In a recent interview reported in a national daily, Jason Robinson was asked about his sporting motto. His answer was: ‘A biblical one, ‘in everything, I do it unto the Lord’. It means I give my all to do well’.
He was further asked: ‘Who would you most like to invite to dinner – and why?’ His answer? ‘People who are good – men of God, I suppose. People such as John Wesley and Martin Luther. I’d like to hear about the trials they faced in their lives.’
Jason Robinson is an outstanding rugby player. For the better part of 15 years he has enjoyed a brilliant career in both rugby codes, league and union, in both of which he became an international. Though not imposing in stature (unlike many contemporaries in a hard physical-contact sport), he became a world-class player in rugby league and, more recently, rugby union.
This biography predates the recent Rugby World Cup tournament in Australia in which he again impressed on the field – not least by having a crucial hand in England’s narrow win over Wales in the quarter-finals and scoring their only try of the final against Australia.
Jason Robinson (with the help of sports reporter Malcolm Folley) has given us a frank and interesting autobiography, providing candid details of the difficulties of his earlier life, and the waywardness of his early rugby league days – in relation to the drinking culture which prevailed in those sporting circles.
However, a great change occurred in his life in 1995. This is described in Chapter Six, which is entitled ‘Born again’. In this chapter Robinson describes how he came to faith in Christ.
Much of the remainder of the book, which comprises 15 chapters, is taken up with details of his rugby union career, but the final chapter, ‘Family matters’, does provide more detail of his Christian commitment, in which his wife Amanda is clearly of the same mind and a crucial encouragement.
It is interesting and encouraging to know of top sportsmen who profess faith in Christ and have a concern to adopt a godly lifestyle, very much against the tenor of the times. They in turn need support and encouragement from fellow Christians.
Jason Robinson is clearly aware of the fact that as a prominent sportsman and ‘celebrity’ he will inevitably be a role model for younger people. Sportsmen in his position require the keeping power of the Lord. After all, although this is an autobiography, Robinson is still not yet 30.
While I came away from this autobiography with a real admiration for Robinson, not least in his willingness to stand up for Christian principles, I was left with some concerns:
Firstly, and not least from a Christian point of view, I have a concern over the exaggerated importance given to sport in general and rugby union in particular (I played at a senior level some 30+ years ago). The reaction to the England World Cup win is a case in point.
Of course the combination of professionalism and the media, the former largely depending upon the latter, encourages this disproportion of importance. Sportsmen can make millions these days.
But sport can only be a triviality of life. The true spirit of sport in my opinion will always be what we may call amateurism. In rugby union, system and strength (not to mention brutality) tend to prevail over grace and subtlety. There is, in my view, an idolatry in sport today that must make a Christian uncomfortable.
Secondly, sport at this highest level, driven as it is by professionalism and rewards, tends to be totally demanding on the participant’s life. Of course, this need not interfere with a person’s spiritual life any more than any other occupation. But in reality, in our secular-driven society, it does tend to have a profound impact on Christian commitment.
This is not just because of the general non-Christian ethos that dominates the sport, but also in terms of church connection and religious worship. Jason Robinson himself speaks in more than one place of how little he can be in church.
His ‘church life’ appears largely to comprise Bible study meetings in his own home. That is all very fine, but Christians need nurture and Christian fellowship in a sound local Evangelical church. This should surely be a priority over the demands of professional sport.
The Lord’s Day
Related to the last point, but in my view of very great importance, is the place of the Lord’s Day in the life of the Christian. It is a great sadness that so few Christian sportsmen make any issue of this.
A properly observed Lord’s Day – in an individual’s life and essentially in the life of a nation – prevents society becoming completely secularised. The Christian and the church are sure to suffer spiritually when the Lord’s Day is displaced through the demands of non-essential works and sports.
This matter of observing the Lord’s Day and the perpetuity of the moral law on which it is based are surely crucial for a properly God-honouring life and well-ordered society.
Of course on that day the Lord has first place – commemorating as it does the rising of Christ from the dead. The day, too, will be a constant reminder of eternal rest awaiting the people of God.
It will be a perpetual reminder to ‘set your mind on the things above, not on things of the earth’ (Colossians 3:2). In this connection the Lord’s Day provides proper perspective on the rest of life. Of course, sport and other unnecessary work on the Lord’s Day cannot do that, but rather will detract from it.
Notwithstanding these concerns, this autobiography is nicely produced, is beautifully illustrated, and is a simply written piece of work.
It provides insights into the life of a modern sporting hero, and gives a portrait of a young man not afraid to profess Christian faith, a rarity in the modern sporting world.
Finding my feet – My autobiography by Jason Robinson (with Malcolm Folley) is published by Hodder & Stoughton with 246 pages at £18.99 (hardback; ISBN 0340-82655-X)