Last Chance U, Wheaton College, The Battle of Antietam, and Rich Mullins

SIGNS AND WONDERS

Last Chance U. I became addicted to the NetFlix documentary series “Last Chance U,” about a junior college in Mississippi that gives football players who have made career-ending mistakes at major colleges a chance to get their lives and careers back on track. East Mississippi Community College has seen success on the football field, and some success at getting kids back into major college programs. A few former EMCC players have even ended up in the NFL. But I’ve now watched the entire series and I’ve come away feeling sad and frustrated. I think it’s great that some of these kids are getting second chances, or third chances, and clearly some of them are responding and taking advantage of these additional chances. However, the vast majority are not, and you do have to ask the question: At what cost? Cost to the taxpayers, cost to the vast majority of the kids who won’t go on to a four-year school, much less to the NFL, who will also end up without an education because of the time they spent on football rather than study. Now comes news that a player featured in the program, Isaiah Wright, has been charged in connection with a fatal stabbing. You have to wonder if there’s not a better way to serve these young men and their families.

Wheaton Football under Fire. Speaking of football, note this week’s news coming out of Wheaton College, the Illinois school that is sometimes called “the Christian Harvard.” Five of the school’s football players were charged with felonies after a hazing incident involving one of their teammates. The Chicago Tribune broke the story with details of the incident too graphic to reprint here. The victim in the incident was beaten and has subsequently required two surgeries. The article also suggested that the college imposed a light punishment on the football players for the incident, which took place last year: They performed 50 hours of community service and had to write an essay. Three of the five men charged with the felonies played in Wheaton’s game last weekend. Nonetheless, a spokesperson for the school told the Tribune, “Wheaton remains committed to providing Christ-centered development programs and training to all our students.” This is the second controversy involving Wheaton football in recent times. In 2015, also according to the Tribune, members of the Wheaton football team “dressed up in Ku Klux Klan robes as part of a parody of the Will Smith film ‘Bad Boys II.’” The incident “took place Feb. 28 in a campus gym during the football team’s annual offseason team-building activity, involved groups of teammates performing skits. One group of 20 teammates, including some who are black, chose to parody several movies, including ‘Bad Boys II,’ a 2003 Martin Lawrence and Will Smith comedy and drama that pokes fun at the KKK. During the skit at Wheaton, the group wore Klan-style white hoods and robes and carried Confederate flags.” The incident drew national attention at the time, as well as an apology from the administration.

Antietam Agonistes. Sept. 17, 1862, was then and remains today the bloodiest day in American history. The Battle of Antietam took place 155 years ago this week, near Sharpsburg, Md. In about 12 hours, more than 22,000 Americans were either killed or wounded. The casualties were about equally divided between North and South, but because the Confederate force was so much smaller, the losses had a greater effect. Most historians call the battle a tactical “draw” but a strategic victory for the Union because it halted Lee’s northward advance, and because it precipitated Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, issued just a week later, on Sept. 22. Lincoln had planned to issue the proclamation earlier, but the war had not gone well for the Union, and Lincoln’s advisors said to issue it after a Union victory, so it didn’t look like an act of desperation. The narrow victory at the Battle of Antietam allowed him to do just that. Though the Civil War ground on for three more years, ultimately claiming nearly 3 percent of the American population, the Battle of Antietam is now considered a major turning point in the conflict, and therefore a defining moment in American history.

Remembering Rich. Musician, songwriter, and activist Rich Mullins died 20 years ago today. Mullins was best known for his worship hit “Awesome God,” but his legacy is much more complex than this one song. He was also a virtuoso on the hammer dulcimer—and a contrarian voice in what had become a materialistic Christian music scene. At the time of his death, in a car accident, he was living in a hogan in New Mexico, teaching Navajo children. He turned the financial proceeds of his music career over to his church, which paid Mullins a modest salary and gave the rest to charity. Rich’s brother David Mullins told me that in the years since his death those donations have exceeded $1 million. Mullins influenced Andrew Peterson, Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Jars of Clay, and many more. On Sept. 24, Andrew Peterson will lead an all-star line-up in a tribute concert to Rich Mullins at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. But don’t bother looking for tickets. The show is sold out.

Image copyright Netflix.

Warren Cole Smith is an investigative journalist and author as well as the Colson Center vice president for mission advancement.


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  • JD

    Be careful about reporting on the Wheaton incident. Shouldn’t the word “allegedly” be used throughout? The Chicago paper is only presenting one side and this case is already being tried in the court of public opinion but these young men are due a legal process. The college is bound by confidentiality guidelines so they can’t say more but there is surely more to this story than is being reported.