Integrity: The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles and moral uprightness.
Sounds good, right? If only it was that simple.
However, in today’s society, morality is not so clearly defined, because one person’s standards may be different from another’s. This used to be easy. You did what was right and played by the rules.
But over the past couple decades, success has slowly changed the way athletes look at sports.
A player may not put as much value on winning as he does on the monetary rewards. I get that. I want to make as much money as I can in my job, too. But I won’t sell my values or integrity to reach that plateau.
I don’t feel I am entitled to my paycheck. Rather, I must put in an honest day’s work for the fruit of my labor.
Unfortunately, the lavish lifestyle some athletes live and the price tag that comes with putting butts in seats has taken over the joy of the game.
“The integrity surrounding today’s sports has become an issue,” Dick Schultz told me recently at the Athletes in Action Captain’s Academy in Xenia. “There are some athletes out there who feel entitled to certain things, and if they don’t get what they are due, then they become frustrated, and it ends up creating other problems.”
Schultz is a legend in sports so he knows what he’s talking about. From 1988 to 1993, he was the executive director of the NCAA, and he served in the same role for the United States Olympic Committee from 1995 to 2000.
From his front row seat over the years, he has watched as integrity has been pushed to the backburner.
For instance, we see news clips about an athlete who punched his wife on an elevator or about sophisticated cheating by professional cyclists—the list of infractions from the sportsworld goes on and on.
But in the middle of it all, you can find some shining jewels of character.
A couple include Ben Watson of the New Orleans Saints and Albert Pujols of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim who do so much good for their sports. Ben received the Bart Starr Award prior to the Super Bowl for his charitable work and his Biblical witness while Pujols uses his platform as one of MLB’s best to help people in need and spread the gospel of Christ.
The AIA Captain’s Academy seeks to promote integrity in the face of adversity—to promote good decision making in critical times for college basketball players. This does not apply to just sports. If athletes can make the right choices off the court or field of play, chances are they will do what’s right in the final two minutes of a game.
Case in point: T.J. Starks, a point guard with Texas A & M, grew up on the streets of Dallas without a father and could have easily fallen through the cracks. But he decided with the guidance of God to rise above his circumstances of crime and hatred and become a role model for his generation. He also attended the recent Captain’s Academy because of his desire to improve as a person.
“Some of these kids who come here are tremendous athletes but may have not had a good home life,” Schultz said. “Some may not have had a father to show them right from wrong, and life is not an easy road to travel. You have to be prepared.”
Schultz said athletes like T.J. are the result of quality coaching and moral leadership. He has done it all in his professional life, but he claims his most productive job was as a high school coach for ten years earlier in his career. “I could really help mold a young man’s life, because I was with him more than his parents for a while,” he said. “If there was a problem, I could usually help to get it corrected at the right time, because if it doesn’t happen before 18, it’s going to be an uphill battle.”
Schultz emphasizes to young leaders how important it is to be the example of integrity for others to follow. There is no shame in doing what is right and shining the light of Christ before teammates. It’s worth showing them Jesus is the best leader of all, and equally worth holding true to His game plan.
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things (Philippians 4: 8 KJV).