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Who Really is the Greatest?

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Who Really is the Greatest?

“Everyone who exalts himself, will be humbled;  but the one who humbles himself, will be exalted.” Luke 18:14 

The death of Muhammed Ali produced an outpouring of praise and adulation for the man who, in my view, did much in the 1960s to debase the character of modern sport.  

There is no question Ali was a superb athlete, probably the greatest boxer of all time. As a kid I enjoyed seeing his fights when I could, and I rooted for him because he was such a great athlete, in spite of his demeanor.  

But I never cared for his arrogance and bombast. I recognized even as a kid that he was doing serious damage to the character of sport in our nation and the world. He roared, “I am the greatest,” even before he’d won much of anything. His public appearances were disgraceful. He was in the face of opponents and the world, predicting how he would humiliate Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier and anyone else who dared enter the ring with him. Because he was so good he mostly delivered on his predictions.  

Contrary to what we were always taught by coaches and parents, Ali established the principle it was good to boast, gloat and prance as long as you won. He was the exact opposite of such excellent athletes as Roger Bannister, Johnny Unitas, Oscar Robertson, Roger Staubach, Jackie Robinson, or Lou Gehrig and the other true superstar athletes who were the face of American sport during my youth and for some time after.  

But, thanks to Ali, it quickly changed. Joe Namath was the Ali of football, boasting and preening before his Jets won a Superbowl. Brats Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe almost permanently debased tennis. We could name others in all sports who quickly followed the Ali mode of braggadocio and pride, gloating over opponents. Now obscene gloating is the standard, not an exception, in football and other sports. I can’t watch NFL games without being disgusted at the displays made after every tackle or the showboating in the end zone after a score, which even degenerates into scatological nonsense. Watching Usain Bolt at the Olympics combined an amazing athletic performance with despicable personal behavior. The examples are many, though happily some athletes still display remarkable character and poise, and it was gratifying to see solid Christian athletes like Tamika Catchings competing well and standing up for Jesus in Rio.  

As the old saying goes, sports do not so much build character as reveal it (or its absence). It’s funny but there is less of this in hockey than perhaps any other sport. The heroes of hockey are Bobby Orr, a gracious and humble man to this day, or Wayne Gretzky, who despite his amazing talent never seemed to me to gloat in the style of Ali and those who followed and still follow his lead. I know hockey is a so-called minor sport, but where were the over the top paeans to Gordie Howe in Hollywood, the national media, and all the sports world when he died? For a lifetime of athletic achievement, I’d put number 9 up there with Ali or any other athlete, but he wasn’t a loudmouth and political hero.  

The public persona of most hockey stars is almost old fashion, usually very gracious and humble. They may not be great guys outside the limelight, and I don’t know how many are walking with the Lord (though a significant number are). But at least their public demeanor is usually much more self-effacing and constructive than in most other sports today. I don’t know what explains it. Hockey players are fallen human beings like everyone. Maybe it’s the degree to which families have to come together to support young players (long, cold hours at the rink, etc.) But though much remains to do the general visible character of hockey players is better than in just about any other sport.  

That’s a hopeful thing. We need to do more. It is encouraging to those of us who are dedicated to FCA Hockey as an important influencer of young men and women and a ministry of ambassadorship for Jesus Christ. 

  1. Is there a difference between gloating and appropriate celebration of hard won successes? 
  2. Are you able to play hard, and compete with joy and yet remain humble? 
  3. How do you show humility? 
  4. Remember, “humility comes before honor.” Proverbs 18:12 

Read: Luke 18:9-14 1 Corinthians 1:31 Philippians 2:3-11 1 Peter 5:5 Proverbs 24:17

16 comments (Add your own)

1. chris annunziato wrote:
great word. Many of the players that I have coached understand the saying "you have to learn how to lose before you can win." This is true with our lives, for us to gain eternity we need to lose our life each day. To do this we need to surrender, humble our selves!!
Hockey is the great teacher of obedience and character that takes a tremendous amount of sacrifice. Jesus taught us that!!

Thank Rick for the great word. Bless you

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