Tiger Woods, T.J. Dillashaw and Two Edifying Stories From the World of Sports
If you read this article in a hyper-Christian way, you won’t be particularly edified. That’s because I have no idea if Tiger Woods has truly repented of his immoral ways (or become a believer). And I do not find MMA (mixed martial arts) to be an expression of Christian love.
So, to repeat, if you read this article in a hyper-Christian way, you’ll miss the edifying points I want to make. But if you read it in terms of moral and inspirational lessons for the watching world, then you’ll be encouraged by what you read. You might even be able to make personal application.
The whole sports world is abuzz with the news of the miraculous comeback of Tiger Woods. He won his first major tournament in golf in 11 years, a hiatus marked by a serious sex scandal, the breakup of his marriage, prescription drug abuse, an arrest and crippling back problems that almost sidelined him for life.
T. J. Dillashaw — A Story You May Not Know
A much lesser known story is that of T. J. Dillashaw, one of the top MMA combatants in the world. He tested positive for performing enhancing drugs, resulting in a two-year suspension. His name is now tarnished and his future in question.
But here’s the edifying part of his story.
In stark contrast with almost every other athlete caught using illegal supplements, Dillashaw confessed his guilt. And he did so immediately and comprehensively, taking full ownership for his transgression. He didn’t challenge the results and he didn’t challenge the system.
How utterly unusual in this age of obfuscation and blame-shifting and feigned innocence.
He said, “I messed up. I’ve been having a hard time forgiving myself for this, which I should have a hard time. I understand the criticism that is going to be coming my way — what I really feel bad about is any kind of bad light I brought about my coaches, my family and my teammates. They had no involvement in this.
“I’ve got to man up to what I did. I’ve accepted the penalties. I’m going to sit for the next two years. Jan. 18, 2021, is when I’m allowed to come back.”
Well done, T. J.
He obviously blew it badly with the choices he made, possibly even endangering one of his opponents. But he took responsibility. He exonerated his coaches and teammates. He recognized the reproach that his actions brought — affecting those closest to him, including his family. He accepted the fact that criticism will come his way. And he understood that his actions were nothing to trivialize.
Now, T.J. can move forward.
Americans are a forgiving people, especially when someone gets low and offers an unqualified mea culpa.
Doing Apology Right
Some years ago, I was helping a colleague of mine draft a public letter of apology for something he said from the pulpit.
As we worked on his statement together, I winced a few times, thinking to myself, “You are setting yourself up for attack from your critics by humbling yourself so much.”
So, I asked him if he was sure he wanted to keep the wording he had used.
He replied, “My pastor once told me, ‘If you’re going to humble yourself, do it right.’”
I never forgot those words.
Tiger Woods’ Comeback
As for Tiger Woods, again, I’m not painting his historic comeback in spiritual terms. This is not a great lesson in divine redemption (unless there’s a side to the story we haven’t yet heard).
But it is a story about perseverance. About pushing through pain. About overcoming self-doubt. About making a determination that, no matter what obstacles need to be conquered, you will work towards reaching your goal.
Sportswriter Mark Schlabach paints a picture of what life was like for Woods two years ago.
“In April 2017, Woods’ career was in jeopardy because of a debilitating back injury. Before Woods arrived at Augusta National to take his seat at the champions dinner, he needed a nerve block to endure sitting in a chair.
“Immediately after the dinner, Woods flew to London to meet with specialists, who recommended spinal fusion surgery to alleviate back spasms and pain and discomfort in his leg. He had surgery in Texas later that month, the fourth back surgery of his career.”
He couldn’t walk. He couldn’t take his kids to school. He couldn’t stand, let alone even putt in his backyard with his son. For those who have suffered with severe back pain and serious spinal injuries, you can relate all too well.
In Tiger’s own words, “Golf was not in my near future or even the distant future … I was done.”
Yet on Sunday, at the age of 43, he triumphed over the best players in the world, for the first time winning a major by coming from behind at the start of the last round.
Whether or not you’re a Tiger Woods fan (or even a golf or sports fan), his example is truly inspiring, especially for all of you who, like Tiger, now say, “I’m done.”
No Resurrection Without Death
Maybe you’re not done after all. Maybe amazing triumphs and victories and great memories are still ahead.
And, from a totally Christian note, there is no resurrection without death. And often the things that could have destroyed us become stepping stones for a much more blessed, fruitful, and God-glorifying life.
Can I get an Amen?