We need the coach as a model

Published 9:58 am Monday, June 29, 2009

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford gained public attention last week by dropping out of sight and then reappearing in scandal. The news media gave him a lot of attention and played up the scandal factor for more than it was worth. Too many people are anxious to learn of moral failure because they exploit it to excuse their own, but moral achievements make them uncomfortable as they discredit their excuses.

The same telecasts, radio broadcasts and newspaper issues carried another kind of story about another kind of man, although both were widely known for their religious stands. He was Ed Thomas, an Iowa high school football coach allegedly shot to death by a former player. The governor’s religious statements were played up as if, somehow, they discredit religion. The coach’s religious and moral actions were but mentioned. What the media consider newsworthy is their judgment, usually accurate, as to what the public wants to hear. This, in turn, displays one of modern society’s illnesses. When a public figure performs acts inconsistent with his religious stand, as Sanford certainly did, many people find it delicious gossip. When people hear that religious belief has built moral character and inspires moral action, they allow a gratuitous that’s-nice and then drop it as uncomfortable and inconvenient.

Despite several religious/political statements Sanford made that position him as distinctly right-wing conservative, he was “unfaithful to my wife.” You’ve already read more than enough of the details, and I’ll not labor them. On the other hand, we haven’t heard nearly enough of Coach Thomas’ spiritually and morally consistent life and how he acted upon these not only in his profession as teacher but as a community inspiration.

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The NFL in 2005 named him the national high school coach of the year for his outstanding contribution to pro football as well as effectiveness as a high school coach. In his 37 seasons as head coach, his win-loss record was 292-84. This is to say, his teams won 78 percent of their games. He sent almost a score on to NFL fame.

When his hometown of Parkersburg was largely leveled by a tornado a year ago, Ed Thomas rallied the town of 1,800 to rebuild with pride and determination. Although his own home was destroyed, he announced: “We will play football on this field in the Fall!” They did.

Minneapolis reporter Jill Burcum, native to Parkersburg, writes: “It’s a reminder, in the midst of this terrible grief, that the powerful, positive impact he had on hundreds of lives will continue long after his death. He helped build the foundation on which generations of Iowa kids became good citizens and good parents.”

One of Thomas’ graduated players is Aaron Kampman, who is a linebacker for the Green Bay Packers. He says: “His legacy for many will be associated with his tremendous success as a football coach. However, I believe his greatest legacy comes not in how many football games he won or lost but in the fact that he was a committed follower of Jesus Christ.”

So, obviously around this country are outstanding citizens who have become the coach’s disciples and follow him as he follows his Lord. He, too, went about doing good because of his spiritual faith.

Forget Gov. Sanford and remember Coach Thomas. We don’t need the governor as an excuse, but we need the coach as a model.