On Sunday the local professional football team, the New England Patriots, advanced to the Super Bowl. It was a convincing win against an able opponent and hopes were high for a 4th NFL championship for the franchise. Then ‘deflate-gate’ happened: the integrity of the win was called into question due to the lower-than-acceptable air pressure maintained in the footballs used by the Patriots. The league and the media were swift in demanding an explanation why New England apparently cheated and in questioning the coach’s and the team’s integrity.
Before we cast aspersions upon the guilty parties, can we all agree that we all have ‘deflate-gate’ temptations in our lives? Call it what you want – a competitive advantage, a societal norm, or a standard practice – but aren’t there things we do that violate the rules? Aren’t there actions we take where the risk of getting caught is superseded by the reward of getting away with the infraction? We speed on the highway, we lie to our spouses, and we steal from work. We usually gain, but occasionally we get caught. We pay our fine, confess our dishonesty and lose our job. Then we go back to what we always do: dabble with dishonesty and disregard some rules. We say, “It’s not a big deal.” But is it?
“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” Luke 16:10
One virtue that the Bible espouses is integrity, which Merriam-Webster defines as ‘an unimpaired condition’ or ‘soundness’. It describes an object’s measure of strength or fortitude irrespective of external conditions or circumstances. When used in the context of human ethics, it is the opposite of hypocrisy. A person of integrity is someone who has strong moral and ethical character in every situation. Paraphrasing an accountability question we occasionally ask, you are a person of integrity when the ‘real’ you and the ‘visible’ you are consistent. We have integrity when we can be trusted with little or with much because the person of integrity is, at the core, trustworthy.
I have my suspicions about the integrity of the Patriots’ head coach, Bill Belichick, in light of ‘deflate-gate’ and other well-publicized infractions of the NFL rules, but I must not expend my energies to address his character issues. My energies should be exhausted developing my character and you should be developing yours. There are rules I break to achieve a marginal competitive advantage (like neglecting to cite sources) that tarnish my integrity, whether I am ever caught or not. There are illegal societal norms and standard practices (like speeding) that call my character into question, whether or not I receive a ticket. When it comes to matters of character, nobody’s perfect.
I look forward to seeing the Patriots play in the Super Bowl. I hope they can win, with their integrity intact, another championship. It is, however, just a game. A greater gain I have received this week is the reminder that a person’s true self will eventually be revealed, for good or for ill. I hope, when my true self is revealed, it will show me to be a person of integrity. We may not be perfect, but we can all be honest. Thanks, Coach Belichick and your team of AFC Champions, for reminding me of that.