Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes
1 Corinthians 9:19-23
There was an article in the sports section of our paper recently about Roger Goodell, the Commissioner of the National Football League. If you’ve been paying attention to sports news during the past year or two you are aware of the controversy over players protesting during the national anthem. These protests take several forms, including kneeling on one knee (“taking a knee” in football lingo), sitting on the bench, or remaining in the locker room.
These actions have angered some and pleased others. The angry ones see it as a slap in the face to those who are serving, or who have served in the armed forces, especially to those who have died defending their country, although there is not an exclusive connection between the national anthem and the military. Our national anthem belongs to all Americans, not just those in the armed forces. Those who support the actions of these players see the protests as a means to call attention to the inequities that exist in American society, especially those connected with race.
Unfortunately, both groups have hardened their positions so that dialogue is difficult if not impossible. The actions of some in power, both in professional football and in government, have hindered rather than helped communication. No problem is ever solved when talking between opposing sides becomes impossible.
Roger Goodell is white, privileged, and part of the establishment. One doesn’t become the commissioner of a major sports league by being a radical and an outsider. That is why his actions a few weeks ago are so interesting.
Commissioner Goodell spent almost nine hours in New Orleans attending a “Listen and Learn” event sponsored by the NFL Players Coalition, an organization formed to help coordinate players’ social justice efforts. Players, league officials and team officials were invited to take part in sessions aimed at a more complete understanding of the problems facing minorities in dealing with the criminal justice system, police organizations, and educational and economic structures.
Commissioner Goodell was an active participant, taking notes, asking questions, and attending a bail hearing for a young man who had been arrested on a robbery charge. The author of the article, Nancy Armour, said Goodell came without an entourage; did not hold a news conference; and did not let his phone interrupt his concentration. Instead he gave his full attention to the proceedings. For the entire nine hours he remained mostly unrecognized.
Paul talks about becoming “all things to all people that by all means I might save some.” I understand the situations are not exactly parallel, but there are connections. Paul was so concerned about the state of people’s souls in the first century that he sought to understand everyone’s situation and point of view. He wanted to be able to tailor his message to a wide variety of people. He tried to understand Jews, Greeks, those inside and outside Mosaic law, and those who society considered weak and unimportant—all so he might help them be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.
I am not trying to place Roger Goodell on the same plane with the apostle Paul, but Commissioner Goodell was in New Orleans to listen to and learn the other side of social issues. He wasn’t only concerned about the players in his league, although I assume he wanted to understand why some of them felt the need to protest. He was trying to understand the issues facing young men who the system was failing, football players or not, athletes or not.
Isn’t this what Christ calls us to do—he who became poor that we might become rich? If he felt the need to walk in our shoes so we might be reconciled, shouldn’t we do the same for those who stand outside society’s doors of privilege?