As a Purdue alum, I am of course thrilled that Matt Painter has decided to continue as coach of their men’s basketball team. I never really thought he was leave – in spite of the efforts by Missouri to attract him – and yet the reports and rumors have unveiled some obvious concerns behind the scenes at Purdue. Evidently Painter had been feeling a lack of support from the administration, especially in terms of providing adequate salaries for his assistant coaches. As much as it is important to have an excellent head coach (like Painter), every head coach needs a good staff who are being paid appropriately and appreciated. Losing key staff can cripple even the best head coaches.
So this whole episode gave Painter a chance to reaffirm his loyalty to Purdue (after all, he is an alum, too), and it also gave the administration a chance to demonstrate their loyalty to him. Certainly all of that will help the fans to continue their loyalty and support.
Loyalty is a value that is in short supply in our society today. People are no longer loyalty to their local church or its denomination, according to the experts, so when they don’t like their new pastor or when they move to a new community, they don’t feel a loyalty to their previous “brand” of church. Businesses are not loyal to their employees, and employees are not loyal to their businesses. My Dad can’t understand that since he graduated from Purdue, went to work for Delco Remy Division of General Motors, stayed there his whole 40 year career, and was loyal to his company. I keep telling Dad that people don’t do that anymore, and companies don’t do that anymore either. He asks me a tough question to answer, “Why not?”
Even in the world of sports, we see this same lack of loyalty. LeBron James moved from Cleveland to Miami to get a better chance to win an NBA championship, and the Cleveland fans have turned on him quite viciously. No loyalty on either side. When a college sports team starts losing, everyone wants the coach fired “or else” – and usually that “or else” means they will stop giving money, or stop cheering, or stop supporting their team and their school. Loyalty seldom enters into their thinking, and fans often lose all perspective in their “fanatic” (from which the word “fan” derives) view of sports.
Loyalty is in short supply. So is perspective. I think that Brad Stevens, the coach of Butler and a member of St. Luke’s UMC in Indianapolis, gave the best statement about perspective I have heard during this March Madness of basketball. He said that we need to remember basketball is really just a game. It is a game which gets a lot of attention this time of year, but still it is just a game. I think he is right, and maybe that perspective is why he is such a good coach.
This season of Lent reminds us about “loyalty” and “perspective.” Perhaps one of the most haunting statements made by Jesus is in the Gospel of John, chapter 6, when the crowds begin to fall away and leave him. Why are they leaving him? Because he has started to teach them about the hardships of discipleship, especially about his own impending death. Suddenly the crowds who were excited about his miracles and glad to be fed by his powers begin to fall away and leave him. Jesus turns to his inner circle of disciples and asks (verse 67): “What about you? Are you also going to leave me?” Peter replies, “Where else would we go? You are the one who has the words of life.”
Loyalty and perspective won out that day. Oh yes, later Peter denied Jesus and all of the disciples ran away scared when Jesus was arrested. But I sense that their loyalty and their perspective enabled them to come back to Jesus after Easter and to be empowered to serve him in new and powerful ways.
Maybe it is appropriate that March Madness of basketball comes at the same time as the season of Lent in the Christian year. Maybe it can help us to keep some perspective and to reaffirm our most important loyalty – to Jesus Christ.