Running up the score is poor sportsmanship. At best, it’s victory without honor. At worst, it discloses the deformed soul of a coach, the bloodlust of fans and sports gone wrong.
No team should ever run up the score, even if the other side did something unacceptable—made insulting comments, ran up the score the previous season, played dirty in earlier contests. After all, two wrongs never make a right. Pounding the weak doesn’t make one strong or right.
If running up the score is objectionable, what is running up the score against students with learning disabilities?
It is Rush Limbaugh’s vision for America.
Speaking at the 2009 Conservative Political Action Conference, Limbaugh used a story about a Christian girls’ basketball team crushing another team by a score of 100 to 0 to illustrate the difference between conservatives and liberals.
Conservatives were winners, said Limbaugh, suggesting that conservatives see nothing wrong with running up the score.
He was referencing a game earlier this year in which the Dallas-based Covenant School crushed Dallas Academy.
Covenant School identifies itself as a “Christ-centered” academy where “like-minded families … pray for, encourage, and support each other.”
Dallas Academy identifies itself as belonging to the “Council of Exceptional Children, International Dyslexia Association, Learning Disability Association of Texas, and Orton Dyslexia Society.”
To Covenant School’s credit, the headmaster and board chair did the right thing. They apologized.
Noting the school’s regret about the Jan. 13, 2009, game, they said: “This clearly does not reflect a Christ-like and honorable approach to competition. We humbly apologize for our actions and seek the forgiveness of Dallas Academy … and our community. The school and its representatives in no way support or condone the running up of a score against any team in any sport for any reason.”
School officials said they had taken action to ensure no such outcome in the future and had met personally with the leadership of Dallas Academy to whom they apologized.
The Covenant basketball coach expressed his disagreement with the school’s apology and was dismissed.
Enter Rush Limbaugh.
“We strive, enough of us do, to be the best. We strive to win. We strive to avoid defeat. Enough of us still do. Don’t believe otherwise,” he said to an adoring crowd of conservative politicians and activists, including a number of Christian Right leaders.
“The liberals have made efforts to shut that aspect of our nature down. Wherever you live, I am certain that you, when you were a child or your kids today in youth sports are told not to keep score, because the losers, it’s just not fair,” said Limbaugh.
“They’d be humiliated, especially if one girls’ basketball team can defeat another one 100 to nothing. And let’s fire the coach who put that game together,” he said with his usual sarcasm.
For Limbaugh, there’s nothing wrong with running up the score. There is something wrong with firing the coach who did.
Christian Right leaders, too, found nothing wrong with running up the score or using that example to define themselves and their nation.
James Dobson’s Focus on the Family Action, a lobbying organization, called Limbaugh’s speech “rousing” and noted how well it was received.
Tim Goeglein, vice president of external relations for Focus on the Family, said, “In nearly 20 years of going to CPAC, I have never seen the reaction to one speech as I saw in the reaction to Rush Limbaugh’s speech.”
The Christian Right’s moral vision appears in-sync with Rush Limbaugh’s vision. Dobson’s staff has celebrated it. The lack of criticism from other leaders in the Christian Right suggests agreement.
Their support of Limbaugh is a betrayal of the moral vision found in the biblical witness.
Running up the score on students with learning disabilities isn’t a biblical value.
The Bible does speak to competitive excess. Romans 12:10 reads, “Outdo one another in showing honor.” Hebrews 10:24 reads, “In response to all he has done for us, let us outdo each other in being helpful and kind to each other and in doing good” (The Living Bible).
These texts call people of faith to excess in acts of goodness, not acts that dishonor, humiliate and grind others into fine grain. The biblical witness speaks to protecting the weak, honoring the poor, caring for the frail—obligations that are missing from Limbaugh’s win-at-all-cost worldview.
Running up the score on disabled students isn’t an American value. American values and biblical values are not synonymous. Often they are in conflict.
Yet the best of the American tradition makes no room for running up the score, for crushing one’s adversaries, for hammering the weak. Americans recognize foul play and favor fair play.
The choice is clear: Americans and American people of faith either distance themselves from such a corrupt worldview or they enable bad behavior.
By their silence, a host of Christian Right leaders are endorsing the misshapen attitude that it is morally OK to run up the score.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.