Siding with the Thugs

Fans of professional football (particularly the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions) have been abuzz the last 10 days or so about Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh’s supposed missteps during a game that landed first one foot and then the other squarely on the injured leg of Green Bay’s downed quarterback Aaron Rodgers. In the interests of full disclosure, let me say two things: 1) I’m a Green Bay fan because I live in footballWisconsin; and 2) while I follow several teams every week on television because I love to watch, I am still relatively unknowledgeable about the intricacies of the game.

The NFL first ruled that Suh’s footwork would cost him an upcoming appearance in the game between the Lions and the Dallas Cowboys. Later that week the NFL changed its opinion and simply fined Suh $70,000 and allowed him to play (Suh’s reported contract this year was for $630,000 and I’m not certain if there are complementary payments on top of that or not).

Now there are plenty who disagree with me and that’s fine, but as I watched and re-watched that play, I could come to no other conclusion than Suh’s miscalculation was purposeful. Even in the height of my forgiveness, I could give him only the first step as accidental, but the second was clearly purposeful. And I remembered, however vaguely, that the Packers had run into a similar situation with Suh in some previous game, thereby establishing for me a history of Suh as some kind of dirty player. It didn’t sadden me when he was fined.

From what I read on-line, Suh is going to be what they call a free-agent now, available to play for another team. There is all kind of speculation as to what team will pick him up.

A friend of mine posed a question on Facebook relative to all of this. In essence he said if the Green Bay Packers would pick up Suh that, suddenly, Packer fans would embrace the idea because it would be different to have him on their own team and trying to deliberately injure the quarterback of another team.

An apt observance, I suspect. Football fans want to win and having a strong defensive tackle like Suh might help ensure more Ws.

You can imagine that the Facebook query set off some quick responses, especially in agreement, and especially from what I assume were Packer fans.

But here’s an interesting sidelight for me personally. A young man who I got to know through church activities and, in the space of a few years grew from child through confirmation through high school and out into the world, had this to say about the whole situation: “I’ll be upset that the Packers stooped so low as to getting a thug. It’s not like the Packers have never employed a thug before; oh, they have had several. But if winning is more important than integrity? I would choose the lesser player because Suh is unpredictable with his attitude.”

Well, again, we can agree or disagree as our individual hearts desire. But I have to tell you that my own heart was warmed that this young man was thinking about the moral implications of employing a football player who played the game as a “thug.” And the conclusion I have to reach is that he is giving thought to that in his personal life as well: that siding with the thugs is not the way we are called to live.

You might think this blog post is about football. Or about bullies. Or about morals. But the subject at which I’m aiming here is that of having an impact on children and teenagers in our midst. And not just our own children and teens. Certainly it must be gratifying to see your own children grow into strongly principled adults, but I submit that it is even more satisfying to see a young person who you have influenced in some small way reach that same pinnacle. More satisfying because you just didn’t have to make an effort to be that positive influence.

Terry and I have together been blessed in our almost 34 years of married life to have had other people’s children come into our lives for seasons or years or even just a few days. Sometimes we have been able to see the outcome of our influence. It brings tears of thanksgiving to my eyes to know that along with all of the other positive stimuli they have received, our encouragements have made a real difference to them.

None of us knows, however, the extent of our positive or negative impact in the lives of most children and teenagers we meet. There is an ancient adage that advises, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Just when we think children and teens are not paying any attention at all, they are soaking up like sponges the examples we set before them. In that way they sort out, in their own way, what’s right and what’s wrong about the world around them.

Somewhere along the way, this young man who objects to Ndamukong Suh becoming a Green Bay Packer based on the player’s integrity, sorted out for himself that there’s something more important than winning or that the only way to win is with integrity. He knows that it’s wrong to side with the thugs.

And somewhere along the way, I like to think that maybe I played a very small part in helping him develop that mindset. Put him in the “W” list for me. He’s a winner and he makes me feel like one too.

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