Michael Irvin was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame this weekend. The other superstar, Barry Bonds, tied the revered home run record of Hank Aaron on Saturday.
Barry Bond’s story has been well chronicled. While the accusations have never been proven it is overwhelmingly suspected that Bonds benefited from performance enhancing drugs. Bonds has been defiant, arrogant, angry, and sullen as he relentlessly closed in on the record. Fans have taken to wearing asterisk shirts at San Francisco Giant games to make the statement that any records set should have an asterisk attached to denote that the mark is tainted. Barry Bonds has not made it easy to be a fan of his.
But the fascinating juxtaposition from Saturday was the adulation poured on Michael Irvin. Irvin was also once an angry, arrogant, and defiant athlete. He was reviled by many fans. He made some very poor judgments that hurt him, his team, and his family. So how did Irvin find himself being showered with affection this past weekend?
One word. Redemption.
Michael Irvin seems to be a changed man. On a day when he was being recognized as one of the best football players to ever take the field you would expect that Irvin would display more than a little pride in his athletic giftedness. He chose to humbly confess his sinfulness. I believe it took more courage to utter some of the words Irvin spoke Saturday than it took to catch a pass knowing that a linebacker was drawing a bead on his chest.
Irvin started with a prayer. He alluded to the success on the football field. But the comments that won my respect were his up front and honest confessions at a event that rarely sees such moments. This excerpt from The Dallas Morning News is a sample of Irwin's amazing speech.
Then came some very personal and emotional apologies for his failures off the field during the 1990s – the parties, the women, the drug arrests. He spoke directly to his wife, Sand, bringing a tear to her eye.
"For better or worse – those are the vows we take before God in marriage," Irvin said. "It's easy to live with the 'for better,' but rarely can you find someone who sticks around and endures the 'for worse.'
"Sand, my wife, I have worked tirelessly to give you the 'for better.' But I also gave you the 'for worse' – and you didn't deserve it. You didn't deserve it."
Irvin broke down in tears about 21 minutes into his speech when he addressed his sons, Michael and Elijah.
"That's where my heart is," Irvin said of his sons. "I say to God, 'I have my struggles, and I made some bad decisions, but whatever you do, don't let me mess this up.' I say, 'Please help me raise them for some young lady so that they can be a better husband than I.' "
And suddenly a night dedicated to football had nothing to do with football at all.
I did not used to be a fan of Number 88. He is winning me over. Partly because he could play at the highest level of professional sports. But mainly because he was man enough to recognize his mistakes, humble himself before his Savior, realize what really matters, and confess all of that when he really did not need to.
Most men have also caused some (or many) ‘for worse’ moments in their marriage. Most of us have fallen short now and then from what we should have or could have been as dads. But Michael Irvin modeled something far more important than football on Saturday. He showed us what redemption looks like. Michael and his family demonstrated the power of love. The amazing grace of Jesus. And that humility is the greatest strength that any man can possess. Some other blog sites have questioned his sincerity. I believe his comments were honest and real. That does not mean he will be perfect for the rest of his life. But I have learned that when you realize the depth of your fallenness you are ready to begin your journey toward Christlikeness.
My thoughts turned back to Barry Bonds. Perhaps I should extend a little grace to him. Maybe someday he will stand before us as a changed man. Maybe I should pray for that miracle instead of praying that a hamstrung injury will preserve Apron's record. I never would have believed that Michael Irvin would move me so much while he was living his former life. That is what redemption is all about. A Savior who stands always ready to meet us at the moment we turn to Him. Michael Irvin did it. I did it. Barry Bonds is not a bigger sinner than me or Michael Irvin. We are all the same in the eyes of a Holy God . All of us, whether rich or poor, famous or anonymous, face the same question about how we can be reconciled to God. Paul summarizes it nicely in Romans.
This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
Paul goes on to say that we can not take credit for any of this.
Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith.
Redemption is available for all of us. Even super stars.
Dave Burchett is an Emmy Award winning television sports director, author, and Christian speaker. He is the author of When Bad Christians Happen to Good People and Bring'em Back Alive: A Healing Plan for those Wounded by the Church. You can reply by linking through daveburchett.com.