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Sports wagering is a major threat to the integrity of sports. It’s what one experienced gambler called “seasonal losing.” Sports wagering is a more than $200 billion business in the United States with the NFL Super Bowl the biggest betting day of the year. Some 25% of Americans say they bet on at least one sports event each year, and Nevada’s 142 sports books, source of the famous “point spread” or “Las Vegas line,” take in over $2 billion per year.

Sports gambling is still a key entry point to more gambling by adolescents and college students. “Texas Hold ‘em” and other forms of Poker are now presented as legitimate sports events via ESPN’s “World Series of Poker” and Fox Sports Network’s “Superstars of Poker.” Nationally, middle school to college age youth are playing the game—online, at home, and in their residence halls—a computer-adept generation growing up with no experience of cultural condemnation of gambling.

The NCAA’s “March Madness,” a month long intercollegiate basketball tournament, is now in the running to displace the Super Bowl as America’s number one sports wagering venue. Betting interest of fans, coaches, assistants, referees, and players change the dynamic of the game, introducing the very real potential for greed and corruption. The NCAA and now the NAIA are positioning themselves against sports wagering because it threatens the well-being of student athletes and the fair play of intercollegiate athletic competition.

Sports wagering not only threatens the social health of those who participate in it, sports wagering can also be a direct hit on the very idea of competitive athletics and fair play. If athletes, coaches, or referees are influenced by their gambling interests or the pressures of others involved in betting large sums on the outcome of athletic events, they may be induced to throw the game. Point shaving, “taking a fall” in a boxing ring, swinging wildly or dropping the ball in baseball games, intentionally shooting offline on the basketball court, the opportunities to cheat for a dishonest athlete are endless. If this happens, competitive sports based on talented athletes, skilled execution, and “heart”—all the things that make people love sports—disappear. All that’s left is some form of schlock entertainment like televised professional wrestling.

No demographic group is immune to the social pathologies associated with gambling. According to Gamblers Anonymous, compulsive gambling is increasing rapidly in all population groups, even among teens. Estimates suggest that up to 90 percent of teenagers have gambled in some form by age eighteen.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the fastest growing addiction among high school and college age young people is problem gambling with as much as 7 percent or 1.3 million teens addicted to gambling. Dr. Durand Jacobs, a pioneer in treating problem gambling, believes the rate of problem gambling among teens is at least 15 percent. Teens are nearly two and one-half times as likely to become compulsive gamblers as adults. Suicide rates are twice as high among teenagers with gambling problems.

• Valerie Lorenz of the Center for Compulsive Gambling - Teen gambling is the “least reported, least scrutinized, and least confronted problem of adolescence.”

• Howard Schaffer of the Harvard Medical School Center for Addiction Studies - “We will face in the next decade or so more problems with youth gambling than we’ll face with drug use.”

• Durand Jacobs, nationally known expert on problem gambling - “There’s not a high school in the country where kids are not making book on sports events.”

• Edward Looney of the Council on Compulsive Gambling - about parent views of gambling: “The attitude is that gambling isn’t that big a deal. Let me tell you, it’s a bigger deal.”

• Arne Wexler, a New Jersey anti-gambling expert - “For every college kid who derives nothing but entertainment from his betting, there is another who cons his parents to get money to cover his gambling losses, another who becomes so consumed with betting that he tosses away an education and another who plunges into gambling addiction. It is far from harmless recreation.”

• Jeff Pash, executive vice president of the NFL - “Sports gambling breeds corruption and undermines the values our games represent. We do not want our games or our players used as gambling bait…College students…have for a decade been the fastest growing segment of the gambling population even without the help of the Internet.”

• Benjamin Franklin - “Keep flax from fire and youth from gaming.”

Gambling is not a sport, but youth often think that it is. It’s a “game” that turns into a moral and financial vampire. Youth don’t always know that you can’t serve God and money, and adults are not doing much to teach them.

Gambling demands that the gambler abandon reason. It’s a venue of superstition, religion-free religion. Gambling is a celebration of irrationality. In a time when valuelessness is valued, gambling fits.

Gambling turns tried and true values upside down. Gambling undermines a positive work ethic and the productivity that comes from it. Gambling also undercuts a person’s ability and desire to defer gratification in order to accomplish a goal. Individual enterprise, thrift, effort, and self-denial are set aside for chance gain, immediate satisfaction, and self-indulgence.

Gambling has entered mainstream culture today because of a collapse of taboos. Gambling is correlated with social pessimism. Gambling flourishes in a culture where people no longer believe they can influence their present, much less their future. Gambling blossoms from a mood of despair, powerlessness, and hopelessness. Life is luck, uncertainty, chance, a crap shoot.

American culture has lost confidence in hard work, ingenuity, and a better tomorrow. Consequently, we put our hope in fantasy.

Sports wagering is a growing youth problem and therefore a growing national problem. If adults don’t curtail this phenomenon we will literally be gambling with our children’s future. It’s up to us to take the first steps by banning point spreads in newspapers, making all sports wagering in any form illegal, and promoting understanding among youth of the dangers of sports wagering and gambling in general.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

I just finished reading John Grisham’s eighteenth book, The Broker (Dell, 2005). Like all of Grisham’s best-selling legal fiction, this book is well-written, interesting, and contains a plot taken from recent front pages. And most surprisingly of all, it’s clean! That’s right. Grisham has made a very good living as a contemporary author who has not found it necessary to resort to four-letter vulgarity and sex-laden chapters to sell books. His kind is increasingly rare.

You’d think that finding a good novelist who writes books for the annual $24 billion publishing business which are largely free of gratuitous language and sex wouldn’t be all that difficult. But it is. Promiscuous protagonists rule the day. Sure, there are a few good authors left. Mary Higgins Clark comes to mind. She, Grisham, and a handful of others make a rather small book club.

I’m not prudishly arguing that my sensibilities are too tender to survive here and there what we used to call a “bad word,” or even a descriptive of expression of human sexuality. I am saying that I am weary of trying to find television programs, movies, or books that are not thoroughly immersed in our culture’s preoccupation with sex and shock-value language.

I’m currently reading, for example, Billy Crystal’s book called 700 Sundays:  A Memoir (Warner Books, 2005). This is an at times heart-warming, frequently funny account of Billy’s childhood memories of a rather remarkable Russian Jewish family in New York City who made an early mark on the Jazz industry. More specifically, it’s Billy’s memories of his father who died too young. Billy figures he only got to spend “700 Sundays” with his father.

My own son read this book and gave it to me. It’s something we can talk about as father and son. It’s got some good things to recommend it. But for some reason Billy Crystal apparently couldn’t write the book without a considerable measure of everyday profanity, what I’ve always called low level “bathroom humor,” and even frequent use of the “F word.” Now Billy’s family likely used this language, so he’s probably remembering them accurately. But I find it curious that he so easily mixes references to his Jewish religious consciousness with language rejected by Judeo-Christian teaching.

The “F word” quit being funny for me, Billy, in the eighth grade. Why do I need to read it now? How does this kind of language help me understand or respect your father? Or you?

John Grisham’s The Broker is currently fourth on the USA Today Best-Selling Books list (Crystal’s 700 Sundays is 108). It deserves this ranking. It’s a good book about a “broker,” a lobbyist—not unlike Jack Abramoff, whose bribery and fraud scandal is lighting up Washington, D.C.—who makes a gazillion dollars bilking people of their money and buying influence on Capitol Hill. He and the excesses of the lobbying system do not make a pretty picture. John Grisham’s trademark slightly cynical look at our legal system is also on display.

And you will find a few, a very few, “bad words,” so not even Grisham writes a fully sanitized book. But he writes good fiction that does not depend upon titillating words or sexual scenarios to keep you interested. This from a man who once told an interviewer that he avoided such material because he wanted “to write a book my Mother could read.” I appreciate his efforts.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

This week’s Orange Bowl and Rose Bowl, and for that matter the Sugar Bowl, all show-cased some of the very best drama in top level intercollegiate football. Pageantry, competitiveness, excellence, achievement, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. It was all there for anyone who cared to tune in.

Unless you’re from West Virginia, you probably don’t know much about the state or even where it is. My wife is from West Virginia, so over the years we’ve actually heard otherwise well-educated people ask if she knows this or that person “in Richmond.” We’ve also endured people who seriously seem to think that all West Virginians walk around barefoot, drink moonshine, and don’t know what a library is. So, yes, we rooted for West Virginia University in the Nokia Sugar Bowl, and yes, we were happy when WVU beat Georgia 38-35. This is a big win for WVU—for the football program, for the conference, for the school, and probably for the state.

It’s genuinely too bad the people of WV could not celebrate the victory for long, for it was understandably replaced on the front pages by the tragic loss of 12 out of 13 miners at the Sago Mine near Tallmansville, West Virginia. That sad story, compounded by confusing misinformation in the midst of rescue attempts, has placed West Virginia squarely in the nation’s focus for the past several days. Mining is still the lifeblood of the state’s economy, so this accident and loss of life strikes home for nearly everyone in this state that Governor Joe Manchin called, “a tough little state with good and tough people.”

Back to football, watching 79 year old Coach Joe Paterno of the Penn State University Nittany Lions defeat 76 year old Coach Bobby Bowden of the Florida State University Seminoles in three overtimes, 26-23, in the Fedex Orange Bowl was priceless. If that wasn’t enough, the next night the University of Texas Longhorns upset the two time national champion, 34 game-win-streak, University of Southern California Trojans, 41-38, in the Rose Bowl. Celebrities, Heisman trophy winners, pageantry, Keith Jackson probably doing his last bowl game, great weather, fans and fanatics, you name it, this game had it.

I’m waxing eloquent, or at least waxing, on all this because I think it is an incredible example of the beauty and sheer enjoyment afforded competitive athletics—free of steroids and other substances, point shaving and gambling, and other forms of cheating. Athletics at its best is an opportunity for men and women to perfect and demonstrate exceptional talent, skills, and execution. At its best, athletics is as much about “heart,” goals, striving, and achievement, as it is about physical talents. Athletics at its best is part of the best in the human story.

I was never a great or even a very good athlete. But I am at times a good maybe even a great fan. Three cheers for all that’s compelling about athletics at its pinnacle.

By the way, we did not go to the game, but we were in Pasadena for the Rose Parade—the first parade in the rain since 1955—not just rain, pouring rain. It was wet, cool, still beautiful and amazing, and fun.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

The transition in focus and tone from Christmas to New Years never fails to startle and bother me. For at least a month, maybe two months, leading to Christmas, people’s thoughts focus on gifts for friends and loved ones, re-connecting with people we haven’t seen for awhile, and the warmth, joy, and sheer wonder of Christmas time. This is true even for non-religious people. For those of us who believe the babe in the manger became our risen Savior, it is an even more joyous time. It’s the spirit of Christmas that Charles Dickens’ immortal character, Ebenezer Scrooge, learned about in time to make a difference in his life and the lives of others.

Then it happens. Christmas is over. Boom. Just like that the spirit of Christmas is set aside in a mad rush to see how many spirits one can drink and still stand up. Don’t get me wrong. I like New Years. I like resolutions, football games, parades, and more family, friends, food, and fellowship. I don’t like the New Year’s Day television focus on current celebrities, canned conversation, and cheap cognac. After the eternal verities and moving traditions of Christmas, New Years all seems so shallow. Because for the most part, it is—at least “as portrayed on TV” or at your local New Years Eve party.

I have found a few antidotes. I watch the news, old movies, parades, and football games and otherwise, I leave the television off. Reading the books I got for Christmas, visiting with house guests or being a guest at someone else’s house, writing, or catching up on some project around the house is far more rewarding.

On Christmas Eve in our home we read the Christmas story from Luke 2 and Matthew 2, in that order. On New Years Eve or New Years Day, we sometimes share “New Years Resolutions.” I like the idea of resolutions. It’s an opportunity to set new goals, establish new directions, or reinforce old but important values in our lives. It’s a chance to commune with the Lord and discern what his Spirit might want us to do differently so that we may better serve him.

Resolutions are a healthy exercise, especially if one of your resolutions is to commit yourself to more healthy exercise. Establishing New Years Resolutions is healthy because it’s forward-looking, it’s an act of hope and promise, it’s an expressed desire to achieve more, contribute more, be a better person, or be what your potential suggests you can be. Setting resolutions is a creative act that I think mirrors our divine creation and our Creator. Establishing New Years Resolutions can be, or at least should be, about becoming more of what God intended us to be.

So I suggest to you that you join me this New Years in focusing upon the Spirit rather than spirits and in extending the Christmas spirit into 2006. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2005

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

On November 2, 2005, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a sex education decision in Fields v. Palmdale School District so sweeping in its breadth and so threatening to parental rights as to take your breath away.

The case is rooted in a Palmdale School District (California) survey of first, third, and fifth graders, ostensibly to evaluate psychological barriers to learning. A parental consent letter was sent home, but it did not mention that sex would be a survey topic. In the survey, children were asked about, for example, “touching my private parts too much,” “touching other people’s private parts,” having sex feelings in my body,” “thinking about sex when I don’t want to,” and more. Parents understandably reacted negatively to this intrusion and sued the school district.

The Ninth Circuit Court decision said that “once parents make the choice as to which school their children will attend, their fundamental right to control the education of their children is, at the least, substantially diminished.” In other words, parental rights regarding their children’s education “does not extend beyond the threshold of the school door.” The court concluded with “In summary, we hold that there is no free-standing fundamental right of parents’ to control the upbringing of their children by introducing them to matters of and relating to sex in accordance with their personal religious values and beliefs and that the inserted right is not encompassed by any other fundamental right. In doing so, we do not quarrel with the parents’ right to inform and advise their children about the subject of sex as they see fit. We conclude only that the parents are possessed of no constitutional right to prevent the public schools from providing information on that subject to their students in any forum or manner they select.” (Italics mine.)

According to this ruling, written for a three judge panel by Judge Stephen Reinhardt, one of the most liberal and activist judges in the country—and one of the most overturned judges in U.S. judicial history—parents possess no fundamental right to direct their children’s sex education. They may “inform” and “advise,” but they cannot exercise any of this parental oversight inside the walls of the public school. Even the House of Representatives in the nation’s Congress recognized the outrageousness of this position by passing House Resolution 547 the week of November 14, 2005, in which the House expressed its recommendation that the Ninth Circuit rehear the case. Likely this case will be appealed to the United States Supreme Court, but there is no guarantee the high court will hear the case.

The implications of this ruling, should it be regarded as a precedent, go far beyond sex education. In the Ninth Circuit’s view, parents have no right to protest anything in the public school curriculum. It may take a village to raise a child in some peoples’ view, but this case puts the responsibility firmly in the government’s court (sad pun intended). So it’s not parents but judicial philosopher-kings or other designated professionals who determine what’s best and when it’s best for our children.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog on sex education, parents should be their children’s primary if not sole sex information providers. This is a right, responsibility, and privilege of parenthood. Public schools should not be involved in sex education, primarily because they are not able to ground sex education in values leading to a moral consensus on sexual matters. Without clearly stated values, sex education devolves to sex information or sex orientation or sex introduction, or worse, sex promotion.

Let’s hope the United States Supreme Court not only agrees to hear this case but in due course overturns it. The high court will find ample legal precedent, as well as social, religious, and moral common sense, to buttress rationale for regarding parents as the fundamental caregivers, nurturers, and guardians of their children’s development, including their sexual understanding.

Beyond obvious concern for parental rights this case certainly reminds us why activist judges working with a liberal and/or a morally relativistic mindset must be replaced by judges who respect moral values and the law. This is another reason why who we elect to the United States presidency is so important and far reaching.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2005

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers, President or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

I learned about “the birds and the bees” while sitting in a barber chair. My father was a barber, so he knew that he had me pretty well trapped for however long it took to cut my hair or cover his topic, whichever came first.

My Christian father’s other favorite technique was to drive around to who knows where with me trapped next to him on the other side of the front seat. So sex education in my day was not a matter of what program might be in vogue in the local public school. It was a matter of Dad-picks-time-and-place, Dad-tells-son-what-son-needs-to-know, and Son-learns-from-Dad. That’s it. No curriculum—other than the Bible. No Parent Teacher Organization. No trained sex educators. And you better believe this: No recommended methods to assure “safe sex.” It was abstinence-only. Period.

So I wonder about programs like Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm’s “Talk Early & Talk Often,” initiated at the beginning of this school year. While TETO strives to encourage parents to talk with their children about sex before the kids learn from culture and media, I’m more skeptical than hopeful. The record of “sex education” programs, other than a few that are truly abstinence-only in their approach, is not all that promising. Many sex education programs do more to promote adolescent sex than prevent it. They do more to advance “alternative lifestyles” than to advance personal responsibility, and they more often suggest a “safe sex” approach than an “abstinence” approach to adolescent sexuality.

I’m glad TETO aims at parents, trying to assist them in acting as the primary sex educators of their children. They should be. But any government sponsored program, particularly in today’s politically charged and politically correct environment, will necessarily be devoid of any sound moral foundation. In other words, to be acceptable, these programs will have to avoid talking about real morality, right and wrong. Evidence for this can be found in one of TETO’s tips for parents: “Try not to be judgmental.” This may mean, “Don’t frown upon kids’ questions.” But it may mean, “Don’t tell kids what’s wrong with sex outside of a heterosexual, monogamous, lifelong marriage.” Or “Don’t tell kids they’re wrong for engaging in sexual relationships.”

For sex education to be effective—that is, for sex education to amount to more than the sharing of new knowledge about sex—sex education programs must also discuss values. If the end result of sex education is supposed to be fewer teen pregnancies, fewer abortions, fewer too-early-too-stressed-then-broken-marriages, fewer STDs contracted, fewer individuals forced into early sexual experiences against their will, or fewer abandoned babies, than what’s “right” and what’s “wrong” must be identified, considered, and hopefully understood and embraced by students in the sex education classroom. Sex education without values is no education at all. It’s just sex facts.

Most public school personnel involved in sex education programs are likely operating with the very best of motives and the highest standards of professionalism. I am not criticizing them. Rather I salute them. In this time and culture their task is truly over-stressed and generally under-valued. But public schools by definition are ill-equipped to provide moral instruction. In many cases they are not even allowed to provide moral instruction—at least clearly religiously based moral instruction. That’s why I believe public schools should concentrate their tight budgets and teaching assets on academic achievement, not sexual enlightenment.

I think parents, families, pastors, and churches should be teaching young people about what God says about human sexuality—that he created it, why he created it, how and when we may express it, and that we are accountable to him for all of it. Because many fathers and mothers abdicate their parental responsibilities is not cause for transferring that responsibility to public schools. Aimed at parents as it is, TETO may help, but I still don’t think it’s the answer.

Parents need to talk early and talk often to their children about sex. This I affirm. But I think these talks will be more effective if administered privately, individually, lovingly, knowledgeably, and frequently by present, involved, parents—not a school program. For children without present, caring parents, the local church should step in with knowledge and values, not the local school. I know this is not easy, but I believe it is right.

Dad didn’t have a degree in sex education. But his Christian commitment and biblical understanding, his upbringing on his family’s farm, his status as a happily married man, and his maturity qualified him to speak with authority. I was the beneficiary. I was given both facts and, more importantly, the values to interpret them.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2005

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.