Rediscovering Redemption

Chronicling the work of Redemption in the lives of Followers and Leaders. Articles, research and meditations from the writings of Dr. Joseph J. Bucci. Get blog updates by following Joe on Twitter @Re_Redemption

Joseph J. Bucci

The Great Questions of Life Redux

It used to be, back in the day as the kids say, that the “great questions of life” had to do with considering things greater than ourselves. Questions like: where did I come from? Why am I here? What is life all about? How can I know what is true? They were foundational questions; they considered where we fit within the big picture. But today it seems the questions are different: how can I be happy? Did I get what was mine? What is important to me? It seems that the focus of the questions has gone from finding purpose and meaning in the grand scope of all of creation, to finding fulfillment and self-identity with me as the focus. Then, when I cannot get what I want (thank you, Mick Jagger) and start to try to take control, the questions change: Is it really my fault? How can I fix this? Will anybody find out? When can I get back on doing what I love to do? Even after self-seeking in excess becomes public failure, there seems to be on occasion little circumspection, but more often a desire to find a path to return to one’s original activities, or at least find restoration in the public realm.

A recent case of what I call “tragic lost potential” was displayed in the case of Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino. Petrino was involved in an inappropriate relationship, and then lied to cover it up. Apparently there was some knowledge of these activities, except by the man who employed Petrino and helped him get the job after another series of public mis-steps (Zaldivar, 2012). It is difficult to find compassion when you discover publically things to which you were not alerted. This also brought shame on the individual not involved, AD Jeff Long, who hired Petrino when he had already been seen as damaged goods (McMurphy, 2012). Many people questioned whether AD Long could recover from these actions (McMurphy, 2012). So what happens next when someone stumbles in public big-time?

In an article in USA Today (, an expert in reputation management discusses the parameters for a comeback. Author Kelly Whiteside quotes from Karen Kessler, who has experience in helping individuals restore their reputation. “The strategy is different for every case, but there are certain kinds of principles that transcend whatever field of work,” Kessler tells Whiteside. “The overview is confess, contrite and compassion” (Whiteside, 2012).

It seems that coaches with a “win at any cost” personality oftentimes cross the line to inappropriate behavior. According to one brochure, there is the Gamesmanship Model of coaching, and the Sportsmanship Model (Gregg & Hill, 2012). The Gamesmanship Model sanctions ways of bending, evading and breaking the rules to provide a competitive advantage. The Sportsmanship Model on the other hand builds integrity through competition, and considers the activity honorable. A true sportsman is willing to lose rather than sacrifice ethical principles to win (Gregg & Hill, 2012). And because of the significant influence that the coach has in the lives of their players, several groups have cooperated to develop pillars of character for coaching youth sports (Gregg & Hill, 2012). A person of good character is said to be trustworthy, respectful, responsible, fair, caring and a good citizen (Gregg & Hill, 2012).

So in the court of public opinion, to answer the question of, “how can I fix this?” it seems there’s already a process in place. We’ve certainly seen it work in several cases: with Tiger Woods, Rick Pitino, and many famous individuals in the world of sports and entertainment. We’ve even seen it in the church world: remember Marvin Gorman, and the evangelist Jimmy Swaggart? It seems that according to the experts any individual can extricate themselves from almost any public disgrace.

Perhaps Bobby Petrino will be able to return to coaching at a high level. This might be perceived well by rabid fans looking for their salvation in the success of a football team. There is a sense of redemption here, at least in terms of career survival. But I wonder how it looks to the players whom Petrino coached; or to his family. Will the mantra espoused by Kessler above, “confess, contrite and compassion,” play well at home? What about the impact of the charater of the coach as displayed to his players in the time leading up to the affair’s discovery?

Another interesting fact is that, according to some research, persons who are very competitive displayed a lack of forgiveness of others (Collier, Ryckman, Thornton & Gold, 2010). How interesting that these individuals are asking the public to forgive them, while their personality type does not seem to display the same attitude of forgiveness towards others (Collier, Ryckman, Thornton & Gold, 2010).

Reputation management seems to be focused on trying to distance oneself from the past. So I am asking the questions about how I can restore myself, and regain what I thought was taken away. In actually it never was mine, and I lost it through my own folly, just like the eternal connection with God we lost in our selfish pursuit of our own interests (Genesis 3). In contrast, redemption says, “The old things have gone; everything is made new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NCV). Whether or not we seek a public relations campaign to repair our damaged reputation, in Christ our past sins are forgiven and separated as far as the East is from the West (and I don’t mean East Coast or West Coast). But redemption cleansing also has a high price, the ultimate price: “You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price” (1 Corinthians 6: 19b-20a NLT). I have given up on my efforts to control my destiny, but I now have a new direction, a new destiny and a new life (Ephesians 2: 1-7 NLT). Reputation management says I can control this restoration. Redemption freely admits what Alcoholics Anonymous acknowledges in their first step: that we were and are powerless over our addiction to sin, however it manifests itself. Reputation management says that I can restore the opinion of others in the public eye. Jesus became of no reputation for our redemption (Philippians 2:7). So is my public restoration the most important thing? The great question is: can we give up our reputations, our very lives, for something worth inextricably more? Is peace with God greater than overcoming people’s perceptions? See Romans 5:1.

Postscript: for his handling of the coaching scandal, Athletic Director Jeff Long received on behalf of the University of Arkansas a $1.5 million donation from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation (McMurphy, 2012). The Foundation cited Athletic Director Long’s courageous leadership in the awarding of the donation to the athletic program (McMurphy, 2012). Sometimes, doing the right thing does pay in more ways than a peaceful spirit. So the great question is: can I act with integrity and do the same (Ps. 26: 1 NLT)?

1. Collier, S., Ryckman, R., Thornton, B., & Gold, J. (2010). Competitive Personality Attitudes and Forgiveness of Others. The Journal of Psychology, 144(6), 535-543. doi: 10.1080/00223980.2010.511305
2. Gregg, M., and Hill, C. (2012). Leading with character: Sports ethics [Brochure]. Alabama Coorperative Extension System . Retrieved May 4, 2012, from
3. McMurphy, B. (2012, April 10). Arkansas’ Long does right by school as Petrino does wrong by everyone. Retrieved May 4, 2012, from
4. Whiteside, K. (2012, May 04). Can Bobby Petrino, Jim Tressel travel road to redemption? USA Today. Retrieved May 4, 2012, from
5. Zaldivar, G. (2012, April 23). Jessica Dorrell loses everything over Bobby Petrino affair. Bleacher Report. Retrieved May 4, 2012, from

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