The college football season has all but finished for many teams around the nation. The regular season is over and conference champions have already been crowned. While four teams are still vying for to become this year’s national champion, the only games that remain for everyone else are largely meaningless bowls—often more akin to exhibition matchups than contests of consequence. Still, for players who are either graduating or leaving early for the NFL, these games represent one final chance to take the field with teammates and represent the school that poured at least three years of coaching and resources into helping them work towards their dream of playing professional football.
Of course, those players have also, in many cases, made those schools millions and millions of dollars, increased their national profile, and made them more appealing destinations for future classes of tuition-paying students. All that to say, it’s hard to say that most players owe their school a debt by the end of their time there. For players like LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey—both of whom decided to forgo their respective bowl games to get a head start on their preparations for April’s draft—it’s understandable that they would feel entitled to place their future careers ahead of the needs of their college teams. Not everyone sees it that way, however, and both athletes have been criticized by former players, pundits, and fans who believe that the two running backs are making a selfish mistake.
So who is right? Are Fournette and McCaffrey—both of whom have struggled through injuries at times this season—being selfish or smart? Does it have to be one or the other? Sometimes that line gets blurred because the same action is both. For Fournette, whose projected to be a top five pick in a few months, and McCaffrey, who set an NCAA record for yards from scrimmage over the last two years, playing in one final game would potentially risk the opportunity to provide a good life for generations of family members, so it’s not difficult to understand their reasoning.
Ultimately, whether we agree or disagree with Fournette and McCaffrey’s decision, hopefully we can all understand and sympathize with the reasoning behind it. After all, that ability to put ourselves in their shoes, even if for a moment, and try to comprehend what they’re going through is a key part of showing the kind of love and mercy to which we are called. If the only lens through which we try to view the lives of others is our own, then our responses are far more likely to be filled with judgment and condemnation.
While Jesus had it a little easier than us in this regard—he was God after all and knew people’s hearts and minds in a way we simply cannot—his example is still important for us to keep in mind. Throughout his ministry, Jesus made it a point to talk with people in an effort to understand them and give value to their story before dispensing advice or correction. That’s why he spent time with tax collectors, adulterers, and others that his culture quickly dismissed. That’s why he was patient with those like Nicodemus who wanted to understand, but had to overcome several spiritual roadblocks to do so. And that’s why he was given a chance to minister to those the religious leaders of his day simply couldn’t reach.
If we want to have any sort of influence with those in our culture that don’t already agree with us, then we have to start by taking the time to try and understand them and their world before passing judgment or dispensing advice. As James advised, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19).
The lost in our world don’t need more people interested only in telling them what to do. They need individuals who will seek to love and understand them as people, and only out of that love and understanding, offer God’s correction and counsel. Will you be that kind of person today?