When Your Childhood Hero Repents

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Note: written by my friend Ted Kluck. Ted is the award-winning author of over a dozen books on topics ranging from pro football to the church. This piece is Ted at his finest!

“I can’t believe I still have this,” said a tearful Brian Bosworth in an ESPN 30 for 30 called Brian and the Boz. “This is something I’m not proud of. This is not who I am. And I’ve apologized to my teammates and my school and my coach because of this.”

He is the picture of brokenness and contrition. “If there is one thing I could take back…I would take this back. Sometimes it’s good to have reminders of the mistakes you make…so I’ll keep it.”

He is speaking of a t-shirt emblazoned with “National Communists Against Athletes” which he famously wore to the 1987 Orange Bowl game – a game from which he was suspended because of a positive steroid test.

For the uninitiated, Brian Bosworth was an All-American linebacker at Oklahoma in the mid-80s, a lightning-rod for controversy (more below), owner of a fantastic mullet, and perhaps the first and maybe only genuinely cool white athlete in the 1980s. He created an alter-ego called “The Boz” which became his “brand” (before that term was worn out by a generation of uncool business books) and which he used to gather and market to his “tribe” (see: uncool business books, worn-out terms).

I was a member of his tribe. I bought a copy of his “autobiography” (quotes because it was ghostwritten by a pre-fame Rick Reilly, who was really the first Bill Simmons) and read it all on a trip to the University of Wisconsin where I would attend their summer football camp as a mostly-uncool white linebacker trying desperately to be like my new hero.

Bosworth was ahead of his time inasmuch as he wasn’t okay with the NCAA profiteering from his exploding and very lucrative image while he got nothing. He would have fit right in today, but in 1987 he desecrated the first church of college football. He was never forgiven.

The Boz, today, is known primarily for the mullet, the steroids, getting freight-trained by Bo Jackson and a disappointing NFL career. The sentence that follows will, hopefully, set some of that straight at least for a few readers: The Boz was an exceptionally-good inside linebacker. He could run from sideline to sideline, had great instincts and, were it not for injuries, would have had a very successful NFL career. Brian Bosworth, the linebacker, was not a media creation. He was all football player. He was legitimate.

After his lightning-rod career at Oklahoma, Bosworth was selected in the supplemental draft, signed the richest contract (to that point) in the history of the Seahawks franchise, had a great rookie season in 1987 with Seattle and then fizzled shortly thereafter due to injuries. He then embarked on a series of B-grade action movie appearances and, apparently, very little else. He dropped from the public eye as quickly has he put himself into it in the late 80s.

But that’s not what’s interesting about the documentary. What’s interesting is repentance. There isn’t a shred of bravado or “standing on his own rights” left in Bosworth. What remains is a very humble, genuine, and likeable middle-aged man who drank deeply from the fountain of fame and ego and found that it ruined his life. Now he’s trying to explain all of that to his teenage son, who accompanies him on the documentary as they rifle through boxes of Boz-related memorabilia in a Texas storage facility.

This is a portrayal that should be meaningful for us, as Christians, being that true repentance and brokenness are such a part of our experience in Christ. His tears flow freely in this documentary as he shares his sins with his son. It occurs to me that I’ve never been prouder of a childhood hero.

Some of the film’s participants extend forgiveness. Others don’t. Some understand Bosworth’s contrition. Others don’t.

“There’s more to life than paper clippings, accolades, and rewards,” he says, tearfully. He summed up the era best as he was showing a photograph to his son of himself, in sunglasses, on a media day podium surrounded by reporters shoving microphones in his face. “Awesome,” said his son. “You see ‘awesome’ but I see ‘lost,’” the Boz replies. “I’m up here trying to be a deity. But I’m just a football player.”

Deal Biblically with Regrets

There are places I remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places had their moments
With lovers and friends
I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I’ve loved them all
–In My Life by the Beatles

These lyrics by John Lennon and Paul McCartney capture the poignancy of looking back over the years and fondly reminiscing. The beginning of a new year often finds me replaying scenes from my life. Sometimes I can experience a pang of regret over past sins, failures and mistakes. Ever happen to you? Praise God who has given his children a biblical way to deal with regrets.

First of all, the Cross covers all our sins and failures

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

God knew about every sin we’d commit before he created us. And he sent his Son to pay for every one of these offenses on the cross. Because God punished all our sins in Christ, no punishment remains for believers. So if you feel condemnation for sins in your past, you must regularly remind yourself that Jesus Christ took that condemnation and there’s none left for you.

Think of Peter. He denied Jesus 3 times. He could have struggled with regret and condemnation for the rest of his life. Then there’s Paul. He stood by and approved of Stephens murder. He sanctioned other murders. He yanked Christians out of their homes and threw them in jail. Yet Paul said there’s no condemnation.

If God doesn’t condemn us, then we must not condemn ourselves. Maybe you say, “I know that God forgives me, but I can’t forgive myself.” This is an insult to God. Do you have a higher standard than God? Was the blood of Jesus not enough to take care of your sins? If God doesn’t condemn us, then who are we to condemn ourselves? Despite the way we feel, we must stand on God’s word not our feelings. If God says I’m not condemned, I’m not, no matter how I feel.

Secondly, God is sovereign over all our sins and mistakes

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

God works ALL things together for good, including our sins. God is in no way responsible for our sins, for he’s not the author of sin. But God is sovereign over all our sins and failures. Somehow even these fall under the umbrella of his plan for our lives. Not even our sins can thwart his good intention for us. Joseph’s boasting of his dreams to his brothers was immature and unwise, but it was part of God’s strategy to get him to Egypt. Joseph even recognized how God used his brothers’ sins to accomplish his purpose. He said to them:

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today (Genesis 50:20).

David committed adultery with Bathsheba.Their first child died, but their second son, the son of a marriage that began with adultery, was Solomon, one of Israel’s greatest kings. Excessive regret is an insult to Gods sovereignty, because by it we are saying that our sins are too hard for God to turn to good. So instead of dwelling on your regrets, praise God for his mighty power to work all things for good.

Thirdly, forget the past and press on

…one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).

If anyone could have looked back with regret, it was Paul, for he had hated Christ and persecuted the church. Yet he constantly put the past behind and looked to Christ. Constantly looking back with regret will not change anything. Forget the past, unless it motivates you to change in the present. Press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call in Christ Jesus.

In The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, a master demon advises his pupil to preoccupy his “temptee” either with the past or the future, but never the present. Satan would have us live in sadness for the past or fear and anxiety about the future – anything but focusing on Christ and his will for us today. The past is gone and most of our worries about the future won’t happen, so focus on knowing, loving and obeying Jesus now.

Deal biblically with your regrets. Reject condemnation, rejoice in God’s sovereignty, and press on, trusting Christ for the grace for this day.