|HRIS PORTER IS the only athlete for whom I've broken the unspoken rule among sports journalists: Don't ask your subject for an autograph. It's unprofessional.|
Of course, I was in college at the time, working part-time at the local paper, so I wasn't really a professional. Still, I probably shouldn't have gotten Porter, then a star for Auburn's basketball team, to sign my copy of Sports Illustrated with his smilin' face on the cover.
Hey, he was a can't-miss. He had taken the sport by storm the previous season, a prodigy spurted out by the ever-fertile junior college ranks who became the 1999 SEC Player of the Year. In hindsight, maybe he was overrated. Maybe it was just coincidence that when he was suspended for the end of his senior season and the 2000 NCAA Tournament after accepting money from an agent, it was the last time he made front-page news.
Last I heard, Porter was facing DUI and drug charges in the spring.
The Sports Illustrated cover jinx strikes again!
Actually, there's a more reasonable explanation for the demise of Porter's career. For whatever reason, he did not develop into the NBA star many thought he would become. That's because he didn't develop, period. His game, or maybe his mental focus, didn't reach that next level.
We see this all the time, and as a sports writer, I can tick off an endless list of the Chris Porters of the world: Rick Ankiel, Maurice Clarett, Harold Miner, Lawrence Phillips, Ty Tryon, Peter Warrick, etc. Each case is unique, but the common denominator is a failure to continue developing. Sometimes an athlete tops out early, and he can't improve. More often, he doesn't give what it takes to reach and sustain greatness.
It's sad to see that. Mediocrity has become too acceptable in sports and in society both. It's become too common among Christians, too, myself included. Once we reach a point where we think we're doing well, we become complacent or think we couldn't possibly improve.
If Christianity was nothing more than a religion, mediocrity would be tragic enough. But Christianity isn't defined by liturgy or good deeds or rituals -- it's defined by a person's relationship with God. I've discovered that mediocrity in that setting is unacceptable, as it should be in any relationship.
Just being saved isn't enough. Well, it is in a sense, because salvation is irreversible. But when you love someone, you want that relationship to grow and blossom and become something beautiful. Too often I and others see God as someone who saved us from sin, forgave us, and then will carry us the rest of the way home. Kind of like the insensitive husband who takes his vows, then plops on the couch with a beer and only pays his wife mind when he needs something from her.
I think athletes who don't develop are too focused on what their sport can give to them. True devotion begets hard work and sacrifice, whatever the object of devotion is. I, most of all, need to be reminded daily that time and attention are extremely important to my spiritual development and to the growth of my relationship with God.
That's the only way to develop, whatever the pursuit.
I can't expect to reach a certain point in my marriage, my career or my Christian walk, and say, "OK, that's good enough. I don't need to work anymore." It's like an athlete trying to get by on talent alone, except I got no talent.
Nothing against Chris Porter, but I don't want to follow that same path. I don't want to be a bust in anything I do, especially in my walk with God.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a sports journalist in Tupelo, Mississippi.
More columns by Brad Locke