The resignation of Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel signaled the end of his hubris, I hope. Since I last wrote about Jim Tressel, a steady stream of reports have come out that have established Tressel as a liar, cheater and a win-at-all-costs coach.*
*The reports also don’t reflect favorably on Ohio State’s leadership.
It’s sad to watch from afar. Knowing a number of Buckeyes fans and graduates, I know how much pride they have in their university and football program. This is a huge stain for their school and it brings shame to the community.
Another reason it is sad, and infuriating, to watch from afar is because of Tressel’s Christian faith. He leveraged his faith to craft an identity the public believed about him. This leveraging of his faith helped mask the rule breaking he was committing.
Since the allegations and reports started coming out about Tressel’s lies and cheating, I’ve seen and heard a number of people come to his defense. Initially, some people defended Tressel because he was a Christian. Christians would see the silver lining in Tressel’s lies and cheating.
“Well, he’s done a lot of good.”
But at what cost? Sports Illustrated’s expose on Tressel showed a history of cheating. This was not a one time mistake. It showed a man who believed he was above the law. It showed a man who broke rules to his advantage. It showed a man that created an sanctimonious identity to hide the fact he was no different than the stereotype of NCAA Division I coaches.
A supporter of Jim Tressel, the coach, has to ask if it was worth it. What good did it bring to have a win-at-all-costs coach? What good does it do to young men to think they can break rules without punishment? What good does it do to have a different set of standards for a star player? What good is it to know that many of the accomplishments under Tressel’s tenure, at Ohio State, are tarnished?
Does the end justify the means?
Tressel has ruined the reputation of a football program, a conference and a university. So far, a reported twenty-eight players on last year’s team were breaking the NCAA rules. Tressel repeatedly lied about it when he had opportunity to reveal it. Tressel repeatedly covered it up, and shifted his statements, when facts kept being revealed. After Sports Illustrated presented its findings to Ohio State, last Friday, Tressel’s only option was to quit.
Tressel has also tarnished the reputation of Christianity. This is what has me frustrated, that he traded on his faith and reputation for his own selfish gain. He had every opportunity to come clean, he had every opportunity to be accountable and take hold of the narrative, but did not.
Since Tressel is outspoken in his faith, I will hold him to some Christian standards. It’s about doing God’s will God’s way. When Christians try and accomplish God’s will by their own way, it can get ugly. And, it’s more than just doing good. It’s not just about deeds. That is made clear in the Bible.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
“…you workers of lawlessness.” That describes Jim Tressel today. God never excuses sinful actions if it brings about what we think is good. The end never justifies the means.
I have no reason to doubt Tressel’s faith. He’s been adamant about his Christian faith, which is nice. It doesn’t excuse Christians from holding him accountable for his wrongdoings, though. Christians need to champion truth, not a man. He should be held to a high standard, a standard that he pushes in the books he has authored. Just because he is an apparent nice guy doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hold him accountable.
As a Christian, I know we are all sinners, and that we’ve all made mistakes we wish we could change. It’s not a time to turn on Tressel and cut him off from fellowship, but in love hold him accountable. I hope there is a second act to his career. I hope he allows God to author the redemption of his story. I hope this is something Tressel can turn into a positive and influence others in a good way.
This saga is a reminder that we should not be about winning at all costs, that there is a right way to do things. It is a reminder that a good reputation takes years to build up, but can be destroyed quickly. It is a reminder that covering up a crime/sin/wrong you committed is usually worse than the act itself. It is a reminder that our actions reverberate and influence the community around us.
Tressel reaped what he sowed. This all could have been prevented, which is the sad thing.
Another sad thing? This isn’t isolated to Ohio State.