Thursday, January 14, 2021

Dangers of Dissent


(The months of January and February, I am dedicating my personal study to current and historical views concerning the conflict of kingdoms that Christians wrestle with at all times, but seem to be crystalizing in trend of current culture. Any one post can lead to mis-understanding and a mis-application. Also, there are unanswerable questions because much of this is applied through principles based on personal situations where there are often multiple responses allowed. My main goal is to flesh this out personally, and possibly inspire others to wrestle and prepare for future situations)

I have a confession to make... I did something really silly in the winter of 1984 that I am confessing to right now. I have others who did this with me... (and you can add your confession in the comments at the end of this post to come clean if you need to).

I am writing a rather long story to give a lot of context... then make some points about human nature and dangers of dissent.... these types of actions should always come with many warnings.

In the fall of 1982, I was invited to walk on at the University of Alabama.. what turned out to be Coach Bryant's last season. You can read more posts about that on in posts from January 2010  and more detailed series in Jan 2013 or even more from my website dedicated to Coach Bryant:

Over the years, I have had an opportunity to give my 'walk-on' talk to a number of individuals with things I learned from my experiences, especially MISTAKES I made. The very first person to receive this instruction was a young Dabo Swinney when he was a senior at Pelham high school and was about to walk-on at Alabama.

The following story is part of the talk. It is about how MY attitude went south and how it hurt me... I always advise young walk-ons to keep an 'attitude of gratitude', work hard, and BE patient. Don't do what I did....

The man who most deserves my apology is no longer with us... a person who got an undeserved immature negative response from me ....Alabama equipment manger Willie "Dog" Meadows. I have such fond memories and better understanding of him now... but he became a figure head of selfish frustration and led to a very mild but effective 'campaign of rebellion' in 1984.

My first experience with Mr. Meadows was my first day as a walk-on in 1982.  

We were getting our equipment. 

At the end of a long line was Mr. Meadows... what a character! All I remember was that man was perfect to keep up with equipment- mean as a rattle snake and cheap!

I was the first walk-on in line behind big time recruits: Jon Hand (6'7 280!), Joe Smith, Kevin Welniak, Vernon Wilkerson, Shon Lee, Todd Wilkins, Cliff Thomas, Mike Spencer, Derrick Slaughter (my hs teammate- Banks), Freddie Robinson, Larry Roberts, John Pemberton, Gary Otten, Wes Neighbors, Hoss Johnson, Desmond Holloman, Joe Godwin, David Gilmer, Venson Elder, Chester Bragg, Rodney Jarmon. Behind me in line were great guys and other invited walk-ons.... Lee Clements and George Salem among them- those men are champions to me... even to this day!

We went down the line and got Alabama football gear!

I got a beautiful new helmet, shoulder pads with the tags still on them, and brand new shoes.

Then I got to the end of the line.

Mr. Meadows chirped, "NAME!"
I replied, "Mathews"

"Mathews, Mathews...(looking at his list, turns the page) why you're a WALK-ON! Give me that!" And he took my new stuff and started pulling out older stuff. I laugh about it now... and was okay on that day... but it sowed a small seed of discontentment... even then.

Eventually the story grew into the myth that I got Joe Namath's helmet and Fred Sington's shoes that day.

And every day after that- we went to 'the cage' to get our cloth and  equipment for the workout or practice.

Every single day... it went kind of like this

"Good day, Mr. Meadows!"
"What so damn good about it?" He would snarl.
"Oh, I don't know- just seeing how you're doing today- that's all"
"What are you, a doctor?"

And that's about how it went.

When we would get our cloth for the day, which included raggedy socks that I had to tape to stay up, a badly frayed jock strap (who knew how old it was).... my practice jersey (torn) and pants (with holes) and worn shoes- either cleats, or turf shoes, (or the dreaded black rain turf shoes that weighed 5 lbs each).

Then he would say the now famous line....

"Sign the ball"

There were always 2 or 3 footballs we had to sign as they were bringing our stuff to us. Each one had a LARGE beautiful 'Bear Bryant' signature on them.... and then the players would sign with a pen on the football as well.

I don't want to burst anyone's bubble- but the word in the locker room was that Mr. Meadows signed A LOT of those footballs with Coach Bryant's signature. Every now and then he would tell me whose name to sign as well. I cannot confirm or deny that I signed a football under request as 'Bart Starr'.

A family member got one of those signed footballs one year, and it had my name on it.... but I didn't have the heart to mention that the big signature was in question.

Vicious Cycle.... Trending Down, Down, Down

So.. the PLUMMET happens over time... at the beginning you are thankful to be there, in awe of the athletes and facility, excited to eat meals at Bryant Hall... but slowly, a sense of entitlement begins to creep in... and you begin having DISTORTED thoughts.."why am I not being treated the same? I PAY to be here... these guys are free... the coaches love them... they aren't giving me my chance... I'm not getting my due.(Do you hear all of the 'ME's" creeping in?).

Self absorption leads to discontentment and you start talking to other walk-ons who harbor the same feelings... and before long you have a chorus of selfish malcontents... always viewing life as 'unfair'. 

Looking back, I am SO SAD that I fell into this trap.

We even had a common phrase we used- we called it "getting the shaft".

So here is how the rebellion began... one day after a brutal practice, I was in a very bad mood... I limped into the shower (we had our own scout team locker room and showers) and as I reached for the soap I noticed... it was only a HALF-BAR of soap

That cheap skate, Willie Dog Meadows, was cutting the soap bars in HALF!!!....  I was in a bonafide outrage!

Now, looking back... it was a super smart thing for Mr. Meadows to do... putting whole bars really is wasteful (and now a days we have these liquid dispensers, even more practical). Did I care that the water was hot, the towel was clean, the showers were sanitary? No.... all I could do is stare at that small HALF-BAR of soap and my anger spilled into fury.

And the rebellion began this way- I showed that bar to the other 'shafted ones'...'are we gonna take this?!" NO WAY!

Right above me was a suspended tile ceiling with one of the tiles out creating  square 'hole' in the drop down .. so I just did the impulsive thing... I threw my half piece into the hole and the soap was gone. And soon after, so did every bar!

It was a cathartic moment of anger and revenge... we all tossed them jokers right into the ceiling!

And that started a daily, silent resistance to the man... and soon he was the MAD one... "WHAT DO YOU MEAN WE ARE OUT OF SOAP AGAIN" he screamed after day 4 or 5 of the rebellion.

And the resistance grew... those old socks with holes- torn up and turned in...useless. Torn jock straps, broken shoe laces.... all good for nothing but the trash heap (Funny, we never threw away toilet paper....).

Now here is a bad thing about human nature.... we began to enjoy 'the game'... it felt good to be a gad fly.. something in the DNA of humans that we get electric negative energy and a surge of adrenaline from the unified dissent.

It finally all fell down in a fire brand, come to Jesus meeting... Mr Meadows had us all in the locker room and he was A-N-G-R-Y and we were being jerks.

He must have seen my smirk and called me out in front of the others... " I KNOW you have something to do with this Mathews"... and he added some colorful language to the speech.

And the result?  We went a good long time without any soap... he stopped all of it. And if we left the bars we brought in the locker room, he disposed of them.

Never forget this line- it is true of even appropriate dissent....

"I fought the law... and the law won."

At some point the rebellion died, we got tired of showers with no soap and one day both sides made peace without any formal resolution.

And I am sorry... I WAS WRONG... my attitude was bad, and there were so many better ways to address the issue. In the long run, it cost me because I chose to stop playing football and went to work for the athletic department... but if I had to do it over again... I hope I would correct my attitude, humble myself, be thankful, and get to work....

But there is a bigger analogy at play here.

We can get riled up to fight over an issue... and the group frustration can spill over red hot... WARNING...sometimes... the issue isn't worth the battle or more likely, there is a better way to address it.

Again... there are times there is grievous injustice and we end up with no choice but to be rebels.

But it needs to always be "rebels WITH a just cause" and not foolish 'rebels without a clue"

Just because the energy is there... does not mean it is a wise move.

These are things to ponder and we begin to think through the circumstances and measured actions of Christians if culture ever begins to clamp down on religious liberty... we will need to have great wisdom and leadership in those moments.

And we will also need to understand... civil disobedience comes with consequences. The sober reality is that sometimes there are no other options!

Let's keep exploring and praying... be cheerful! God can be glorified even through mistakes.... and we can grow from them as well.

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