Features

Common grace?

National | Sosa finishes second, but to his hurricane-stricken countrymen, Sammy will always be No. 1

Issue: "Clinton unites conservatives," Oct. 10, 1998

One strike too many-the fan-upsetting one of 1994-and many pundits predicted that mighty baseball had struck out. But 1998 has witnessed a comeback, and surveys showed the national pastime gripping fans and even non-fans during a dramatic September. The big event was the home-run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Toward the end of the season, the two were tied at 65, and Chicago Cubs first baseman Mark Grace said, "Maybe they are destined to share the record. They both say they believe in God. Maybe he will see to it that they share it forever." But Mark Grace did not sufficiently account for God's common grace, the way he provides rain and sometimes rains abundant home runs: Mr. McGwire hit five home runs in the last three games to finish with a record-shattering 70. Mr. Sosa settled for 66, five more than Roger Maris's 37-year-old record of 61, and he, like Mr. McGwire, showed his concern for others: Saturday evening, Sept. 27, the night before the last day of the season, Mr. Sosa could be seen loading emergency relief supplies for hurricane-stricken residents of the Dominican Republic, his home country. Deceiving appearances
Two weeks ago WORLD profiled clean-cut Cade McNown, the UCLA candidate for college football's top honors, and showed how Christ changed his life. Now, on to Heisman Trophy candidate No. 2, running back Ricky Williams of the University of Texas, whose appearance-dreadlocks and tattoos (not to mention ear and nose rings when he's not on the field or posing for official photos)-might deceive some. But judge not by externals! Mr. Williams's teammate Ben Adams is one of the multitude-coaches, referees, players, and other students-who describe the running back as "one of the most pleasant guys in the world." Humility, kindness, and courtesy are among the character traits Williams displays-traits that people who see only childhood scars or adult tattoos are likely to miss. Those scars make the story especially compelling. Mr. Williams is the product of a marriage that ended when he was 6, with his mom awarded custody because his dad, according to Sports Illustrated, was convicted for the misdemeanor of annoying or molesting children; his dad complains that his mom was unfaithful. Whatever the reality, Ricky's dad was gone and his mom troubled. He went to school without lunches, spent Christmas with a decorated house plant, and heard threats by racists, according to ESPN. He had the type of tough life that often leads people to hate back. In his early teenage years Ricky Williams seemed ready to go bad. Here's where a proper evangelical sports story should tell of how Christ entered an athlete's life and turned him around. That does happen regularly, yet in this case Ricky changed without any evident Christian involvement, but through the help of a good friend who helped him stay crime-free, and public-school teachers and coaches who told him what he could accomplish. This really does happen, sometimes, and it is one more manifestation of common grace, the way God-as theologian Louis Berkhof explains-sometimes does not remove sin nor set man free, but restrains the external manifestations of sin and promotes outward morality and decency. Incidentally, Mr. Williams now has current coach Mack Brown, legendary Texas ex-coach Darrell Royal, and former Texas football great Earl Campbell all advising him: If you want to maximize your chances to win the Heisman and start making lucrative commercial endorsements, cut the dreadlocks and look more conventionally all-American. But Mr. Williams has said no.

Holly Davis Another surprise
Detroit Lions football star Barry Sanders benefited from having both parents (along with 10 brothers and sisters) in the home as he was growing up. His dad, William Sanders, often worked two jobs to ensure that his children had what they needed. Through words and example young Barry learned about hard work, discipline, and patience. Many sports celebrities are spoiled, and Mr. Sanders has not led a problem-free adult life, but here are two episodes from his recent past. In Miami, tired of hotel life, he took his dirty clothes to the nearby Laundromat and settled down to read: "Maybe a good rule in life is never become too important to do your own laundry," he joked to a reporter who heard of the unusual do-it-yourselfing. In London for an exhibition game, the Detroit Lions went to the Hard Rock Café. All the other members on the team used their status to enter the restaurant upon their arrival. Sanders quietly took his place in the 90-minute line and waited his turn.

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