Easter Meditations on Christian Laettner
Happy Easter, one and all!
A few years back, I wrote a blog called “Meditations on Easter.” In that blog I discussed the nature of forgiveness, redemption, and hope through the story of Jesus Christ. It is still my own, personal gold standard as to why people of all faiths should try to recognize why Easter remains such an important holy day, 2000 and some odd years later.
And this got me thinking.
Recently, I watched an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary called I Hate Christian Laettner. It’s about former college and pro basketball star Christian Laettner, who sank a game-winning shot in 1992 for his Duke Blue Devils in the NCAA championship game…but because he’d also stepped on an opposing player’s hand (Aminu Timberlake) earlier in that tournament and was unrepentant about it, his game-winning shot was highly controversial.
People still remember the shot, years later. But it’s not because Laettner was brilliant. It’s because many people, myself included, felt Laettner should’ve been suspended for stepping on Timberlake’s hand. And when he wasn’t, most fans were indignant — even furious — as it seemed like Laettner was getting special treatment due to his star status as one of college basketball’s best players.
And that has fueled a whole lot of hatred toward a guy who, at the time, was only 22 years old.
Yes, he was an arrogant cuss. Yes, he was a difficult and prickly personality.
But maybe he had a reason for being that way. He was a tall guy who was often mischaracterized in the press as something he wasn’t. He was called wealthy and overprivileged, simply because of the fact he was white and going to Duke. And it wasn’t true — his parents worked hard and were members of the middle class, something I never heard one word about until I watched the 30 for 30 documentary about Laettner.
This particular documentary really made me challenge my assumptions.
Simply put: We humans still have a lot of growing up to do in some ways, don’t we? We judge people based off the appearance, the outward aspect, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
In this case, much of the outward aspect of Laettner was flat wrong. He was a middle class guy who would never in a million years have been able to afford a high quality education at Duke unless he had a compelling gift for playing basketball. He needed that scholarship so he could go, grow, learn, and improve himself, both as a player and as a human being.
Now, did he do some stuff that was juvenile? Sure.
But at 22, I have to admit that I did all sorts of things that were juvenile, too. I was just fortunate enough not to be in the public eye, so my immature behavior was not trumpeted from the bully pulpit as Laettner’s lapses were.
After watching that 30 for 30 documentary, I was left shaking my head at how even someone like me — someone who’s very well aware of how the narrative can be framed as a writer and editor — can’t realize that Laettner’s story was far more complex than had been reported in the media.
Personally, I think Laettner showed a lot of class dealing with some of the stuff that was yelled at him during the NCAA Tourney back in 1991 and 1992. (“Ho-mo-sexual” and the like was yelled at him, and yes, that was considered a slur. How far we’ve come…that behavior today would not be tolerated. But I digress.) And I think, upon reflection, that he did try to rise above a lot of the nonsense directed his way.
But the most important thing I learned from the documentary is this: You have to know yourself. And you have to learn to forgive yourself.
Laettner knows he’s a much different person on the inside than was reported. He doesn’t give any weight, he said in the documentary, to people who don’t know him, because that wastes his time. (This is my best paraphrase, mind, as I watched this movie at least a week and a half ago and I don’t have a transcript in front of me.) The people who matter to him are those who do know him. His wife. His family. His coaches. His friends.
Everything else — everyone else — can go hang. Because they are irrelevant.
As Laettner knows, appearance is not the reality. And we human beings have to learn this, whether we’re sports fans or not.
And as it’s Easter Sunday, that got me thinking. If we’re supposed to forgive people who did us wrong, as the example of Jesus surely shows us we should do, why is it that many sports fans still cannot forgive Laettner?
Maybe it’s a flaw in ourselves that keeps us on the hate-train. And maybe it’s something we should try to rectify, before it’s too late.