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“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.”

Matthew 7:1

SHOULD WE JUDGE OR OFFER HOPE?

Stephen A. Smith, the highly controversial sports analyst of ESPN, was the first to criticize Josh Gordon, the suspended NFL wide receiver. In a highly insensitive way Smith showed no sympathy for a man who has suffered with mental illness for most of his adult life. In a highly critical rant, he was dismissive and unsympathetic of Gordon’s journey. So uninformed was his rant, that many spoke out, not about Gordon’s latest failure, but by the way Smith carried on. A rant so insensitive, that it sparked an enormous backlash on Twitter.

In late December, Josh Gordon was suspended for the fifth time, for using substances banned by the NFL. Gordon, earlier in the year had been given another chance at playing in the NFL. He was traded by the Cleveland Browns to the New England Patriots. The Patriots, a team who have in the past been successful with dealing with troubled players, was seen as Gordon’s last and best chance. For a while Gordon performed well and was becoming an important part of the famed Patriots offense.

The Patriots put his locker next to Tom Brady’s and Brady worked closely with Gordon to fit in. The assigned a security crew to help him deal with drug use. In fact, the entire locker room worked hard at accepting their new teammate. Bill Belichick, the coach and Robert Kraft, the owner, had a number of conversations of support for Gordon.

Then he let them down. What was interesting, there was no harbinger of ill will from the team. The team made statements about their desire for Gordon to overcome his mental illness. All the players spoke out in support of Gordon and commented on what a great teammate Gordon had been. Both Tom Brady and Julian Edelman came out and posted public support of Gordon on their social media.

But what we heard from the national press, notably from Steven A. Smith was insensitive remarks of condemnation. When the Patriots picked up Gordon in the trade, I heard many judgmental comments that said, “don’t get too excited he will fail again.” Sure he failed again and maybe this lesson in life will not be his last.

But should we judge a man with documented mental illness issues, who grew up with sketchy surroundings or should we offer hope. Not hope that is enabling, but hope that he will heal.

Gordon’s issue is symbolic of how we should view all those who struggle. Should we attack and issue judgmental comments or should we lend a hand. Is it fair that we isolate people who make a mistake and become defined by that mistake.

Let’s be clear Steven A. Smith is controversial for a reason, not to help. But to increase ratings. His livelihood is based on his ratings and the more he attacks the higher the ratings.

Today in America, bad news sells and good news is a yawn. Encapsulating those who stray and giving them a scarlet letter. What is missing in this discourse, is we will all fail. Sometimes in spectacular fashion and sometimes not. But part of the human existence is the hard lessons we all have to learn.

Jesus warns to be careful in judgement, because it will be returned when we have our day in the inevitable refinery of life.

Others personal tragedy is not a reliable predictor of someone’s future, many have gone on to turn their story of tragedy into a story of hope.

Consider first lady, Betty Ford, who was an alcoholic. She recovered and went on to establish the Betty Ford clinic that helped thousands recover from alcoholism.

Michael Vick, who was involved in the terribly inhumane sport of dog fighting. Who went to prison for two years and then had to file bankruptcy. After he served his time, thanks to Andy Reid and Tony Dungy was given a second chance in the NFL. With his second chance he once again became an elite quarterback. He paid back every dollar he owed to those who had lost out in his bankruptcy. Today Vick is actively involved with the Humane Society to help prevent cruelty to animals.

What is not reported about Vick, is that for 544 nights he went to bed in prison reciting Psalm 23 and falling to sleep with his Bible under his head.

I have friends who have also suffered from alcoholism, but recovered through wonderful programs run by organizations like the Salvation army. All who have gone on to productive lives.

Chris Carter the former NFL great and TV personality, admits he is an addict and states, “I have been in recovery for twenty eight years.” Today, Chris helps those needing to be in recovery.

We can turn to Ray Rice, the standout running back from the Baltimore Ravens, who savagely beat his wife in an elevator. He was cut from the NFL and lost his livelihood. Becoming a symbol of a spousal abuser. What’s not reported is that both he and his wife have reconciled. He got the treatment he needed to reconnect with his family and become a reliable husband. Where is he today? He is a spousal abuse activist, and speaks at many functions discussing the impact of spousal abuse. His football career is over, but his life isn’t. He feels he got a second chance, not a second chance at football, but a second chance at being a great husband and father.

Those of us who failed, have regrets and many are willing to pay the price of our failures. I have walked with many who have disappointed and let people down. I have seen them grow.  I have also walked with many who don’t give second chances. I have seen a hardened heart. I have seen it is easy to kick someone when they are down. I have seen that more good comes from hope than judgement. It doesn’t mean we don’t have to pay back what we did or that those who failed should be enabled.

I pray for Stephen A Smith to view life as good and not as another chance to gain fame at someone else’s demise.

We can sit in judgement of people who have failed or we can offer prayers that they will overcome. We know as Christians what is required. Not judgement or enabling behavior, but prayers of hope for recovery.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Ben Hershey

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