Football Über Alles

Two weeks ago David Williams stayed home from work to be with his wife during the birth of their first son. That would have been nothing out of the ordinary-except that Williams plays pro football for the Houston Oilers, and the day he missed was a game day. Then it became something very much out of the ordinary. Team officials bombarded the hospital with phone calls asking Williams when he'd be ready to join them. The jangling noise interrupted so often-right in the delivery room-that an enraged doctor tore the telephone off the wall. And when Williams failed to make it back in time for the game, team officials were in no mood to send cigars. They sternly announced that they were going to fine him a week's salary-more than $100,000-and possibly suspend him. The offensive line coach grumped that, to his way of thinking, players ought to treat football with all the seriousness of a war: "This is like World War II," the coach said, "when guys were going to war . . . something would come up but they had to go anyway." Well, this Prussian-general attitude toward football was too much for the Oilers fans. Calls came in furiously to local radio talk shows supporting Williams' decision to stay by his wife's side. One caller said, "I missed the birth of my two sons, and I would give anything to get that back." For his own part, David Williams seemed almost embarrassed by all the attention. So the curious question is, Why did this story strike such a national chord? Apparently, it tapped into a widespread sense that there is something topsy-turvy about American values. Professional athletes are about the closest thing America has to national heroes. When athletes are able to snag multimillion-dollar contracts, you begin to wonder whether these guys aren't larger than life. As a result, we look to our athletes almost as heroic symbols. We want them to reflect the things we care about, our values. Many of us are disturbed that the value Americans place on family life has declined sharply in the past few decades. The home is no longer the center of most social activity; it has become merely the sleeping place of independent wage earners. What's treated as really important is performance. Earning power. From a Christian point of view, this system of values is upside-down. The Bible teaches that God's primary concern is our character: What we do reflects who we are. And who we are is forged in carrying out our most fundamental duties in the heart of family life. America bestows rich rewards for an athletic performance that entertains and excites us. But what rewards are there for the man who is a good husband and father? How does our culture treat those who sacrifice personal gain for family obligation? David Williams has his priorities straight: He's a husband and father first and a professional football player second. I'm not from Texas, and I don't usually root for the Houston Oilers. But today I'm cheering for David Williams, the new father.


Chuck Colson


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