Let me just admit one thing off the bat--I was tired of "Linsanity" almost from the moment I heard of it.
I'm sure Jeremy Lin is a wonderful, wonderful human being, but Christ, I think five hours of coverage on ESPN is way too much for just about anyone, let alone a guy who is more than likely just riding a hot streak, who just happens to play in New York City, and had the benefit of some bad competition.
(And hey, I know everyone flipped their lids when the Knicks beat the Lakers, but, c'mon--the Lakers have lost to Denver, Portland and Milwaukee, and were coming off a ridiculously tough (overtime!) game in Boston the night before--a night the Knicks had off).
But as much as I don't enjoy every discussion point on ESPN's First Take being about Jeremy Lin (and I really don't enjoy that), I really, really don't like it when guys like David Brooks weigh in on the cultural impact of guys like Jeremy Lin. I don't like it when George Will masturbates all over his memories of baseball, I didn't like it when every cultural commentator felt the need to weigh in on Tim Tebow, and boy, Jesus Pooped on the Cross**, do I not care for David Brooks' take on Jeremy Lin.
I'm not alone--go ahead and take a look at the all the folks who are mocking the column I'm about to delve into. I'm not treading new ground (but I've done my best not to read anyone else's take, for the sheer fun of pretending every mocking point I'm about to make is brand new).
Let's begin at the beginning, because Brooks goes off the rails quicker than a county fair roller coaster. Brooks' thesis is this: "Jeremy Lin is anomalous in all sorts of ways. He’s a Harvard grad in the N.B.A., an Asian-American man in professional sports. But we shouldn’t neglect the biggest anomaly. He’s a religious person in professional sports."
That first point is accurate. Not very many Harvard grads have been in the NBA, and at least according to DatabaseBasketball, it's been awhile. But hey, it takes some very careful parsing to make his ethnicity an issue. You can't just say "Asian", of course, because there are Asians playing professional sports all over the goddamn place. Japanese Baseball players, for example. There have probably been more Chinese players in the NBA than Chinese-Americans, so Brooks is careful to make sure he says "Asian-American". Of course, poor Mark Chung and Brian Ching are all like, "Ummm...we aren't that rare." Also, Hines Ward! Also, Johnnie Morton! Also, Haloti Ngata! Also, Tiger "I'm Attempting to Make As Many Asian-American Athletes as I can" Woods!
But I'm burying the lede. Let's get to that sentence--according to Brooks (who knows these things) religious people in professional sports is rare. WHAT? But he quickly explains that yes, he is aware of the religious-driven player (there's our Tim Tebow reference!)
But, says Brooks, "The moral ethos of sport is in tension with the moral ethos of faith, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim. The moral universe of modern sport is oriented around victory and supremacy."
First of all, thank goodness we aren't including all of those crazy Buddhist and Shinto and Taoist and Hindu cricket, volleyball, table tennis, badminton, soccer players (not to mention Ninja Warriors), because goodness, this could get confusing quickly! Atheists? Forget them!
Secondly, the moral universe of modern sport? Was ancient sport just about getting trophies for participation? Sport, since the time of the Greeks, has been about victory and supremacy. That's what sport is, practically by definition. Ancient Greek wrestling usually ended with someone dead or severely broken. According to Wikipedia (I know, I know) the Native American lacrosse players who originated the game "took part...in the role of warriors, with the goal of bringing glory and honor to themselves and their tribes. The game was said to be played 'for the Creator' or was referred to as 'The Creator's Game'". So yeah--that's always been there, David.
The big conflict that Brooks sees is that a professional athlete is setting out for glory for himself, for his team, and isn't being humble to God. Jeremy Lin sees that conflict, apparently. Brooks quotes Lin in an interview from two years ago, when Lin wasn't the Knick of The Month: "I wanted to do well for myself and my team. How can I possibly give that up and play selflessly for God?"
Now, I read that quote and think, "What? That's such a ridiculous concern. Who imagines that God gives a you-know-what about how you conduct yourself on a basketball court? He gets to watch quarks dance and black holes eat entire galaxies--he's going to concern himself with how you play basketball?" But Brooks sees that inherently self-aggrandizing quote as a proof of humility.
Let's quote Brooks one more time: "You have to be willing to lose yourself in order to find yourself; to gain everything you have to be willing to give up everything; the last shall be first; it’s not about you... For many religious teachers, humility is the primary virtue. You achieve loftiness of spirit by performing the most menial services. (That’s why shepherds are perpetually becoming kings in the Bible.)"
It is telling that Brooks' example of humility leading to the loftiness of spirit comes from a book that's a couple of thousand years old.* Christianity hasn't been about actual humility since what? 200 CE? Has David Brooks seen where the Pope lives?
Has David Brooks wandered into his church in midtown Manhattan and wondered how they paid for all that nice stuff they have?
Christianity being about humbling one's self to God works for the suckers, but it isn't at all what the leaders of the Church are about. Hence, not so many leaders of any denomination are former shepherds or former cannery workers or former auto mechanics or former window washers or former window mechanics on car assembly lines. Brooks does a great job of picking and choosing his aspects of Christianity in this column (as all Christians do in their day to day life. Imagine a country full of people who actually turned the other cheek and supported caring for the least fortunate among us! Obama would be considered Conservative in that world).
If I were running the sports/religion beat, I'd make every story end with Matthew 6:5, (the second Oldest Gospel, after Mark) "When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full."
David Brooks could have done himself some good by remembering that quote. Or by acquainting himself with sports. Either/Or.
*shepherds "perpetually becoming kings in the Bible"? I think it happens once, with David. Sure, there are Judges who rise from the populace, but Kings? Not so much, I don't think. Brooks is full of poo.
**I'm going to make "Jesus Pooped on the Cross" happen. You watch.