From the Rev: Beware the ides of March

Beware the ides of MarchMarch 15th. It is a day of historical infamy. Beware the ides of March. The ides of March – a telling time and the phrase was made so popular by Shakespeare’s recounting of the events leading up to Julius Caesar’s assignation in his play so named after the magnanimous Roman emperor whose death is looked upon as a turning point in Roman history. Since, then, March 15th has had a foreboding sense – words and themes like betrayal, stabbing in the back, and the like – all color and characterize the day.

You might be wondering, “What does this have to do with professional sports, Rev?” But, after working and serving in the professional sports industry, I tell you that I have lost count of the number of people who have felt senses of betrayal and being stabbed in the back – and in many different ways. And when people fall prey to the “ides of March” in pro sports, here is where chaplains have an opportunity to serve.

Beware the ides of March: Betrayal in Pro Sports

I doubt that the average pro sports fan thinks much about betrayal behind the scenes. To be sure, there can be a sense of betrayal when a popular sports star chooses (for any number of reasons – money, fame, etc.) to abandon a particular team or organization for another. Such was the case when LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers made his infamous Decision about which team he would play for in the 2010 season. James received much criticism for the broadcast and seemingly “circus-like” atmosphere around the show, including one writer who ponder whether James had made a deal with the devil? But the betrayal I am speaking about is more than just a player’s decision to switch teams or an owner’s decision to switch cities. Those are ways in which betrayal is felt within professional sports; however, the betrayal I am speaking to has more to do with issues of morality and integrity.

Robert Irsay - File Photos

Beware the ides of March – Owner Robert Irsay moved the Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis in the early morning hours of March 28, 1984. Many fans in Baltimore felt betrayed.

The betrayal that I am speaking about is when the player who has suffered a concussion is still “cleared” to play. The betrayal that I am speaking about is when an organization is cooking the books. Or, when there are kickbacks on player and coaching contracts and agreements. The betrayal I am talking about is the special request to get rid of someone in the organization because they aren’t liked, or someone has a hidden agenda to bring on their “own people.” It might be argued that some senses of betrayal in professional sports are really just business decisions being made – but there are betrayals that go beyond and above mere business decisions.

Betrayal is nothing new – we see it from the beginning of history. When Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden and confronted with their sin. And God is the first one to receive not just the betrayal of the man and woman, but also the blame.

It was the woman you gave me…

Beware the ides of March: Betrayal in the Bible

giotto_judaskus_grtPerhaps the most telling of betrayals happens in the final hours of Jesus’ life. He is with his closest friends, the disciples, in a hotbed of controversy in Jerusalem celebrating Passover. It is in this time that Judas Iscariot looks to betray Jesus. There is debate and consideration around why Judas betrayed Jesus – demonic possession, unmet political or religious hopes and expectations, the lure of money, a temporary “scare” so Jesus would realize and seize the power that he had with the people? The betrayal from Judas is signed, sealed,  and delivered with a “kiss” – the universal signature of friendship and intimacy – and Jesus is handed over to be killed. Four different eyewitnesses capture the moments of betrayal.

It is interesting to note some characteristics that are common to many betrayal moments –

Betrayal involves planning and pre-meditation. 

Betrayal often happens in dark places and spaces.

Betrayal often involves people once intimate and close.

Betrayal often involves rallying a violent crowd.

Betrayal has a tension of expectation and un-expectation.

Beware the ides of March: Chaplains and Moments of Betrayal

Perhaps the most common moment of betrayal in professional sports is marital infidelity – that moment when professional athletes have sex with someone beside their partner or spouse. Oregon State University Assistant Professor Steven Ortiz, in a 2001 study, termed the environment as a “culture of adultery” after studying the big four professional sports leagues in the United States. And it is prevalent enough that some wives of superstar athletes have created an organization called Off the Market with events planned to help reduce the amount of marital unfaithfulness in professional sports. Sometimes, the pendulum swings both ways – while it is perhaps more common for coaches and players to be unfaithful, sometimes their spouses are doing the same. I have received more than one call from a player who discovered that his wife was cheating while he was on the road. And, of course, these betrayals are costlier and weightier when children are involved.

Rembrandt’s The Prodigal Son illustrates moments of reconciliation and repentance after a severe betrayal based on Jesus’ parable found in Luke 15.

As chaplains, when we encounter betrayal amongst the people that we serve, we must champion several things. As chaplains, we must seek to encourage reconciliation. While this might seem idyllic, because of the closeness of the communities within professional sports there seems to happen, time and time again, moments in which a person’s betrayal and a lack of reconciliation has had long-term impact on things like employment and future dealings. Betrayal has also led to the breaking of several friendships and relationships – even beyond marital infidelity. In championing reconciliation, as chaplains we are seeking to see relationships restored, to see friendships renewed, and to see colleagues develop trust and amicable relationships.

As chaplains, we must also champion forgiveness. Moments of betrayal, while they may seemingly “get better with time” have impacts on the psyche and the soul. And, when betrayal becomes a behavioral pattern – a person can become numb to the way that their actions and attitudes affect others and continue in a destructive manner. Forgiving betrayal is important, because there are places in our own lives where we betray; places where we need forgiveness ourselves. And, to be honest, we are often much easier on ourself than we are with others. C.S. Lewis reflects on this sentiment of forgiveness,

. . . you must make every effort to kill every taste of resentment in your own heart—every wish to humiliate or hurt him or to pay him out. The difference between this situation and the one in such you are asking God’s forgiveness is this. In our own case we accept excuses too easily; in other people’s we do not accept them easily enough. (Weight of Glory, p. 181)

As chaplains, we must champion ethical and moral integrity. It is often said, “we are often products of our environment” and for players-turned-executive in professional sports there is little in the way of intentional development with the latest generation of executive. Many of the “playing field to front office” stories are “feel good” but  many times the inexperience and immaturity shows when those executives fail to uphold their jobs with integrity. And a dangerous cycle is allowed to continue – one in which the ethical dealings of an organization might be repeated over and over again with no recourse or restitution. As chaplains, in as much as we are able, we must encourage the present and future leaders (of any organization we serve) to strive for integrity and fairness in business matters.

And, finally, as chaplains, we must also encourage repentance. Failures are certain in our world and in this industry – but as chaplains we understand that this life is not all that there is and there must necessarily be a turning from wrongdoing. There is work to be done in recognizing the heart of betrayal and our desires – for exacting revenge or getting “even.” It is in these moments that we must guide the confessions and way of repentance so that true change can come.






Rev. Brad Kenney

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