As Bad As He Wants To Be

Basketball star Dennis Rodman visited a New York bookstore recently to sign copies of his best-selling book, Bad As I Wanna Be. Rodman showed up with his six-foot, eight-inch body clad in a lacy white wedding gown. Rodman coyly lifted his veil to reveal a blond wig, two nose rings, and full makeup. You might think that appearing in drag would tarnish a male athlete's image. Not so. Thousands of fans lined up on Fifth Avenue for the bride's--I mean, Rodman's--autograph. Rodman represents a new kind of cult hero: someone who's known for being bad--for rebelling against authority. Just how bad does Rodman wanna be? When he played for the San Antonio Spurs, Rodman clashed so fiercely with officials that he was banished from two playoff games, costing the Spurs a shot at the NBA title. Traded to the Chicago Bulls, he skipped practices and shouted obscenities at referees. And just before this year's NBA playoffs, Rodman head-butted a referee, earning a $20,000 fine. Despite this adolescent behavior, sports fans love Rodman. When he was thrown out of a game recently for tackling another player, a sellout crowd rewarded Rodman with a standing ovation. One sportswriter explained the power forward's popularity this way: "It's cool to be bad. That's the Rodman thing." How did it become so cool to be so bad? In his book The Sibling Society, cultural critic Robert Bly writes that Americans have moved away from a vertical model of society--one in which we defer to the leadership of strong adult authority figures. Today, Bly says, we've adopted a horizontal approach, which applauds radical egalitarianism. But in getting rid of a hierarchical society, we've developed a negative view of authority as oppressive or arbitrary. Strong authority figures are condemned as controlling and manipulative. In-your-face rebellion--the kind that Dennis Rodman personifies--is considered cool: It shows how daring and authentic you are, because you're refusing to follow someone else's rules. Ultimately, the revolt against rules stems from a spiritual revolt. Although Bly is not a Christian, he believes that our culture's rejection of God has contributed to rebellion against all authority. This mutiny against Christianity, Bly writes, "has contributed to the horizontal mood of sibling culture." Respect for proper authority is something Christians ought to encourage. Scripture teaches that authority was designed by God to give order to social institutions like family, church, and state. You and I can start tilting our horizontal culture back into a vertical mode by helping our own children learn a healthy respect for authority. We need to model maturity ourselves, in part by refusing to celebrate rebels like Rodman. And when we see our sports-mad children searching for role models, we ought to hold up people like David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs. A devout Christian, Robinson seeks to restore sportsmanship to the NBA--including respect and deference for legitimate authority. Robinson may never achieve the fame of someone who head-butts referees and dresses like the bride of Frankenstein. But he is achieving something the NBA's bad boy will probably never be known for--slam-dunking lessons in adult behavior along with the basketball.


Chuck Colson


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