College football has returned and I’m among the millions ecstatic about it. There’s nothing like watching college-age men – who are also expected (at least in theory) to attend classes, pass exams and stay out of trouble – compete in the unpredictable game of irresistible force vs. immovable object.
Of course, with ubiquitous cameras focused on everything both on field and off, down to the last moustache and eyelash, we’ll be seeing enough controversial scenes to keep the talking heads yammering for hours on end. It happened again a couple of weeks ago after the head coach of a major college program berated a young player on the sidelines.
The player, after scoring a go-ahead touchdown, made the symbolic “throat slash” gesture to the opposing crowd, for which the game officials rewarded him with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. As the athlete returned to the sideline, his coach huddled the team around the young fellow and for about 30 seconds, with extreme zeal, informed him such behavior was totally unacceptable. I’m not sure what words the frustrated coach used, but suspect “golly” and “darn” weren’t among them.
Predictably, by the next Monday radio and TV sports commentators were revisiting the incident, debating whether the coach’s public tirade had been over the top. Equally predictably, many commentators opined that embarrassing the player in such a manner had been unnecessary.
Discipline these days, it seems, is widely regarded as a dirty word. It toys with fragile psyches, some believe. It restricts self-expression, others say. It borders on abuse of authority, is the position of many.
Well, to borrow a term from the local deli, “Baloney!” I suspect one reason our society at times borders on anarchy is because too few are willing to exercise discipline. Just as a spoonful of sugar can make the medicine go down, an appropriate measure of discipline can save young, impressionable minds from the dire consequences of future misdeeds.
Let’s be clear: Discipline and punishment are not synonymous. Punishment typically is action intended to get even, avenge or repay someone for a wrong deed. The purpose of discipline, however, is correction. That doesn’t mean it’s not sometimes unpleasant to receive, but the intent is to guide in the right direction, not inflict pain out of anger.
For example, tomatoes require the “discipline” of a stake to grow upward and strong, rather than languishing on the ground. Trellises are often used to help rosebushes grow tall and healthy, and those plants are pruned (disciplined) at appropriate times so they become more productive.
Proverbs 22:6 states, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” In other words, discipline children to follow their rightful and proper bent. If a parent wants a son or daughter to grow into a respectable, respectful, reliable individual, they must discipline them to discern right from wrong, and realize they are responsible for actions good or bad.
The Bible underscores the importance of understanding discipline is for our benefit. “He who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever heeds correction gains understanding” (Proverbs 15:32).
In fact, we’re told if we find ourselves in a position of authority – whether as a parent, coach, teacher, or employer – exacting discipline when needed is evidence of our concern for the person. God gives us the ultimate example: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son” (Hebrews 12:5-6).
I can’t speak for the head coach whose verbal explosion was captured on camera and replayed countless times online and on TV. I don’t know if his outburst was out of “fatherly” love or sheer exasperation. But the player and teammates were left with no doubt that “throat slashing” and other unsportsmanlike behavior would not be tolerated.