Category Archives: Sports

Brady, Clinton, and the Art of Deception.

New chapters were written this week in two ongoing sagas in the worlds of politics and sports. First, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell upheld the four-game suspension of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for his alleged role in Deflate-Gate. Later, news broke that a two-month gap exists in released e-mails from Hillary Clinton’s private server, which she used to conduct official business during her time as Secretary of State; the gap corresponds with a time of intensifying violence in Libya.

Both narratives involve alleged wrongdoers destroying potential evidence and then demanding we believe their assertions that nothing incriminating existed on the devices they eradicated. Brady allegedly destroyed his cell phone and SIM card just before he was scheduled to meet with NFL investigators about his role in Deflate-Gate and insists he took the action because he had recently purchased a new phone. The timing was mere coincidence, he argues.

Similarly, Clinton’s campaign, while admitting that thousands of e-mails from her e-mail account were destroyed, insist that only those her team deemed personal were discarded and withheld from investigators. She also allegedly wiped clean the server she employed for her e-mail, making it impossible for anyone to recover documents previously stored on it.

Brady and Clinton appear to be following the same script, one increasingly popular for dealing with legal troubles, public scandals, and public relations nightmares: destroy anything that might corroborate alleged wrongdoing and then insist nothing of evidentiary value was on the device or document. That tact allows the accused to pursue a path of plausible deniability in which they inform investigators and the public alike that no evidence exists of their wrongdoing. If that all seems rather convenient for the defendant, well, it is – and by design.

While such a strategy may prevent an actionable legal remedy in court, it ought not preclude judgment in the court of public opinion. We need not suspend common sense or avoid exercising sound judgment in arriving at an informed decision as to what happened. We can decide whether a series of improbable coincidences is just that or points to something more devious. And we ought to keep in mind that those destroying potential evidence realize the optics will look bad for them and proceed anyway. That certainly suggests something to hide.

Defenders, of course, perform all manner of linguistic gyrations to preserve the integrity and innocence of their candidate, their teammate, or their hero. They refuse to employ objectivity in arriving at what happened. Like thousand-dollar-an-hour attorneys, they decry the absence of evidence and like rabid dogs bark the mantra of presumed innocence. And certainly we never want to lose sight of that precious presumption.

But we ought also keep in mind the legal principle of res ipsa loquitur, which is Latin for ‘the facts speak for themselves.’ Though primarily used in tort law, the doctrine infers culpability despite the lack of direct evidence. In the Brady and Clinton escapades, it means we ought not ignore the fact that destroying cell phones and servers say a great deal about potential evidence on the devices.

Sadly, this trend is not limited to Clinton or Brady, or to politicians and athletes. It is an epidemic plaguing the nation. It is born of a worldview that declares as long as no one can prove you misbehaved it never really happened. It dovetails nicely with the outlook that the ends always justify the means. Paired together, these philosophies teach us to do whatever it takes to achieve our goals and reach the pinnacle of success. And if in the process ethical lines are crossed, legal standards are breached, and the distinction between right and wrong is blurred, well so be it.

As a result, we have more and more athletes who do whatever necessary to win world championships, politicians who rewrite history to keep alive presidential aspirations, and businessmen who do anything to make a buck. If as a society we do not do a better job censuring deceit and the destruction of evidence, then eventually it will become a societal norm. And if we continue to look the other way and ignore transgressions because the accused plays for our team, represents our political persuasion, or earns us an enviable profit, then we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves when honesty disappears from the country, like incriminating evidence on a politician’s or athlete’s electronic device.

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Faith Lessons from the NFL.

With the NFL Conference Championships now concluded and the Super Bowl only a week away, what an appropriate time to explore what Christians can learn from the NFL, in particular the Seattle Seahawks historical comeback against the Green Bay Packers last Sunday. While any comparison between sport and faith is tenuous, the dramatic outcome of that game represents an ideal metaphor for understanding several truths from Scripture. Here are three important spiritual lessons gleaned from that memorable game.

1] For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required. Jesus spoke these words about faithful stewards in a parable to His disciples (see Luke 12:48). In football, those players in whom the team invests the most resources (largest contract) ought to have the biggest impact on the game. In Sunday’s match-up Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay quarterback with the biggest team contract, was expected to be the playmaker who delivered a victory for his team. Instead, his lackluster performance contributed more to the team’s loss than any Packers player, evidenced by the abysmal six points off of five defensive turnovers.

Similarly, those believers whom God has given the most are expected to faithfully steward those resources for His Kingdom. Sadly, this truth has been lost on many of us – corporately as a church and individually as believers. Blessed with incredible wealth the church regularly chooses to direct a vast majority of God’s resources on beautiful buildings and programs that often have a tangential relationship to the gospel, all the while neglecting the biggest need of all: taking the gospel to the entire world. Most churches spend less than ten percent on global ministries and bringing the Good News to people who have never heard of Jesus’ forgiveness and mercy.

Not surprisingly, many churchgoers adopt this model in their own lives and with their own resources, refusing to tithe or giving very little as a percentage of their income. Like the church, they direct nearly all their income on themselves, acquiring more and nicer stuff, and pampering themselves with luxury and comfort. That mindset has infected the church so severely it is destroying it from within and is representative of the unwise and unfaithful steward. We would do well to reevaluate how we employ God’s resources and make sure we use them to proclaim His message of hope, love, and forgiveness locally and abroad.

2] Everyone plays a role, so be ready. The play that turned everything around for the Seahawks was a fake field goal in the fourth quarter. The placeholder scrambled to his left and floated a wobbly pass twenty yards downfield to a wide-open third-string tight end who had not caught a pass all year. The two players perhaps least likely to connect on a passing touchdown had a tremendous impact on the game. Without them executing that play the comeback never begins.

Similarly, God has a plan for each of us no matter how insignificant we seem. He wants us involved in His game plan not sitting on the sidelines offering excuses for why we are not impacting the world. Are you sitting on the bench with regards to your faith? Do you remain silent about your faith when talking with friends, family, and work colleagues? Are you disengaged from sharing God’s love with the marginalized, destitute, and haters in your community? It’s time to get in the game and make a difference. Paul tells us to be prepared at all times to share the gospel with others (2 Tim 4:2). Are you prepared? Do you act on that preparation? You need not be a pastor, eloquent speaker, admired author, or engaging extrovert to have a substantive impact for Christ and His Kingdom. You need only have a servant’s heart, a willing spirit, and an authentic love for the Lord. Ask Him to reveal opportunities to serve, love, and teach others in His name. He’ll answer your prayer and soon you’ll be making a real contribution.

3] Don’t presume the outcome. This is, perhaps, the most critical lesson of all. With less than three minutes to play in the game nearly every Packers fan believed their team was headed to the Super Bowl. They led by twelve points, which meant the Seahawks needed to score two touchdowns in a game in which it had only managed one touchdown over the first fifty-seven minutes. Fans were probably already booking flights and making hotel reservations so they could see the Super Bowl in person two weeks later. After all, what could go wrong? Well, as Packers fans soon learned, just about everything could, and did, go wrong. The Seahawks pulled off arguably the most impressive last-minute comeback in NFL playoff history and defeated the Packers in overtime. Green Bay fans were devastated. How could something so certain end in such misery? Fortunately, their emotional turmoil will subside as life goes on.

Jesus informed His followers of a similar scenario playing out on the day of His second coming. He explained that many who claim they are Christians and profess Him as Lord will not join Him in heaven (see Matthew 7:21-23). This will come as an unbelievable shock to them. They will protest vigorously and insist He reconsider, reminding Him of all they have done to deserve heaven. However, the absence of a personal, robust, and healthy relationship with Him prevents them from enjoying eternity in heaven. Like Packers fans from last weekend, these men and women are devastated. They, too, were certain of the outcome – that they would spend eternity in heaven. Like Packers fans, they were wrong. Unlike Packers fans, their turmoil does not subside and life does not go on.

Are you a Christian? Do you consider Jesus, Lord? If so, take time to study the Bible regularly and understand His expectations for those who follow Him. Learn who He was, and is, and live according to the pattern He established. Most of all, cultivate a love for Him. Consistently carve out time in your schedule to worship, praise, and serve Him. In the process you will learn what it means to make Him Lord and develop a relationship that precludes you from getting shocked when He returns.

Top Five Plays in Packers Victory over the Cowboys.

Packers fans enjoyed a thrilling victory over the NFC East winning Dallas Cowboys on Sunday afternoon. The rollercoaster contest included no fewer than a dozen superlative plays from members of the Green and Gold, often by players less heralded during the regular season. Reasonable minds might have a different perspective but there is no denying the criticality of five plays in particular in Green Bay advancing to the NFC Championship game next Sunday in Seattle. Here are the top plays from Sunday as I see it. Not surprisingly, all occurred in the second half.

#5]  Davante Adams’ huge third down conversion on third and three with two and a half minutes left in the game. He ripped the ball from the cornerback who nearly intercepted the ball for a pick-six that would have put Dallas in the lead. The reception gave Green Bay a new set of downs and went for twenty-five yards and into Cowboys territory.

#4]  Randall Cobb’s incredible third down conversion with less than two minutes left to play after a Dallas defender deflected the ball into the air. The twelve yard completion came on a difficult down and distance of third and eleven, and sealed the win for the Pack.

#3]  Davante Adams’ juke of safety J.J. Wilcox on a forty-six yard touchdown reception that came on a third and fifteen play with two minutes left in the third quarter.

#2]  Julius Peppers stripping the ball from DeMarco Murray on the Cowboys forty-yard line in the 3rd quarter. Absent that forced fumble, Murray likely goes all the way to the Big House and generates significant momentum for the Cowboys.

#1]  Aaron Rodgers’ thirteen-yard touchdown strike to Richard Rodgers with nine minutes left in the game. The play not only provided the game winning score for the Packers but also required A. Rodgers to scramble out of the pocket on a bum leg and throw against his body. The resulting dart resembled a missile cruising at low altitude and came against tight double coverage on R. Rodgers.

Defensive Player of the Game: Julius Peppers. His sack set the tone early in the game and his forced fumble of Murray in the third quarter saved a touchdown and set up a field goal by Mason Crosby.

Offensive Player of the Game (not named Rodgers): Davante Adams. He had a huge game that compensated for the absence of Jordy Nelson, who was a non-factor due to tight coverage by the Dallas defense.

MVP of the game (and season): Aaron Rodgers. His courage in playing on his bum wheel, especially in the second half, was nothing less than spectacular. It was a performance for the ages and secures a memorable place in the annals of Packers history. He completed his last ten pass attempts of the second half and for the game threw for three hundred plus yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions.

Packers Training Camp Observations.

Here are a couple initial impressions I had observing the opening of Packers training camp this weekend.

  • Getting Casey Hayward back in the starting line-up will strengthen the secondary and increase defensive turnovers. While Micah Hyde received most of the favorable press during OTAs (deservedly so) and expectations are high for Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, both of whom should contribute to remarkably better safety play, it is Hayward’s return that ought to excite fans the most. During eleven-on-eleven drills he consistently demonstrated the intuition and reflexes that made him an interception machine his rookie year. If he remains healthy the entire year, the defense will be much improved over last year.
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  • Receiving punts during special teams drills were Hyde, Cobb, White, and Abbrederis. That said, let’s be serious about potential candidates. The only reason Cobb returns punts during the regular season is that Ted Thompson wants him injured so he can lock him up with a long-term contract on the cheap. With respect to the other three candidates, no one misfielded a punt and all three look like natural returners. Local UW product Abbrederis looked especially elusive attacking the seam.
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  • Peppers, Matthews, and the defensive scheme. Folks, it is going to be one heck of a fun season watching these two cats get at the quarterback if they both remain healthy. Though Capers no doubt held back some of the more exotic schemes he plans to use, he mixed and matched those two on both sides of the line. If Peppers plays at his historical level, offensive coordinators will lose considerable sleep attempting to game plan against this pair. Look out!
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  • Lacy, Lacy, Lacy. No sophomore slump on the horizon for the big fella. He looks as explosive as he did last year and now has a year of experience and understanding of the playbook under his belt. He is so much bigger than any defensive back, and many linebackers for that matter, that I can’t imagine DBs wanting any piece of a charging Lacy once he builds momentum at the second level. Take a moment to savor the Lacy-Rodgers combination this year because it has the makings to be produce an exceptionally special offense.

Green Bay Packers 2014 Season: Outlook.

As training camp approaches for the Green Bay Packers it seems an appropriate time to examine the strengths that make the team a contender to play in Glendale, Arizona next February for their fifth Lombardi trophy. Also, let’s briefly consider potential barriers to earning a record fourteenth World Championship. Finally, I’ll take a stab at predicting the likely win total for the season as well as offering a floor and ceiling in win totals. As always, feel free to comment and offer your predictions as well.

Any serious analysis of the Packers’ hopes for the season begins with quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Entering his seventh season as the starter, Rodgers has achieved the status of an elite signal caller and is widely viewed as among the top three quarterbacks. His combination of arm strength, shiftiness in the pocket, and ability to throw receivers open are unparalleled in the league. His presence alone ensures the Packers will field a competitive team for every game and almost certainly produce a winning season.

The emergence of Eddie Lacy last year provides the jab to Rodgers’ right hook that gives the Packers a lethal one-two punch on offense. Teams must now pick their poison and decide who represents the biggest threat they must defend. Defensive coordinators can no longer play two-deep schemes that leave only seven men in the box because Lacy will make them pay, and pay dearly. A full season of Rodgers throwing darts all over the field and Lacy running roughshod over defensive backs offers an electric offensive combination that should excite Packer fans.

The offensive line improved last year in pass protection and in opening holes for Lacy. That trend should continue as left tackle Bakhtiari has bulked up in the offseason and now possesses a full year of experience. Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang represent one of the premier pair of guards in the league with Sitton punishing defenders on the left side at an All-Pro level and Lang performing on the right side at a solid, though not yet elite, level. Bryan Bulaga returns to right tackle after missing last season with a knee injury and likely improves that position over the serviceable Don Barclay.

To defend in a league that emphasizes the pass and against a schedule that includes quarterbacks Brady, Brees, Cutler, Wilson, and Stafford, the Packers need strong play from their cornerbacks. Fortunately, that represents the primary strength of this defensive unit. Sam Shields demonstrated enough talent to earn a sizeable contract in the offseason and should operate as the shut-down corner for the Packers this year. Tramon Williams returned to his 2010 form in the second half of last season and expects to replicate that for a full year this season. With ball-hawk Casey Hayward manning the slot, Capers has the talent to keep opposing signal callers in check.

So what potential landmines lie under the surface that might prevent this Packer team from hoisting the Lombardy Trophy in Arizona?

Injuries represent the unknown most likely to jeopardize the Packers season. Untimely injuries to one or two elite players or half a dozen starters could send the team home for the playoffs. It is critical that core players remain healthy for the season if the team hopes to fulfill its objectives in the post-season.

Also, there are several positions that have not yet had a starter identified including center, tight-end, and the safety spot opposite Morgan Burnett. While it appears a solid starter for each role exists on the Packers roster, that expectation must be fulfilled when the pads come on and the game whistle blows. If Coach McCarthy’s staff can plug those openings with players who perform at even an average level this year, then the team will be well positioned for sustainable success. If not, opposing teams may exploit those weaknesses, which risks unraveling the Packers’ season.

Next, the defense needs to get its anger on. The past couple years this team has lacked an aggressive, mean approach to business. The talent appears to exist but something gets lost in the man-to-man confrontations in the trenches. That trend cannot continue if this team hopes to play in the forty-ninth Super Bowl. Fortunately, defensive tackle Mike Daniels recognizes this and has already begun establishing expectations for his teammates and demanding that as a unit they play angry. If he succeeds in getting the defensive unit to adopt that mentality game-in and game-out, then the season becomes promising on that side of the ball.

Finally, the team needs to avoid any regression from core players – as happened with Morgan Burnett last year – and two or three young players need to take their performance to the next level as Mike Daniels and Jarrett Boykin did last year. If no one emerges from training camp with amplified skills from last year, then the chance to go deep in the playoffs lessens.

Now it is time to make a prediction that I will have to stand by for the next six months. I believe the Packers likely will finish with eleven or twelve wins and have a ceiling of fourteen and a floor of ten (barring serious injuries). They will win their fourth consecutive division title (though it will be closer than most think) and will play in the conference finals. They certainly have the talent, depth, and experience to earn a spot in the Super Bowl but so do four or five other teams in the conference. That said, 2014 promises to be an exciting, enjoyable season for Packer fans as long as the injury bug does not bite again, and has the potential to be something very special. A fifth Lombardi trophy and fourteenth World Title is certainly a realistic possibility.IMG_0148

The Spurs Way – Substance over Flamboyance.

Sunday night the San Antonio Spurs defeated the Miami Heat to claim their fifth NBA Championship over the past sixteen years – an impressive thirty-one percent of the titles during that span. In the Heat, the Spurs beat the two-time defending champions whose big three includes four-time NBA regular season MVP, LeBron James. And the Spurs didn’t just defeat the Heat, they dismantled them. Their seventy-point differential during the Finals established an NBA record. This was not an accidental championship.

In addition to their five titles, the Spurs have been a model of consistency since Duncan’s rookie year. They have made the playoffs seventeen consecutive seasons and tallied fifty or more wins during each of them, except for the strike-shortened 1998-99 season in which they won their first title. The latter represents an NBA record.

So why do the Spurs so often get excluded from the conversation when discussing the greatest dynasties in NBA history? They have five titles that include one at the beginning and one at the end of their run (not that it’s done yet). They possess a known superstar in Tim Duncan who, despite his humble and soft-spoken demeanor, has earned two MVP titles and ten first-team All-NBA selections. And they have established a legacy of consecutive playoff appearances that is unprecedented. Their production cannot be ignored.

But for many experts and fans the Spurs lack a critical piece to the dynasty puzzle. Panache. The Spurs are not flamboyant. They are the anti-Showtime. They prefer relentless efficiency to a flair for the dramatic. They are one hundred percent substance, zero percent flashy. And in a nation that increasingly favors style over substance (look no further than reality television and, especially, the Kardashians – those quintessential examples of flamboyance and style over substance), the Spurs just don’t measure up.

Which is a shame because I think we can learn a lot from how the Spurs have gone about their business. Their stars have sacrificed personal stats for the success of the team (see Manu Ginobili coming off the bench instead of starting). Humility and poise irrespective of the outcome – no in-your-face trash talking from these guys. Review the video from the end of game four in Miami last Thursday. The camera scanned both benches and it was impossible to tell which team was about to win the blowout and which was about to lose.

The Spurs have not only achieved an enviable and, at times, unprecedented measure of success, they have done it the right way – the Spurs way. Substance over style. That may prevent some experts and fans from placing them among the greatest dynasties in NBA history. But that says more about our culture and us than it does about the Spurs’ accomplishments.

Tony Gwynn: All-time great.

The baseball world learned today the sad news that one of its great ambassadors had passed away at fifty-four. A legendary hitter whose career average of .338 places eighteenth on the all-time list, Gwynn garnered 3,141 hits over his remarkable twenty year career. His prodigious feats with the lumber were a reflection of his incredible bat control, further evidenced by his never striking out more than forty times in a season.

But what made Tony truly special was the manner in which he carried himself on and off the field. For all his accomplishments he never displayed an air of arrogance – that fatal flaw that plagues so many superstar athletes today. He paired his genuine humility with an unbridled enthusiasm for the game, as demonstrated by his persistent (and contagious) smile. He was a role-model parents could be excited about their kids emulating because he not only showed young boys and girls how to play baseball exceptionally well, he showed them how to treat others and conduct themselves off the field.

The most special sports memory I have occurred in August of 1999 in Montreal. Gwynn’s Padres were playing the Expos in a game one might have assumed carried no significance judging from the several thousand fans in attendance. But something historic happened that night. Tony Gwynn knotted his three thousandth hit and in typical fashion did so on a punch-and-judy single between short and third. The limited number of fans present for that memorable achievement might have hastened baseball’s decision to relocate the Expos (how can a city reasonably expect to keep a franchise when its citizens have no interest in experiencing baseball history).

Tony Gwynn is one of three all-time favorite baseball players for me. His legendary talent in the batter’s box and his exemplary behavior off the field made him a true ambassador for baseball. The combination of exceptional talent and modest graciousness is difficult to find in any profession but especially so in the world of professional sports. We may never see another athlete embody that combination the same way again.