Even though I love sports, I rarely address sporting topics in this blog. But recent comments on ESPN Radio’s “Mike & Mike” program were too intriguing to ignore.
Mike Greenberg, one of the talk show’s two Mikes, was discussing Mariano Rivera, the New York Yankees’ stellar relief pitcher who’s retiring after this season. Most baseball experts consider Rivera the greatest reliever in the sport’s history. He has nearly 700 career saves including the post-season, far more than any of his peers, past or present.
But perhaps even more than for his pitching prowess, Greenberg observed, Rivera’s universally admired for “his class,” the dignity with which he “has carried himself” on and off the field.
In fact, Greenberg observed Rivera’s unquestioned respect might be unmatched in any sport. Then the radio commentator searched for comparisons, citing other players who have earned similar acclaim, not only for on-the-field excellence but also for exceptional character qualities.
In particular, he pointed to three from the NFL, all no longer playing: Anthony Munoz, a legendary offensive lineman for the Cincinnati Bengals; Mike Singletary, the fierce middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears; and the late Reggie White, an incomparable defensive lineman with the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers.
What Greenberg did not mention, however, either because he didn’t know or didn’t consider it relevant, is all four men – during their careers and afterward – were men of great faith, unapologetic followers of Jesus Christ.
Rivera, for example, has served as pastor of churches in metropolitan New York and his native Panama, and reportedly plans to devote his retirement to Christian and philanthropic work. I interviewed Munoz for a magazine article in 1990 while he was still playing with the Bengals, and he asserted Jesus Christ was the focal point of his life.
Singletary, who went on to coach in the NFL, wrote several books about how his career and faith intertwined. And White became so well known for his outspoken faith in Christ, as well as his defensive skills, he was accorded the nickname, “the Minister of Defense.”
This isn’t to say, of course, that people of high character all follow Christ. Nonbelievers can exhibit good character, while not all believers have character traits worth emulating. But what a statement it is that each of the four men recognized, for both their athletic excellence and highly esteemed inner qualities, are among Jesus’ ardent followers.
In Matthew 5:16 He said, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Throughout their careers, these men let the light of Christ shine through their actions.
And 1 Peter 3:15 adds, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” Because of their on-field successes, along with their extraordinary character, each of these men had countless occasions to give their own answers to people that asked about what made them different.
But you don’t need to be a star athlete, or a famous person at all, to earn this privilege. In our chaotic world, when it seems every day there are too few answers and too many questions, a life set apart by the presence of Jesus Christ is bound to be noticed.
As James 3:13 states, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him shine it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.”
A business person that performs work with excellence and an unwavering commitment to integrity; a teacher devoted to her students, helping them to gain a love for learning and encouraging them to discover and pursue their passions; a retail clerk eager to assist customers find exactly what they need: Each, through their actions, can reflect the character of Christ and demonstrate what it means to “regard others as more important than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).
If sometimes you wonder, “What would Jesus do?”, then read those words again. That’s exactly what He did.
Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, a former newspaper editor and magazine editor. He is presently vice president of communications for Leaders Legacy, Inc., a non-profit focused on mentoring and coaching business and professional leaders. Bob has written hundreds of magazine articles, and has authored, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” “Business at Its Best,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” He edits a weekly business meditation, “Monday Manna,” which is translated into more than 20 languages and distributed via email around the world by CBMC International. He also posts regularly on two blogs, www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com, and www.bobtamasy.wordpress.com. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.