Building up the Body

August 19th, 2013

On July 22 Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers became only the latest of many high-profile professional athletes to be penalized for the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Braun, who was the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 2011 and is widely regarded as one of the most complete players in baseball, accepted a suspension from Major League Baseball for the remainder of the season because of his connection to the Biogenesis of America clinic, which is alleged to have provided performance enhancers to athletes in baseball and other sports.

Braun, who successfully appealed another drug-related suspension last year, wasn’t the only player disciplined. This week Major League Baseball handed down 50-game suspensions to twelve players, including Texas Rangers star Nelson Cruz, in conjunction with the Biogenesis scandal. Baseball suspended Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees, a three-time American League MVP and one of the game’s highest-paid players, through the end of the 2014 season. Rodriguez is appealing the decision.

Drugs scandals are nothing new in sports. Just days before Braun’s suspension, news came that Olympic sprinters Tyson Gay of the United States and Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson of Jamaica had tested positive for banned substances. Doping scandals have taken down some of the biggest names in international cycling, including American Lance Armstrong, who publicly confessed last year to using banned substances after years of denial.

Gaining an Edge

Why do so many athletes cheat by using banned substances? In most cases athletes use performance enhancers to gain an advantage over competitors, and not just those on other teams. Some players take illegal substances to earn a spot on a roster. Cheating by taking illegal pharmaceuticals may be the difference between a shot at the big leagues or a career in the minors—the difference between a multimillion dollar contract and a modest salary. Other, more established, players take performance-enhancing drugs to inflate their stats to secure long-term, big-money contracts. Braun, for instance, is under contract through 2020. He is set to be paid $19 million per year from 2016–2018. If players who use performance enhancers aren’t consistently and heavily penalized, those who seek no artificial advantage are the ones who are truly being punished.

Youth who play sports are probably familiar with this desire to set apart oneself from one’s peers, no matter the cost. Even youth who aren’t athletically inclined may know the temptation to use any means necessary to gain an edge, whether on a test, on a scholarship application, in an audition, or in a class election.

Compassion Before Competition

When youth are tempted to seek an unfair advantage, it’s important that they consider how their actions will affect others. And Christian youth need to understand that Jesus holds us to a different standard. Jesus taught that greatness comes not from beating out the competition but by humbling ourselves and becoming like servants (see Mark 10:35-45). Throughout his letters to early churches, the apostle Paul teaches Christians not to dwell on personal gain but to focus on building up their brothers and sisters in Christ. (See, for example, 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Galatians 5:13-15; and Ephesians 4:29-32.)

One of the greatest compliments a sports writer can give an athlete is that he or she makes his or her teammates better. Imagine a world where, instead of trying to best one another, people seek to make one another better through love and are more concerned with the success and well-being of all persons than with gaining an edge and setting themselves apart from their peers. Jesus calls us to make such a world a reality.

This article is also published as part of LinC, a weekly digital resource for youth small groups and Sunday school classes. The complete study guide can be purchased and downloaded here.

comments powered by Disqus