There are Only Two Types of Athletes: Front and Back Jersey Players

I was watching a huge international soccer (football for the serious fan) match last week, Real Madrid v. Barcelona in the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League.  Next to the World Cup and maybe the European Championships, it is without a doubt the biggest soccer tournament in the world and this particular matchup (a bonus fielding of El Clásico as they call the meetings in Spain) is about as big as a soccer match comes.

The match was won on two goals by Lionel Messi of Barcelona.  Lionel Messi is widely regarded as the greatest player on the planet and perhaps, without blasphemy to Pele, the greatest of all time.  At 5’7” tall, his nickname little is well given, but his magical skill, poise, and heart of a lion are unsurpassed.What was amazing to me is that when he scored one of those two goals re ran to the sideline and after a bit of team celebration held up the team’s logo on the front of his jersey to the fans with jubilation while gesturing to his heart.  I have seen many other players in countless sporting events point - literally point - to the name on the back of their jersey when they score a touchdown, big shot, or goal.There it was, in front of 500 million plus viewers, the basic difference between athletes.  Some think the name on the front is more important than the name on the back, most don’t.  As I thought about it more it occurred to me that it isn’t just athletes, it is all of us.  The world boils down to either me or something other than me, something greater than me, something more transcendent than me.
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My Conversion Story

It dawned on me the other day that I haven’t really shared my conversion story.  In the circles I run in, it’s a pretty common question to ask - everyone has one, but everyone is different.  Mine is a pretty standard story - some seeds were planted when I was young, a variety of people and experiences broadened by awareness along the way, and eventually understanding dawned on me and I considered myself a believer.  After the conversion, I sought out others with like mind in order to bolster my own understanding, and began to equip myself with the proper conversations in order to convert others to my way of understanding.  I share the story of my own conversion here, in the hopes that others may also be inspired to see the light.

As a child, my parents made a point of broadening my horizons and encouraging me to try new things.  I was a pretty shy kid, but at some point my parents decided to take me to a weekend activity popular with many families in the area - AYSO soccer. Next thing I knew, I was signed up in the league and practicing a couple times a week for our Saturday morning games.  I was hesitant at first, but eventually came to enjoy playing soccer with my friends.  After a couple years of playing, I even gained a decent understanding of the game.  After a while though, other distractions entered my life and my love affair with soccer - tentative at best - slowly dwindled.  

World Changers

And so it has begun.

I am actually a huge World Cup fan, so if you’re looking for some good ol’ fashioned soccer trashing, you’ll have to go somewhere else. Not too many days ago, I heard a sports talk radio guy say that he didn’t like any sport where you have to “understand the intricacies” in order to appreciate it.

Heaven forbid we’ve got to think about our sports! After all, they’re supposed to be stress-relievers. (Dare you to make that argument to a soccer mom who’s on her ninth practice of the week, by the way!)

The fact is the good folks at FIFA and ESPN would like you to believe that sports—and especially the World Cup—go far beyond a little bit of stress relief. Soccer/football (a nod to those who know what the game is really called), they say, is capable of changing the world itself. The Cup will unite us and inspire us and cause all aspects of life to appear rosier in most every way. If I sound like I’m exaggerating, note that I am simply echoing what the TV and radio ads have been telling me for several weeks.

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The World Cup at Night

ESPN has a done an impressive job of heightening the concerns of human trafficking centered around the current World Cup games in S. Africa. This series of videos (there are 3) they have released are worthy of view. Please check them out and learn about the after hours when the games end for the day. It's unbelievable what is taking place there.

Check out the videos here.

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