The Name of the Game: Keeping a Good Reputation in Sports

From halfway around the world, I got a message from my wife—“Have you seen the replays of Odor punching Bautista?” We are baseball fans in my family, and we religiously follow the Texas Rangers. My wife kept me updated while I was on a recent trip to the republic of Georgia.

Rougned Odor is the up-and-coming, fiery second baseman for the Rangers. Jose Bautista is the perennial all-star outfielder for the Toronto Blue Jays. After a series of bat flips, hard slides, and trash talking stretching back to last season, the bad blood came to its zenith with Odor’s hard right hook to the jaw of Bautista. The replays of the fight between these two players blew up the feeds on my social media page, and it has been the talk of Major League Baseball for days.

In a moment of confession, I have to admit that I felt a little satisfaction after watching the replay for the first time. It was retribution for Bautista’s home run that effectively ended the season for the Rangers last year. But then I started thinking about my son. What would I think if he landed a right hook to the jaw of an opposing player? What if he taunted the pitcher after hitting a ball over the fence?

Sports can bring out the best in us at times—loyalty, teamwork, perseverance. Sports can also bring out the worst in us—anger, pride and violence. I love the fact that my children participate in sports, but I want to teach them how to do it the right way, and sometimes watching our favorite teams is not the best way to learn.

Proverbs teaches us that a good reputation is of inestimable value. Solomon writes, “A good name is to be more desired than great wealth; favor is better than silver and gold” (Proverbs 22:1). There is no doubt that both Odor and Bautista will suffer in their reputations after this incident. If my son participated in a similar altercation, his reputation would also suffer greatly.

Not only would my son suffer a loss of reputation, but my name would be tainted as his father. Whether it were true or not, those who witnessed such behavior would assume I taught him to behave that way or, at the very least, tolerated such behavior. It would take a long time for both of us to restore our reputations.

In my quest to consume all the opinions about the infamous fight, I came across an interesting piece of commentary from former Major League catcher Gregg Zaun (who happens to be a television analyst for the Blue Jays). He contrasted the taunting and arrogance of some players with the behavior of Mariano Rivera, perhaps the greatest closer of all time. About his own experience of being struck out by Rivera, Zaun said, “When was the last time you saw Mariano Rivera fist pump somebody? You know, I thought it was pretty demoralizing when that guy struck me out and just walked off the field like it was a foregone conclusion that … he was going to strike me out. … He didn’t need to celebrate the mundane and the everyday.”

Rivera is actually a good example in this case. He played for the New York Yankees, one of the most popular and most hated teams in the league. His ability to close down games in the ninth inning was integral to helping the Yankees win five World Series championships and his own appearance in 13 All-Star Games. Beyond all of his successes, Rivera was always known as a class act. You could hate the Yankees, but it was almost impossible to hate Rivera. Though feared for his cut fastball, Rivera was revered for his humility, kindness and faith.

This leads me back to the type of player I want my son to be. Do I want him to be the kid who taunts his opponents and starts a fight in the infield? Or would I rather him be a well-respected player, known for his commitment, attitude and faith? I’ll take the latter (even if it means he has to play for the Yankees).

How can I lead my son to be a man of integrity on the field? This takes me back to Proverbs. No less than six times in the first seven chapters of Proverbs, Solomon tells his son to listen to his instructions and wisdom. This implies that the king was constantly teaching his son how to follow God. He taught him to pursue wisdom and avoid folly. He taught him to receive instruction and discipline well. He taught him to fear God. My son will probably never make the majors, but his reputation will follow him wherever he goes. There is no amount of money that can make up for a bad reputation. Now it is up to me to teach him to build a good name on and off the field. May we not let our sports fanaticism damage our names. There is no amount of wealth that can replace the value of a good reputation.

[Photo licensed by Associated Press]