“I hope they go 0-162.”
Well, that wasn’t a terribly nice thing for Detroit Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler to say about his former team, the Texas Rangers. Texas traded Kinsler to Detroit during the offseason, and because he apparently holds a grudge against his former employer, he fired off this reply to a question posed by Richard Durrett of ESPN Dallas. Once Kinsler’s comment went viral, media members skewered him, calling him “surly, cocky, and competitive” and ridiculous and childish. It didn’t stir up as much outrage as Richard Sherman’s infamous rant at Erin Andrews after January’s NFC Championship game, but Kinsler’s spouting off falls into the same category.
Mainstream media’s relationship with athletes and coaches is confused. Everyone wants a scoop, a gold nugget of a sound bite. But instead they get pat, boring answers. Why? Because they ask pat, boring questions. Reporter: “What kind of adjustments do you need to make at halftime to get back into this game?” Coach: “We just need to play better defense and score more points.” Wow, gripping stuff there!
It’s a nasty cycle of boringness with poor questions leading to poor answers begetting more poor questions. But what happens when an athlete or coach speaks honestly and openly like Kinsler or Sherman? They get hammered. Of course, those two were both being unkind, but it’s not just the angry athletes who get blasted. Tim Tebow was a whipping boy and Josh Hamilton has been the butt of countless jokes. All of the backlash against honesty and openness perpetuates the boring answers. It’s clearly safer to say nothing interesting.
This sort of tension and confused relationship reminds me of what we encounter at church. Christians attest to valuing openness and authenticity. Authenticity is, in fact, one of the most appreciated traits of our day. Most often, though, we engage each other with the same pat, meaningless questions. We fail to probe or prod with pointed queries. And in return we get blasé answers. “How’s it going?” “Better than I deserve.” “How are you?” “Hanging in there.”
We need to decide what we want, honesty or safety? Safety is the default, but it is boring in the media and useless in relationships. It reveals little, protects itself, and, as a result, connects with nobody.
Honesty is frightening because of how it opens us up to criticism and judgment. But it will only happen through grace. Nobody will risk authenticity without the hope and promise of a gracious response. Such a reply is too much to ask of the media and of the general population who don’t know the grace of Christ, but for the church it should be a defining characteristic, even if someone admits to something terrible or is in the wrong—especially if they admit to something terrible or are in the wrong. Grace sets us apart. Grace makes the honesty we want safe enough to actually happen.