Fathers—The High Priests of Athletica
I witnessed a father in full performance of his priestly duties.
His son, maybe 8, was engaged on the wrestling mat in a bitter struggle coming down to the wire. He battled valiantly; his opponent refused to yield. Locked at the horns—manō y manō—the clock approached zero as the score remained tied.
“Step to the left! Hook the leg!” the father exhorted at which point the son looked toward him expectantly. The instant he turned to look, the opponent went on the offensive.
“NOT AT ME! LOOK AT HIM!”
The son recovered and successfully defended the attack. Thirty seconds.
“Shoot! Shoot!” The son looked to his High Priest once more and once more his opponent attacked.
“NOT AT ME! NOT AT ME!” This time, the son did not successfully defend and as the clock approached zero, the opponent finally turned him for a take-down. Two points! The crowd roared its approval. The priest wailed in agony as the buzzer sounded.
The boy hung his head in dejection as the referee raised his opponent’s hand in victory. The crowd cheered and as the applause abated, the High Priest’s voice reverberated across the gymnasium,
“YOU LOST BECAUSE YOU DIDN’T WANT IT BAD ENOUGH!” was his decisive proclamation.
An American Revival
In an excellent article in the Federalist, Heather Smith posits the existence of another religion which is usurping the traditional and historically central role of Christianity, the religion of Athletica.
She notes the absolute zeal and sacrifice that supplicants of Athletica place in their faith. They start discipling children from the youngest ages and she notes, “these disciples are willing to sacrifice almost limitlessly where their dedication to this faith is concerned.”
With absolute fervor, Athletica pervades in every area of its follower’s lives. Whereas most Christians reserve one hour a week for assembly, if that, members of Athletica gather nearly every singly day for several hours at a time. She observes that Christians compartmentalize activities into religious and non-religious while adherent of Athletica infuse their beliefs into every aspect of their lives.
“As Christianity fades in the West, dying from a desire to be like everything else except itself, Athletica has risen to the ascendance as the self-assured, pervasive cultural influence.”
As insightful as the article was, Smith missed one aspect. Nothing happens by accident, especially the creation of a religion.
Every religion maintains a priesthood of some kind to steward and grow the faith, normally men who are well-practiced in the various aspects of whichever faith, men with zeal and tenacity. Normally the faith maintains a qualification or certification for the priesthood.
In Athletica, the father has assumed the role of High Priest with much effectiveness.
As Athletica has exploded across the nation, the High Priests of our nation have stewarded this revival and with intense discipleship, have ensured the continual expansion of the faith for the foreseeable future.
It was not until sons began showing up at my house that I was introduced to this priesthood. A few years ago, they started playing baseball and immediately, a member of the Order of the Diamond pulled me aside in exhortation, near rebuke.
“Your kids got a decent swing and is pretty coachable, but he needs some work,” he confided in a serious, hushed tone. “Here, take him here,” as he slipped me a business card.
It was a school for advanced skills, a “swing doctor”, whereby a priest skilled in the liturgical aspect of the bat-swing might impart his knowledge to my son, thus expanding his potential for future service in the priesthood.
“He’s ten,” I dryly offered.
“It’s not too late,” he assured me. I quietly pocketed the card and walked away, suddenly unsure.
Perhaps I was not doing my duties as the High Priest of my home…
A Founding Father
Marv Marinovich is to Athletica as Gameliel is to Judaism.
After an abbreviated NFL career, Al Davis hired him for the Oakland Raiders as one of the league’s first Strength and Conditioning coaches where he applied his knowledge of eastern bloc training methods to NFL football players.
However, it was his son that commanded his most zealous attention.
Todd Marinovich grew up under the strict discipleship of his father who was determined to raise him to the highest levels of the priesthood himself. His tutelage is the stuff of lore.
Marv forbid his pregnant wife from eating or consuming anything that was processed or manufactured, including any salt or sugar. At birth, Todd’s training began in earnest. He only consumed fresh vegetables, fruits, and raw, unprocessed milk. He teethed on frozen kidney. At one month, Marv began working on Todd’s physical conditioning. He stretched his hamstrings, learned pushups. He worked a medicine ball and a balance beam. Both activities became easier as Todd learned to walk.
As a young boy, he had never eaten a Big Mac or an Oreo. He took his own cake and ice cream to birthday parties. He ate homemade ketchup prepared with honey and was not allowed to watch cartoons, they were too violent, while being schooled in classical music and jazz, touring museums.
Marv brought in a team of priests to tutor Todd in football determined to school him in every aspect of the game. And it worked!
Todd Marinovich became a high school football legend, dominating the California record books. Sports Illustrated chronicles his exploits in “Bred to Be a Superstar,” which discussed Todd’s unique discipleship and his father’s quest to generate the “perfect quarterback”. They declared him “America’s first test-tube athlete”. Others called him “Robo QB”.
As a redshirt freshman at USC, he got his first start and was named the Collegiate Freshman of the Year. However, things had already begun to spiral. In high school, he developed a taste for marijuana and that continued into college. As the pressure mounted and his performance degraded, the wheels began to come off.
“I wouldn’t want to be Todd Marinovich.” – Todd Marinovich during his freshman year at USC.
After two years at USC, he actually made it into the pros but after three forgettable years in which he descended into the pit of partying and addiction, he was out of the league. The experiment was over. A string of legal issues followed. As recent as 2016, Todd Marinovich, the Robo QB, was arrested naked with drugs in a neighbor’s back yard.
I wonder what Marv Marinovich thought as he watched his son fall?
A Father’s Call
The father is the dominate player in a child’s life, even secular sociologists will acknowledge this. The father’s absence, the father’s presence, what he does or does not do is largely determinative and shockingly predictive of the future behavior of the child.
Fathers have abdicated, or are in the process of abdicating, their role in the church, in the home, and even in the defense of the nation. It is not shocking therefore, that we have a generation of men who don’t know how to be men. They’ve never been taught.
But what they have been taught, they cling to. Athletica.
Don’t hear me say that a father should not encourage his son on the fields of friendly strife, or coach him even. We should exhort them to excellence in whatever endeavor they pursue and you can learn invaluable lessons playing sports. I’m talking about focus and scale.
I also understand the temptation. I remember coaching a few years ago and I was beside myself as the team went winless week after week. I couldn’t understand it. I sank into a pit of depression. “They’re six,” my wife reminded me. I’ve actually had to step back from college football, my favorite sport, because I found that it tended to influence my mood in an unhealthy way. Ridiculous when you think about it.
I can’t help but wonder, what if men attacked true discipleship with the same tenacity, zeal, and enthusiasm as they do their priestly Athletica duties? What if we were concerned about our children’s spiritual health than their ERA? What if we were more concerned with their discipleship than their batting average? What if we were more concerned with their spiritual standing before the Lord that we were their win-loss record?
The most troubling aspect of this, as you peal the onion, is that many fathers are not concerned with these aspects of their son’s development because they themselves still walk in the darkness, blinded to their own sin and standing before the Lord.
This nation will go as far its men, its fathers, will take it. That is a fact, whether you agree with it or not. The great question remains, what will you do?
Author - Founder
Soldier, Pastor, Author – Bradford stays busy, with his wife Ami, raising their 9 children, serving the nation, pastoring, preaching, and writing books (#3 is due out October ’17).
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