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A Word from Watson

May 13, 2015

Anyone who is around me long enough figures out I’m a huge sports fan. As a Northeast Kansas guy, the Royals, Chiefs, Sporting KC, and Kansas State are among the teams I root for. After being planted in South Central Kansas for a few years, Wichita State basketball and baseball are also on my list. Even as much as I cheer my heart out for these teams, one thing that will cause me to become unsupportive is cheating in any way.

The subject of cheating in sports isn’t a new one. Pete Rose has been trying to get reinstated from a lifetime MLB ban for betting on baseball while he was involved with the sport. Alex Rodriguez just came back this year from a 215 game suspension for using P.E.D.’s. Members of the New Orleans Saints football team were fined and suspended for putting dollar amounts on the table for taking out opposing team’s players, and the latest infraction is the wonderment of “Deflategate” with the New England Patriots.

Benjamin Watson is a wonderful man of God who also happens to play football as a tight end for the New Orleans Saints. Being part of the NFL, he is in the midst of this latest round of cheating. While he chose to address the issue on his Facebook page, he also spoke to something bigger. Here’s what he had to say:

My father once told me that sin takes you further than you want to go, keeps you longer than you want stay, and costs you more than you want to pay. I seemed to learn this the hard way over the course of my life. Even the most “innocent” diversion can have lasting and devastating consequences that not only effect the transgressor but those he or she is in relationship with. 

As a professional football player I’ve been monitoring the developments of what we have come to know as Deflategate. The secret, intentional deflation of footballs below regulation for an NFL playoff game has the American sports world in a frenzy, as it should. While the collective response is strong the individual responses differ tremendously, varying on their opinion of the competitive advantage created to the severity of punishment that has been given. One thing is certain though, this recent report is the latest chapter in a series of reported infractions committed by the New England Patriots Organization, leading to an even greater disdain from some, and conversely an even greater loyalty from others, for the team that has enjoyed overwhelming success while seeming to habitually skirt the rules. While, according to investigator Ted Wells, it’s “more probable than not” that quarterback Tom Brady knew about or encouraged this violation he has not admitted guilt and until he does or evidence is conclusive I will withhold judgment. It is quite clear, however, that members of the organization blatantly cheated and have subsequently been punished. And IF Tom was one of them he is rightfully included with the rest. What seemed like no big deal at the time has taken them further than they wanted to go, kept them longer than they wanted to stay and cost them more than they wanted to pay. What was done in secret was been brought to light, and what was a thrill at the time has brought shame on the innocent, whose hard work, dedication and accomplishments are once again shadowed in doubt. 

Current and former Patriots aren’t the only ones whose hard work on the field is in question either. We are all facing similar scrutiny. The questions abound. I mean, EVERY athlete bends and breaks the rules for competitive advantage right? 
The comparisons are made. Was this punishment in line with all the others? The New Orleans Saints endured multiple lengthy suspensions for allegations that were undoubtedly more egregious, but had no more hard evidence that they ever occurred then Deflategate. Ignorance of infractions was even declared by the NFL to be “no excuse”. How is that fair? And since we are on this subject, doesn’t EVERY team in the league break rules until they get caught? What a tangled web, of finger pointing and rationalizing, our disobedience weaves for us and others!

I tell my children daily, that their disobedience removes them from my protection. When they “innocently” jump on the couch, when they’ve been told not to, falling and bumping their head is a natural consequence that they must endure because they have stepped out from under my covering of protection for them. This is true for all of us. Romans 6:23 says “the wages of sin is death”. Any infraction, any word thought attitude or deed that is contrary to the heart of a just God invokes natural consequences in our lives. Broken relationships, physical pain, lost wages, unreceived blessing, unmet potential, wounded children, guilt, fear, restlessness, can all be direct consequences of our sin. Spiritually our sin severs us from His life giving spirit and deafens our ears to His voice. Eternally, our transgressions condemn us to eternal punishment and eternal separation from God. BUT…”the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 6:23

Unfortunately we can’t choose the natural consequences for our sins. Once we disobey, we are beyond the security of the harbor, out to sea in dangerous waters on our own. Like league discipline it sometimes seems unfair, but unlike league discipline our sin carries with it eternal ramifications. Because of their actions, the Patriots have brought upon themselves a storm of controversy and repercussions that will make the next several months more challenging. 

Closer to home, though, we must all deal with our own rule infractions and the storms they have created in our personal lives. No matter how small they seem to us, they make us fall short of His glory. Contrary to popular belief, there is no “entry level” to rule breaking that makes it acceptable. Either you’re a cheater or you aren’t. If we break even one law we are lawbreakers. Scripture says,
“For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws.” James 2:10

Sometimes I rank my transgressions in tiers, comparing them to the perceived “curve” in my sphere of relationships. And while its true that certain tiers warrant more costly consequences, it is also true that even the most minor infraction qualifies one as a lawbreaker worthy of punishment. WE are not each other’s moral standard. Only God and His word have that distinction. 

When situations like this happen in sports we love to speculate about the long term health of the football legacies involved. I have no doubt that over time, the Patriots will continue to be regarded as one of the all time great dynasties of American football led by one of, if not THE greatest quarterback and coach of all time. As well they should. While this is important, the legacy we are creating with our children, marriages, and friendships is far more precious than that of an NFL team or player and when it takes a hit, it is no less resilient and reparable if confronted with repentance, forgiveness and most importantly God’s grace. 

I love Tom Brady, and consider him a friend. I feel for him at this time for many different reasons. We may never know for certain the extant to which he was involved in this illicit behavior, but unfortunately even the appearance of evil is something scripture warns us to be mindful of because it damages our reputation and our witness. At our best we aren’t very good teammates, co workers, wives, husbands, fathers, mothers, leaders or followers. But in our weakest spiritual, physical, emotional, or vocational hour, His strength proves the greatest! His grace is forever and always sufficient! 2 Corinthians 12:9

I’m not one for predictions but I do expect that ashes will turn to beauty for the Patriots, and next season will bring yet another playoff run as this punishment is masterfully retooled as coal to fuel their desire to prove their invincibility. Though not undoing the immediate consequences of our wrongs, how much greater will God’s grace and love remove our guilt and shame, give us a new heart, a new vision and lift us to new heights if we, through the blood of his Son, turn from our wickedness and follow Him!

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