Love Thy Neighbor
Ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.  For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  Galatians 5 : 13-14

    Early one season, we were in the midst of an excellent run against a struggling team.  My wife overheard one of our opponent's parents exclaim, "I just wish they'd hurt that (one) girl.  They should just break her leg!"  That a 7-8 Grade Girls' Basketball game should provoke such intense and destructive emotions was rather shocking, but is not that unusual in our times.  We have recently seen one man killed and another jailed as a result of an altercation at a children's hockey game, adults evicted from athletic venues where their children competed, and an increasing blurring of the lines of acceptable behavior in competitive situations. 

    I recall vividly from my trip to Russia asking my host brother Sergei if it did not bother him that the militia frequently stops motorists with no cause, checking the trunk for contraband materials.  I explained that Americans would never accept such an obvious violation of their "freedom".  With no hesitance at all, he said, "I do not have contraband in my car, so I have nothing to fear.  If the militia stops me, I will be on my way in a few moments.  If they stop someone who has guns or drugs in their car, then that person will not be able to harm my family.  Is it really freedom to have to live in fear of bad men?"

    We seem to see an incredible number of stories that involve athletes implying that, because this is a free country, "I can do what I want".  Many of our professional athletes are seen as selfish or lacking social conscience.  Their status as role models is constantly in doubt.  As coaches, we are often faced with the difficulty of convincing our players that doing "whatever it takes" to win does not include those actions which would bring disgrace upon themselves or our program. 

    This verse reminds us that freedom of action does not equate with an irresponsible extreme that justifies any action we can conceive.  In later verses, we are taught that our desires can lead us to emulation, wrath, strife, and envy.  We cannot truly imagine that we are "free" if we are enslaved by our anger or jealousy over the good fortune of others.  If we must summon up hatred for our opponents in order to succeed, we are not truly free, because we have chained ourselves to negative motivations in order to succeed.  If we envy the success of others, we become unable to focus our team on the action they must take to achieve that success. 

    The only way we can be completely free is to accept the "fruits of the spirit", which in later verses are described as "love, joy, and peace".  To truly love the game, we must focus on the lessons it teaches us, and the value of honest competition.  To have real joy, we must embrace the fact that our opponent serves an important practical function in helping us determine the level of our accomplishment.  By gauging our progress, and the development of our abilities, we know the joy that comes with the realization of achievement.  We can only have peace by recognizing that our freedom to act has resulted in accomplishments of which we can be proud.

Questions for Reflection:
~Have I ever become so caught up in the pursuit of victory that I have confused what I want with what is right?
~~Is my opponent my enemy, to be demonized and despised, or my neighbor, to be respected and admired?
~~~Have I used my liberty to pursue goals that will result in love and joy, or those which I have grasped at due to envy?
~~~~Do I use anger and strife to motivate my players, or do I choose to inspire them with love for sport and competition?

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