When considering our summer sermon series in which we’ve been engaging cultural topics and issues, I pondered the possibility of using a letter to Hugh Freeze regarding his public faith and the NCAA investigations as a sermon illustration. It never fit and I never wrote the letter. In light of recent events, I offer here the letter I would’ve written then.
Dear Coach Freeze,
As an Ole Miss alum, I want to say thank you for making Ole Miss football exciting again. I appreciate your words about being “competitive” and “relevant.” Yes, we all like to win but at the end of the day football is but entertainment, at least for the fans. The competition that comes with great parity is what makes sports fun to watch. Any given team on any given day winning or losing! I have a few friends who are Alabama fans that might disagree but I suspect they are guilty of pride. (Wink!)
The recent allegations against you and Ole Miss, of course, are disappointing. From the outside, these all seem like petty concerns, hunting on nearby lands, small amounts of cash, clothing items, etc., but apparently they are not minor according to the rulebook. The frustrating thing is that we expect these things are happening behind the scenes at virtually every institution. I say that not to justify the actions but simply to highlight the rumored impending doom does not seem proportionate to the crime. Nonetheless, rules are rules, and at least some rules, apparently, have been broken. Your fans are hoping and praying the NCAA’s case against Ole Miss is not as tight as some think.
But the real story for me, as a Christian pastor, is your Christian witness through all this. I appreciate your boldness of faith, focus on family, and emphasis of helping young men navigate their way into adulthood, building character and instilling hope. There’s no doubt you are in a position of great influence and persuasion. You have been blessed with a very public platform. The responsibility, though, is great. So too is the pressure and the pressure to win. I understand this, though I don’t come close to feeling it like you do.
So here’s the deal. The Christian community needs you to be bigger than football. We need you to be genuine and honest about your faith AND what has happened. If inappropriate things took place under your leadership—things you knew about or participated in—we need you to come clean. As a tribe, Christians aren’t getting the best rap these days. We are most often seen as homophobic, judgmental, and hypocritical. The list could go on. Again, if there is anything you need to say or do, act now. The last thing the Christian community needs is another Evangelical crying on TV about the sins he greatly regrets only AFTER he’s been busted. No more Jim and Tammy Fayes. No more Jimmy Swaggarts. This will only fuel the stereotypes of non-Christians.
Forgive my boldness. I don’t write this assuming you are guilty but I do write out of concern for your Christian witness and the larger witness of the church in our culture. None of us are perfect. But it’s our humility the world needs to see. We are hoping and praying for you.
Reverend Doctor John William Richter III Senior Pastor, St. John’s Evangelical Protestant Church, Cullman, AL
This week my thoughts and feeling are more mixed. As an Ole Miss fan, I roll my eyes, think, “Here we go again,” and hope for the best. As a Christian, I’m frustrated and angry and I hurt for Freeze’s family. His wife and daughters feel the most pain and don’t deserve any of this—personal rejection, shame, or potential public backlash. His players didn’t deserve this either. Parents who entrusted their boys to him didn’t deserve this. The Ole Miss faithful didn’t deserve this. (Unless we are talking about football as an idol, but that’s a different blog post.)
As for Freeze, I do pray for him and his family. I hope he’s not a charlatan who used Jesus for personal gain. Of course, I’m not the authority he’ll have to answer to if that’s the case. The best-case scenario is that he is like the rest of us—flawed, seriously flawed, and broken. There are those who have legitimate addictions. Perhaps that’s him. Perhaps not. He’s been awfully quiet for a man who was so vocal—that’s probably the best sign in his favor. He’ll have to earn back trust. But if he was playing us before, we can’t be sure if he is playing us or not now.
And who knows what will the verdict will be in the end. We don’t have all the facts. A lot of negative things have been said about Freeze already. I’ll hold my stones either way, though, because the one thing I do know is that save the grace of God, there go I.