Self-Glorification, LeBron, and MTV

I’m a sports fan. Maybe you’re not. Either way, many of you probably at least caught wind of the biggest sports news of the week: LeBron James’ free agency announcement.

I’ll try to paint the scene in one paragraph. LeBron James is the most talented basketball player in the world (in my somewhat expert opinion). He played for his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers for the past 7 years (he’s from Akron), bringing them much regular season success, but no NBA title. For the past two weeks he has been courted by multiple teams offering 20-plus million dollars per year. All of this came to a crescendo on Thursday night, when LeBron announced in a pre-contrived one-hour special on ESPN that he would be heading to Miami to play for the Miami Heat. The one-hour special had been pitched to ESPN by LeBron’s managers, and included the stipulations that his camp got to control all advertisements and marketing, and that they got to choose who interviewed LeBron when.

The result was that ESPN got massive ratings for the night, LeBron and his people made a lot of money, and LeBron got a lot of attention.

Problem is, I’m not sure the attention he received was the kind he had intended.

He’s been nearly universally lambasted, not for the decision itself (by the way the special was entitled “The Decision,” capital T, capital D. Apparently other decisions were second-rate, as this one required a definite article), but for the manner in which he announced. Some attacks have been unfair, but many have been spot on.

Here are a few of my thoughts:

1. This self-glorifying, self-publicizing stunt shouldn’t surprise us all that much. It’s just the next step in what it means to be a celebrity or a high-profile athlete. People are up in arms over this. But my guess is they were also up in arms the first time a high school football player held a press conference with 3 hats in front of him, and then played a little game before choosing the Florida one over Notre Dame and USC. Today that’s common place…in fact, if you’re really good now you get a nationally-televised press conference on ESPN. I’m not saying I condone “The Decision,” I’m just wondering how much more we should be enraged over that than all the other self-aggrandizing stunts that take place every day in the media and culture. We’ve become used to many of them, and that’s not right.

2. Furthermore, our culture often demands this type of egotistical parade. We’re supposed to be attention-seeking, we’re supposed to look out for number one, we’re supposed to promote ourselves. Apparently, after the public outcry against LeBron, we’re just not supposed to be so transparent about it.

3. This is just another place in which the Bible is quite radical. Jesus tells us to be “meek.” It gives us examples of people like Joseph to learn from, who hatched this whole scheme to save the nation of Egypt and pitched it to Pharaoh. Then, when he had the chance to promote himself wildly, he simply told Pharaoh that he needed to select “a discerning and wise man.” “A.” Not “the.” That’s humility. Just for the record, he got the job.

4. I don’t have the opportunity to promote myself on national TV. If “my people” called up ESPN and asked for a simple tour of the place they’d get laughed off the phone. I’m betting you are more or less in the same non-famous boat. But you and I have other opportunities to self-promote. We name-drop. We brag on former athletic or academic exploits when we don’t have to. You and I are not fundamentally different from LeBron, we’re not even that different in the degree of self-promotion, we’re simply different in opportunity.

5. And finally – despite our culture’s rejection of many biblical ideals, morals, and certainly its authority…it still surprisingly rejoices often with righteousness and condemns moral evil. This morning I read a commentary from MTV News which, considering MTV’s reputation, will probably shock many of you. This is what was said:

“But you can see how it came about. Ego. We don’t care that he has one. Who doesn’t, especially ones that have won two straight MVP awards? What we care about is that he couldn’t suppress that ego when it counted. The free agency process needed to be approached with a humble heart, and instead LeBron hatched a publicity roll out more appropriate for a head of state than a small forward. Then again, he has embraced the most pompous nickname in sports with King James.”

People still crave role models, they still crave seeing “humble hearts.” They crave examples of self-denial and self-control. They don’t know why but they do. If I asked the author why LeBron should have been humble or why he should suppress his ego, my guess is that he would have stumbled over some non-answer. He doesn’t know that he wants to see humility and self-control because that’s how God made all of us to be…but something deep inside him wants it all the same.

I had a professor who often said, “True righteousness is truly attractive.” What Christianity needs is not as much a public platform, but humble and meek followers of Christ who display his righteousness and holiness to the miniature watching worlds around each of them.

That’s what will change the world.

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