We all know people who are so focused on their image that what lies underneath has rotted away. It happens when image is primary instead of secondary. It ought to be a result of something more significant, not treated as something significant in itself. The NFL doesn’t seem to have learned this.
In the past few weeks, two star players have faced discipline from the league. Josh Gordon, a wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns, is in the appeals process for what will likely be a season-long suspension for smoking marijuana. He has been caught multiple times previously, and the NFL’s substance abuse policy is notoriously hard on repeat offenders. Ray Rice, the star running back for the Baltimore Ravens, will be suspended for the season’s first two games. His crime? Hitting his fiancée so hard she was knocked unconscious.
One man is caught with marijuana in his system and is suspended for a full season. The other knocks a woman out and gets suspended for two games. The disparity is glaring and ridiculous. How can this be?
It’s what happens when an organization puts policies in place primarily to protect its image. The NFL knows that substance abuse undermines the “integrity of the game,” so it takes priority over the players’ actual integrity. Personal conduct is of less consequence to the product (the game), which is the only image the NFL cares to invest in. Players’ personal conduct has little affect on the bottom line. People won’t cancel season tickets because the players are jerks. They might, though, if they find out the players are using drugs. Just look at the struggles baseball has faced from the performance-enhancing drugs scandals. (Ironically, the NFL’s PED testing is relatively lax.) The NFL wants to project an image and protect a perception. Those are the things that keep the dollars flowing in.
When anyone, an organization or an individual, prioritizes image they lose their center, the heart of what matters. They become inconsistent. It is the basis for legalism, the creating of standards based on something other than truth. The door opens for dishonesty and manipulation because the goal isn’t integrity itself but rather protecting the image. Certain aspects get displayed and emphasized: “Look, we busted that druggie!” Others get downplayed: “We’ll give a token punishment to the wife beater—he’s a star.”
In the end, people get hurt. When wrong is justified and right is subjugated it’s inevitable. And don’t just point fingers at the NFL. Look inward. Look into the life of your family and your business and your church. Do you have a standard that protects truth or protects an image? Do you act to serve yourself and your ends or to serve the highest standard? Even the inclination to point fingers is an act of image enhancement, of making ourselves out to be better than another. We must be aware of it and look constantly to the standard of Scripture to keep our center.