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'Bless and Do Not Curse'

What should happen to ESPN's Dana Jacobson?

By now, you've likely heard about the "First Take" co-host's drunken rant at a January 11 roast for ESPN colleagues Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic. Jacobson, it appears, got carried away in denigrating Golic's alma mater, Notre Dame, and dropped F-bombs on the school, Touchdown Jesus (the famous mural on Notre Dame's campus), and Jesus himself.

Groups like the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission, the Catholic League, and the Christian Defense Coalition have been quick to point out the offensiveness of the statement, comparing it to bigoted statements about Jews, Muslims, or African Americans. While ESPN suspended Jacobson for a week, the Christian Defense Coalition's director, the Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, called for more. "Her comments are so outrageous and inflammatory that the only proper response for ESPN is to immediately release her," said Mahoney. "Suspension is simply not enough and sends a message that ESPN tolerates this kind of behavior and speech."

Personally, I can't see that firing Jacobson accomplishes much, besides showing that Christians can flex their muscles and get people fired just as well as any other group. "Bless those who persecute you," Paul writes in Romans 12:14, "bless and do not curse." As followers of Christ, we'd be better served by an ESPN-arranged meeting between Jacobson and a group of local pastors. She could apologize in person - something she's already done in a prepared statement - and they could explain, with grace and understanding, why they accept her apology in the name of the one she denigrated.

But all that is less important, to my mind, than an issue raised indirectly by the Chicago Tribune's Manya Brachear. She wrote yesterday on her blog, The Seeker: "Jacobson works for a sports channel, and sports rivalries can get heated. Should she have restrained herself? Or, when you're up against a religious institution, is their chief sponsor fair game?"

That Jesus, or any religious figure, can be treated as part of the hype and hysteria surrounding a sports team - something like the Dallas Cowboys' cheerleaders or Duke's Cameron Crazies - indicates something unbalanced about our country's sports obsession. This is an obsession I share, so I am speaking as much to myself here as to anyone else. In CT's September 2007 cover story, "Why We Love Football," Eric Miller pointed out that sports can become a channel of common grace, of community and fellowship and shared dreams. Yet he also noted the ever-present temptation of fans to worship the teams they follow.

John Calvin wrote that "the human heart is a factory of idols." The last time I checked, taking the Lord's name in vain was a sin, a breaking of the Third Commandment. But so, too, is having any other gods before the one true God, the subject of the First Commandment. The underlying issue in Jacobson's curse wasn't blasphemy, but idolatry. In that failing, she certainly isn't alone.

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