than 40 print, audio, and video commentaries) are emphatic in excoriating a player already in the publicity crosshairs for his enormous multiyear contracts and his messy 2008 divorce.
2009 1507 page6Clearly coached about what to say—and what not to say—“A-Rod” describes himself nine times in the interview as “stupid,” and six times as “naive.” While all of this is somehow gratifying to a Red Sox fan, I found myself searching through the transcript of Rodriquez’ interview for any recognition of the moral weight of what he had done in taking the drugs and then lying about doing so. Though he declares some 14 times that he is “sorry” and “deeply sorry”—good starts in themselves—his apologies make clear that his primary goal is mollifying a vengeful press and the demanding Yankee fan base, not dealing with the Creator who places such great value on telling the truth.
“Look,” Rodriguez told Gammons, “I think New Yorkers like honesty. I think they like people that say the truth. I also think they like great players that know how to win. And I think winning’s the ultimate medicine we can take here. If we can win a championship, if we can play well, if we can play well down the stretch, I think New Yorkers love to forgive you.”
God does appear in A-Rod’s “confession,” however. Three times the superstar invokes His name, but only to suggest that He has precipitated the crisis for His own apparently mysterious reasons: “God has done this for a reason.” “God has a reason for everything.” Missing from the taped admission is a recognition that the primary offense in lying is first of all to the God who established truth-telling as one of 10 expressions of His own character.
Rodriguez’ nuanced admission—some analysts have pointed out that it may be just ahead of a legal posse—is no more egregious or incomplete than that offered by dozens of other athletes, movie stars, and politicians each year. We’ve all come to recognize the confessional tour that includes at least one trembling stint before the television lights as well as “candid” interviews with Oprah and Letterman. This is the way our culture dispenses forgiveness to those who break the ninth commandment, or at least how it agrees to move on to some other object of tabloid titillation.
But Scripture regularly reminds us that there is One other who requires truth in both the public square and in the inward being. “There is no creature hidden from His sight,” Hebrews tells us, “but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13, NASB).* There is still a greater court than that of public opinion, and it’s one to which all of us—baseball superstars and sandlot swatters like me—will yet give account.
And so I’ve begun praying for Alex Rodriguez, even as I pray to be increasingly more honest in all my own telling and writing.
“That’s my savior, the game of baseball,” the superstar asserted near the end of the interview.
Which only goes to prove, Brother Alex, that you need our prayers for more than learning how to tell the truth.
*Scripture quotations marked NASB are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
Bill Knott is editor of the Adventist Review.