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Bounty and betting scandals hit youth football

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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A Tustin Cobras Pop Warner team holds a practice at Foothill High School, September 19, 2012. (Credit: The Orange County Register, Leonard Ortiz)

Were grade-school football players paid to hurt other players?  That’s the allegation against the head coach of a 10- and 11-year-old team in California.  A group of parents claims that the coach offered children cash for big hits intended to knock opposing players out of games.  One boy left a game because of a mild concussion; another former coach claims the player that hit him was rewarded with cash.  The accused coach has been suspended pending review but denies the allegation.

Meanwhile, a barber shop owner in the Miami, Florida area has been arrested and charged with operating a gambling house.  What makes his story unique is that bets were allegedly placed on peewee football games, and that several coaches in the league were arrested for participating in the gambling ring.

Americans wager more than $1 billion a week on pro football; half of all American adults bet on the last Super Bowl.  The NFL is now infamous for coaches who paid players to hurt other players.  Are Americans now gambling on grade-school children?  Are coaches paying children to hurt other children?

Contrast this disturbing news with Jeremy Lin’s latest foray into the public eye.  The former New York Knicks’ point guard now plays for the Houston Rockets.  In an interview before the season began, he explained his motivation: “I just play for God.  That’s what I need to focus on every day.  I’m going to have good games; I’m going to have bad games.  If I play for God, if I play hard and if I try to give him the glory, I’m OK.  I need to learn to be OK with whatever happens and trust it’s part of God’s perfect plan.  If I focus on God, I can tune everything else out.”

According to Lin, “It goes down to how you treat people, how you treat the refs, teammates, staff, the janitors, security guards.  There are so many ways to do things the right or wrong way.  If I can have people say I did my best to play for God and love and serve the people around me, I can be happy with whatever happens.”

What does it say about our culture that Lin’s faith is so unusual?  His desire to glorify God and serve others is simple obedience to Jesus’ Great Commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. . . . Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30, 31).  While I’m grateful for his biblical commitment, I wish so many of us lived by Jesus’ words that Lin would be the norm rather than the exception.

Last night, many parents dressed their children for Halloween as ghosts, witches, and assorted other ungodly figures.  Today is All Saints Day, when many Christians pause to remember great believers across church history.  Which holiday are we teaching our children to observe tomorrow?