Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Religion in sports? Amen

Published: Aug. 15, 2006 in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The first thing I noticed was the likeness of Reggie White and a crucifix in a half-page spread. Hundreds of miles from home, I found the prominent article about the late Green Bay Packer in a national newspaper a welcome sight.

The second thing was the not-so-humble headline: "Reggie's (whole) story." Unsure how one can reveal the "whole" anything in one opinion article, I grabbed my hotel copy of the July 31 USA Today.

The article was timely because White would be posthumously inducted into Pro Football's Hall of Fame that week.

So what was the startling news, I wondered? Reading the first paragraph about White's "regrets" of preaching while in uniform, I began to anticipate some bombshell admission made just prior to his death. Maybe someone discovered a tape White recorded before his short life ended in 2004.

I prepared to have the image of a man whom I admired not only for devastating play on the football field but also for an unabashed faith life off the field altered in some way.

However, the article failed to deliver what one might have expected from its headline, first paragraph or closing sentence: "Let's remember Reggie's story - all of it."

That's when I became more intrigued with the author - Tom Krattenmaker, who holds a master's degree in religion from the University of Pennsylvania and serves on USA Today's board of contributors.

Krattenmaker's work reveals a recurring theme of what troubles him. With all that imperils professional sports today - bloated payrolls, steroids, player scandals, etc. - Krattenmaker worries about the increasing menace of overt displays of faith practiced by Christian athletes and religious organizations supporting them.

Several of his works that sound a warning include: "Going long for Jesus," "Playing the 'God' card" and "A 'war' on Christians? No." But back to his article on White.

The first problem is that there is little new in the article. Indeed, Krattenmaker simply recycled the same quotes from his Jan. 3, 2005, piece titled "Rushing for Jesus" (published at

Team chaplains and public displays of faith among professional athletes are not new, either. Wisconsinites old enough to remember the Lombardi era will recall St. Vince's oft-repeated mantra to players about three priorities: God, family and football.

Yes, the framers of our Constitution took care to preserve a separation of church and state. They didn't want religious fanaticism to supplant the role of government. They also wanted to protect the rights of citizens to worship, or not, as they choose.

But Krattenmaker invokes the church-state boundary by reminding us that sports facilities used during displays of Christian faith are publicly financed. He forgets that attendees at these games are voluntarily voting with very private dollars - the same private dollars that patronize advertisers feeding the money machine of pro sports.

There is our check and balance. We do not need a separation of church and locker room.

The second problem with Krattenmaker's work is that there is no arresting feature or strong indicators to support his assertion that something is increasingly awry in professional sports due to "the conspicuous religiosity that we witness in pro sports today." And we can't know had he lived longer whether White would have fully adopted Krattenmaker's cause.

The quotes used in the article do reveal that White felt sports ministries had exploited his fame, that deeds are more important than preaching and that he was living that ethos more than before.

But that's it. I see thin evidence to justify a mission to identify what Krattenmaker calls "the appropriate place of religion in pro sports" or to control a force he describes as "problematic."

Krattenmaker is working on a book about the influence of religion in pro sports. I'm content to close this chapter with words from White's widow, Sara, addressing fans on Aug. 5: "I encourage you to live like Reggie lived."


Thursday, August 10, 2006

The destruction of Arthur Andersen

On March 22nd, 2002 I published this letter on the Op-ed pages of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

"The recently announced blanket indictment of Arthur Andersen is not appropriate or beneficial for anyone.

With the comprehensive nature of this indictment, the Department of Justice has chosen to imperil an 89-year-old institution and the livelihood it provides for tens of thousands of innocent Andersen employees, including around 650 Wisconsinites.

How will former Enron Corp. employees receive "a bit of solace" - as the March 15 editorial "First blood in Enron debacle" put it - if other blameless people join their ranks?

Two wrongs never make a right, and the indictment of the whole Andersen organization by the Department of Justice, for incidents that Andersen itself reported to the department, is already drawing suspicion in the court of public opinion.

Stay tuned.

Post Script: On May 31st, 2005, the United States Supreme Court unanimously threw out the Arthur Andersen conviction.

How do you rate on the phone etiquette meter?

Wikipedia photo
I have fumed about this issue for years. It’s called phone etiquette. 

When one calls someone else, one is invading their office, their home, or their peace. One is an invader, perhaps a friendly one, but nonetheless an invader in the strict sense of the word. Therefore, it’s incumbent upon the invader, to identify himself/herself first.  Key point: callers should identify themselves first.

As a boy, I was raised to answer our home phone thus:

“Maddentes’ residence, John speaking, may I ask who is calling please?"

OK, I don’t answer the phone that way any longer; and I don’t ask my children to do that either, however, I still identify myself first whenever I am calling someone else. It is the minimum courtesy one ought to expect. 

This issue applies to work or home life. My daughters get phone calls from school mates and as soon as I answer, the caller usually begins by saying something like “Hi is (insert name) there?”  Sometimes, there is not even a greeting, it’s just, “Is (insert name) there?”

Whoa.  You are asking me to function as a switchboard operator and just turn the phone over to my daughter without the courtesy of even knowing who you are?

I suspect it’s generally how one's parents used the phone that affects the way one practices (or chooses not to practice) phone etiquette. I just penned this post after taking a call from an adult who after hearing me answer said simply, “Hi is (insert name), there?”

Now I immediately responded with “I’m sorry, you must have the wrong number.” As it turns out, my daughter got on an extension in the nick of time and said “Dad, hold it, she’s here!” I knew my daughter had a guest over, but I know her as “Katy” not “Caitlin.”  Had her Mother began the phone conversation by saying, “Hi, this is Caitlin's Mother calling…” I would have made the connection and spared us both the embarrassment.

My wife gets calls from a neighborhood friend (whom I really like) and I have a little unspoken game with her. The woman calls, doesn’t identify herself and simply says “Is Mary there?” I answer knowing full well who she is because of her familiar voice - and I reply - “May I ask who is calling, please?”

We both know how the game is played and we both never change our lines. Once she says, “Its Gladys Pickover" (name changed) I immediately respond with something like, “Hello Gladys, good to hear from you!”

That’s how we play the game.  When I answer, she knows she’s going to get “the question” from me, but instead of beginning with a simple “Hi, it’s Gladys” she puts us both through the paces and I stick to my part of the game by asking who is calling.  It bugs my wife, but I won’t change (and I doubt Gladys will either).

Again, this principle applies equally well to home or work. Yesterday, with our office assistant on vacation, a few of us were trying to figure out how to work the postage meter. One employee, while trying to solve the problem, received a call at her desk. To make myself useful (and keep her focused on the postage problem) I answered the phone for her.  It was an internal call from another office, but before turning the call over to the employee, I asked the caller, “Could I tell her who is calling, please?” 

I wouldn’t think of doing less.