Every Monday night, I run a basketball program for at-risk youth. We call it the Living H2O Initiative, based on the story of the woman at the well in John 4, and how Jesus offered her “living water.”
Each week, we bring in a guest speaker or I give the halftime devotional message myself. Recently, my subject was Jackie Robinson. Because my audience was about 80% black, I figured that they would know a little about the trailblazing ballplayer who integrated the Major Leagues in 1947.
“Where did Jackie Robinson spend his first spring training?” I asked the group of 40 teenagers, offering a $10 gift card for a correct answer.
“Vero Beach,” one young man called out.
“Wrong,” I replied. “Vero Beach was too racist in 1946, so the Dodgers held spring training in Daytona Beach that year and in Havana, Cuba the following year. It wasn’t until 1948 that the team began training in Vero.”
I then asked a few more questions about Jackie, his wife Rachel (who is still alive and closing in on her 101st birthday), and Branch Rickey, the Dodgers general manager who signed him. Sadly, not a single young man could answer my questions correctly.
Now I realize that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier 76 years ago and died in 1972, decades before these teenagers were born. However, he was such a baseball and civil rights icon that I thought at least a handful of kids would know more about his life. Sadly, I got just as many wrong answers – and blank stares – when I spoke about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. back in January.
I didn’t ask, but if I had I’ll bet that these same young men could have told me all about their favorite NBA player… or their favorite singer… or their favorite movie star. The only problem with that is that few if any of those high-profile people are worthwhile role models. On the contrary, most of them boast and brag about their accomplishments and live a hedonistic lifestyle that is the antithesis of what we are trying to teach these young men.
When I was a kid, my heroes were the four best players on the New York Yankees: Thurman Munson, Bobby Murcer, Mel Stottlemyre, and Roy White. As I got a little older, Jack Nicklaus became my idol, not only because he was the greatest golfer who ever lived, but also because he was a great family man. Then, as I started following politics more closely, Ronald Reagan rose to the top of the list of people I admired the most. Today, spiritual giants such as Martin Luther, William Wilberforce, Charles Spurgeon, D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and Chuck Colson have joined “the Gipper” as my beau ideal.
My point is this: those four Yankees players were humble and team-oriented; Jack Nicklaus has been married to his wife Barbara for 62 years, raising five children together; and Ronald Reagan was the greatest president of my lifetime. All six of those “heroes” were worthy of being admired and emulated. The same goes for Charles Spurgeon and company.
To me, schoolteachers are better role models than rap artists, and police officers contribute more to society than Hollywood playboys. It’s OK for a child to look up to an NBA player, but as a young person matures, his or her sights should be set higher… with parents, pastors, professors, and plumbers replacing singers and swingers.
Who we look up to often determines who we are… and who we become.