My sons were young chaps. Maybe 5 and 2 years-old. We were wrestling in their room one Saturday, when Penn, the youngest, had his fill of being pushed around. Without us knowing it, he had reached into the closet and pulled out a wiffle ball bat, and proceeded to swing it as hard as he could at his older brother. His aim was true, and the wiffle ball bat caught Griffin on the back of the head, where upon Griffin let fly one of the gravest of curse words.
At that moment in time, it was as if all time stood still. The laughter stopped, the tussling ceased, and we sat there, stunned. Based on the look of shock on my face, Penn, who still held the bat in his hand, thought he was done for. He had wopped his big brother in the back of the head – also known as assault and battery – and figured he was headed to the time out ‘pokey.’
Griffin, who was busy rubbing the sting off the back of his head, looked at me, knowing, as if by divine knowledge, that the word he’d just incorporated into his 5 year-old vocabulary, was wrong. Big wrong.
In this, a teachable moment, I explained to my son that the word he used was not acceptable. It was wrong to use curse words and, even more, it displeased God to hear that. Our words should honor God and others.
Curious, I asked him where he’d heard such a word used that he felt could be used as part of his vocabulary. He looked at me and responded, “At church.” Confused, I asked for details. He continued, “When we’re at church, we go out on the playground…and that’s where I heard it.”
Yep. Another 5 year-old had heard the word at home and felt the need to make it part of his playground conversation. It had spread among the kids like a snotty-nosed virus.
Tame the Tongue
The psalmist describes the language of the wicked this way:
His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under his tongue are mischief and iniquity. (Psalm 10:7 ESV)
And James, the brother of Jesus, warns us about our language when he writes,
…no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. (James 3:7-12 ESV)
As Christians who view the world through the lens of God’s commands, and who are to be “salt and light” in our culture, we must learn to tame our mind and tongue so that the words we use do not dishonor God or his created ones.
The Christian Athlete (and Coach)
Many, though, think this rule is suspended when the referee blows his whistle or the umpire shouts, “Play ball!” Coaches think that the only way to impart instruction and correction is to string together a tirade of four-letter obscenities that, I suppose, get the attention of the athlete. And, athletes, too, think the only way to respond to adversity in the game is to lob verbal insults or descriptors across the playing field.
The unwritten code among athletes and coaches, though, allows this sort of behavior as part of the game. It’s understood as a response to adversity. It’s almost as if cursing is not, well, cursing. It’s just part of the game.
Can Christian athletes and coaches participate in or allow the use of cursing during practice and in a game?
Can a fig tree bear olives?
Christian athletes and coaches cannot – and must not – use cursing as a tool for expressing their feelings about performance and demeaning their players. As a Christian, your faith and your witness doesn’t stop when the ball is put into play. I would say, more than ever, as you coach on the sidelines or step onto the field, you have the opportunity to bear witness to the gospel as a ‘new creation’.
Coaches, especially, who have the opportunity to influence and mold the lives of young players, bear a responsibility to provide an example of what the characteristics of a godly man are. This is a lesson that will make an imprint on the lives of your players for years to come. They’ll remember you more for the kind of man you are than for your coaching style and intensity.
I have played for coaches who were able to communicate their disappointment with grace. They were chapped, and I knew it well, yet I saw an example of expressing their disappointment and resulting instruction under fire. I know coaches, now, who have been more of an influence on the lives of players by their conduct and language than by an in-bounds play or bunt defense. These are the men who collect “wins” every time a player comes through their program.
To produce character you must be an example of character.
I’ve heard it said that “cursing is for conversational cripples.” I agree. We can and should find other words that express disappointment or displeasure.
Remember – and give thanks to God – that you have the God-given opportunity to play or coach a game that you love.