In recent years, we have seen a steady stream of sports scandals—all of which seem to point to one thing—the preeminence of winning. It led to recruiting scandals in college football, “video-gate” scandals in the NFL, steroid and PED scandals in baseball, and on and on it goes. Legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi said, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” And, in sports, that is certainly the target. As another NFL coach famously said, “Hello! You play to WIN the game!” Fine. But where is the line between the appropriate goal of winning and winning at all costs? If we allow the preeminence of winning to drive us, all kinds of destructive decisions can be made—with consequences that last long after the final whistle. When we cross that line, we lose something far more significant than the game—we lose our integrity. Character must always remain preeminent over statistics, wins, trophies, and all of the other outward symbols of sporting success. Why does this matter? Because character will always balance the desire to win with the need to value other people appropriately—and the preeminence of winning is what will often drive coaches to play athletes who are injured or to turn and look the other way at shots or treatments that are not appropriate. When that happens, these athletes have ceased to be people with eternal value to God. They have become commodities used to reach a goal—winning. Once we commit to winning at all costs, we eventually discover that the price was far higher than we ever imagined.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day wanted to entrap Him. He was a threat to their traditions and power and needed to be defeated. To that end, these religious leaders were continually seeking to entrap Jesus into saying or doing something that would discredit Him in the eyes of the people. He would lose, and they would win. This desire to win at all costs became evident when the religious leaders interrupted Jesus’ teaching by bringing to Him a woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:1-11). It’s indisputable that this was a complete setup—proven by the fact that they brought the woman but not the man she was guilty of committing adultery with! The entire scenario seems to have been constructed in order to impale Christ on the horns of a dilemma. If He set her free, He was disregarding Moses’ law. If He condemned her, the common people would see Him as without compassion.
Jesus’ handling of this episode was masterful (as always), turning the tables on the accusers and exposing their wrongful intentions. They wanted to defeat Jesus and were willing to destroy a human being to do that, which is often the end result of winning at all costs. Jesus, however, valued this woman in spite of her sinful behavior. The religious leaders were willing to destroy her to further their selfish ends, but in the end their own lack of integrity was exposed for all to see. Wanting to win at all costs is expensive indeed.
Bill Crowder, Sports Spectrum Chaplain