By Rev. Mark Creech
Christian Action League
Sports gambling is now legal in North Carolina. Gathered around Gov. Roy Cooper in Charlotte at the Spectrum Center, lawmakers and stakeholders smiled broadly and applauded with glee as he signed the legislation into law.
But a lot of us aren’t smiling. Instead, we are grieving because we know our State, like Esau in the Old Testament, foolishly traded its birthright for “a mess of pottage.” We have been grossly short-sighted and exchanged the long-term value and significance of virtue for the pursuit of mammon.
For those who say, “Well, we can have both,” they would do well to remember the words of Jesus, who said: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24).
Some argue the times are changing, and we may as well embrace sports gambling. Yes, the times are changing, but we should at least hope for the better.
During the Nineteenth Century, many sports were created: Baseball, Basketball, American Football, Boxing, Tennis, and Wrestling, to name a few. During the Twentieth Century, these sports and others became widely popular and attracted huge crowds. This period was also characterized by the rise of superstars, including athletes such as Babe Ruth, Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, and Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
The media has played a significant role in the expansion of sports, with sports events broadcast near and far on radio and television, making it a part of the very fabric of American life.
Still, it hasn’t only been the entertainment value of sports that has traditionally made it such a grand thing through the decades. More importantly, it has been the morality it’s inspired. It’s been a means for physical and mental development, building team spirit, shaping character, and instilling discipline. Athletics has enabled people to rise above their circumstances and become winners.
Sports have served a significant function in our culture, bringing us together, creating a sense of community and identity. It has been used to promote social harmony and political unity, particularly during wartime.
However, with the legalization of sports gambling in the Tar Heel state, along with the other twenty-five states that already legalized it, the goodness of sports will slowly but surely be supplanted by a culture of avarice and selfishness among players, coaches, and fans. Instead of focusing on the values of teamwork, fair play, and sportsmanship, people will become more concerned with winning bets and making profits. This will lead to the deterioration of the integrity of sports and a loss of respect for the games.
We can expect sports gambling to create an element of corruption and cheating. When large sums of money are at stake, individuals are more prone to bend and break the rules. Match-fixing, point-shaving, and other forms of cheating will erode the honor of the games.
Over time, sports gambling will diminish the role of sports as a source of inspiration and moral guidance for youth. Instead of inspiring them to work hard, demonstrate determination, and chase after their dreams, sports will become substantially associated with gambling and quick fixes.
The result? The generations to follow will be more focused on making money than developing a vision in life or advancing in decency and respectability.
Sports gambling also creates confusion about role models for today’s youth. Pete Rose was banned from baseball for betting on it. He bet on his own team, the Cincinnati Reds, when he was their manager. Was Rose the unfortunate victim of an overly moralistic Baseball Commissioner, A. Bartlett Giamatti? Or, is Rose now someone to be emulated? How is it possible to have clear role models in the field of sports when it’s no longer about who wins on the field but who wins off of it? When it becomes about the money, how can we be confident anymore about what’s real and what isn’t?
Governor Cooper and the Republicans who drove this legislation insisted sports gambling was already happening. But it wasn’t happening to the extent it will, as gambling had not been authorized by state government to become an integral part of sports culture, thereby virtualizing an old vice and empowering it to corrupt and weaken the real virtues of sports.
That’s nothing to celebrate with smiles and applause.
Rev. Mark Creech is executive director of the Raleigh-based Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc.
An edited version of this editorial was first published in The Charlotte Observer and (Raleigh) News & Observer.