I now understand why in pre-match interviews athletes often say, “May the best player win.” They say this because there are times when the best player doesn’t win (Eccl 9:11). It may even be that their loss was due to a wrong call or judgment by an officiating authority that affected the outcome of the competition.
Referees and umpires are not always right. Judges are not always impartial. In the heat of competition, bad calls do happen. And in sports that rely on panels of judges, corruption and partiality can’t always be avoided. Sometimes, it greatly affects who wins or loses; other times, it’s a mere aberration in the flow of competition. In either case, it’s extremely frustrating to deal with and it can bring out the fire and brimstone in otherwise placid competitors. For this reason I’m a big fan of instant replays and multi-angle hawk-eye cameras that verify controversial calls. I’m all for tweaking the judging system in sports like gymnastics and figure skating that increase the objectivity of the way scores are given.
But while all officiating authorities must be held doubly accountable, I do think that one of the trends in competitive athletics that has had a poor influence on youth today is how disrespectfully many high-profile professional athletes argue with authorities about calls that go against them. Such conduct is regularly emulated by younger athletes, even at a middle-school level.
I’ve watched middle-school students mouth off expletives at referees for what they perceived to be bad calls that were actually fair ones, and then simply brush it off as, “I was just frustrated.” One thing I’ve told young athletes is that at the end of the day, they have not been selected to arbitrate those judgment calls. The referees, umpires, and judges have been specifically trained to officiate and make judgments about the game play in the same way that athletes are trained to play their sport. The more habitually and disrespectfully you argue with the officiating authorities, the more likely you become to crying wolf.
The problem is not just with young athletes, but also with young people in general. One of the alarming things I’m seeing with youth today is the blatant disregard for authority figures in the realm of both moral and veracious authorities. “My teacher doesn’t know how to teach,” or “My boss doesn’t know what he’s doing,” or “The government is doing everything backwards,” or “My parents are clueless,” are common phrases that come out of the mouths of today’s young blood.
At times, they may have a point. But much more frequently, it’s an issue of the heart that simply doesn’t understand the virtue and wisdom of submitting to authority. Romans 13:1 says, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” There are times when our governing authorities will indeed praise what is good and punish what is evil; there are times when they’ll pervert it.
But the reason why most of us aren’t in those positions of authority is because God didn’t design for us to be there at that given moment. And while there are certainly times to exhibit civil disobedience (Acts 5:29), God did not design for this to be the norm or the default response for Christians. Instead, Christians ought to submit themselves to every human institution (1 Pet 2:13) and show honor toward authorities (1 Pet 2:17). For the most part, this will work out for our benefit. But there may be times when we, even while submitting to authorities, will suffer unjustly in the process. And if the latter is true, let us remember that we are called to walk in the footsteps of one whose willingness to suffer unjustly resulted in the salvation of us all!