When does a man become a man?
Depending on who you ask, the answer may be after a certain ceremony, after attaining to a certain career status or degree of autonomy. If you watch a lot of TV, you would say it’s when you have sex, grow facial hair, or can assert yourself in some degree of juvenile dominance.
If you’ve been paying attention to the sports landscape recently, you’ve been fed a new version of when manhood begins – or rather, when it hasn’t begun. The context is somewhat subtle, but the message is the same. Boys will be boys. Teenagers will be teenagers. College students will be college students. This delayed expectation of manhood is slipping past a dangerous precipice.
With the prominent display of college football’s most controversial and talented player, a new assumption has presented itself. Johnny “Football” Manziel is 20 years old. He has already won a Heisman trophy and dazzles on the football field. His future is full of possibility. He will likely go to the NFL, make millions of dollars, and be the lead story on Sportscenter.
That’s Johnny the football player. What about Johnny the man? Well, as our sports pundits will tell us, we can’t expect Johnny to be a man. After all, he’s just 20, and he’s doing the same things we all did when we were 20. Sure he’s immature. Sure he drinks illegally. Sure he may have received money for signing autographs. Sure he is stubborn, self-centered and disrespectful. Yes, he’s a knucklehead, but what do you expect? He’s 20!
Sports Illustrated recently released a 5-part “expose” on Oklahoma State University’s football program and alluded to the idea that they were exposing the state of college athletics in general. There were allegations of academic misconduct, fraud, sex, drugs, and looking the other way while college boys did what college boys do. Regardless of the reporting or what you think of what was printed, the general response was underwhelming. The replies came rolling in:
“This goes on at every university.”
“They’re from a rough background.”
“What else would you expect?”
“They’re just college kids.”
For anyone writing off university students because Johnny Manziel and others act like boys who can shave, allow me to offer a different perspective. As someone who lives in a university town, I’d like to adjust the bar and tell you what I see and expect from university males.
Here’s my expose. I’ve seen something going on at Oklahoma State University that few people know about. It has shattered my preconceived notions regarding college men and what level we should hold them to. Get Sports Illustrated on the phone. I’ve got part 6 and this one’s steamy.
Something has been going on for the past several years on Friday mornings under the cover of dark. While most are still asleep and the sun has yet to rise on Boone Pickens Stadium, I’ve seen a handful of college men converge in an upstairs room at the Baptist Collegiate Ministry building. These students are from various backgrounds and locations. Some are frat boys. Some are country boys. They go there for something called Alpha Lambda Mu (ALM – “Act Like Men” – 1 Cor. 6:13). There they meet at 6:30 in the morning with other men of various ages and stages of life. Some of these men are newlyweds. Some have young kids. Some men have teenagers, are empty nesters, or have college students of their own.
We gather to share. We gather to sharpen. We gather to learn from one another and ultimately chew on what the Bible says about manhood in general and our responsibility specifically as men. I have seen these college men frantically taking notes as an older man relates some of the mistakes he made when his kids were young. I’ve seen college students pray with family men who are trying to step up their biblical role in the home. I’ve seen college men breaking down with older men discussing fears over careers and life’s directions.
These young men are investing in their careers, coworkers, wives, families, churches and children before they ever come into being. At a time when most men in our church are still asleep, these young men have decided to gladly accept sacrificial responsibility.
Last Homecoming weekend, I sat across from a young man who is Pistol Pete. There he sat, 6:30 in the morning, in full garb (minus the head), prepared for an exhausting gauntlet that would keep him running for days straight late into the evening. He had every reason and excuse not to get up and invest. He rejected them all.
These young men may never play Division I athletics. They may never win a national award or have a segment on Sportscenter. But I’ll tell you one thing as a father with a young son. When it comes to who my son looks up to and what I pray for him to be, I’d trade 10 Johnny Manziels for one of these young men. They are my new definition of young manhood.
“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.”
– 1 Cor. 16:13