Jim Tressel: Responsibilities of High-Profile Christians

I’ve been a fan of Ohio State football for more than 85% of my life. I was seven years old when I saw the 1968 championship team defeat Northwestern on my first visit to the “Shoe”. I grew up with a reproduction of a painting of Woody Hayes standing guard over my bedroom. I suffered through Ol’ 9 and 3 Earle, and the dark days of John Cooper.

I’d argue that Ohio State football has never been more successful on the field than during the ten year tenure of Jim Tressel. We’ve won one BCS championship and played for three. Won outright or tied for a record six consecutive Big Ten championships. Eight BCS games (5-3). And most importantly, OSU has had a 9-1 record against the Evil Empire up North, including seven straight wins.

On top of everything else, Coach Tressel has been a very public spokesperson for the Gospel here in Ohio while serving as Head Coach at OSU. Our family provides financial support for the husband and wife team from Athletes in Action who serve as chaplains to the Ohio State men’s and women’s athletics. Tressel has spoken at outreach events they’ve organized where over 1,000 college students have answered altar calls to dedicate their lives to Jesus Christ. Just today, I received a ministry update reporting that Tressel had started a “Coaches in Action” Bible study attended by over 30 coaches from OSU men’s and women’s teams. Earlier this week, he was doing signings of his latest book, Life Promises for Success: Promises from God on Achieving Your Best.

Tressel ran afoul of the NCAA when he failed to disclose information that five key players were violating rules by selling memorabilia in exchange for cash and benefits (free or reduced-price tattoos.

Tressel defended himself by claiming he was acting to protect his players:

The Buckeyes coach said he kept quiet out fear for the safety of the two players connected to the federal, criminal drug-trafficking case. That investigation prompted an Ohio State and NCAA investigation involving players selling memorabilia and getting discounted tattoos.

“I have had a player murdered. I’ve had a player incarcerated. I’ve had a player get taken into the drug culture and lose his opportunity for a productive life,” an emotional Tressel said, tears welling in his eyes, at a news conference on Tuesday night. “It was obviously tremendously concerning. Quite honestly, I was scared.”

Assuming that Tressel’s primary motivation was protecting his players (as opposed to trying to put the most competitive team in the field), do priorities change when one occupies a highly visible position of leadership in the Christian community? How do you deal with situations in which you feel compelled to break rules when doing so seems to be in the best interest of your kids but fear that you’ll undermine the credibility of your Christian witness?


About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, www.church4everychild.org was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
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