by David Sisler

Before Tiger Woods won the 2000 U.S. Open on Sunday by 15 strokes, he spent two hours on Wednesday practicing his putting. "I didn't like the way I was rolling the ball, my stroke was not comfortable. My posture was a little off," said the man who is positioned to become only the fifth man in golf history to win each of the four major tournaments.

Tracey Stewart, in her biography of her husband, Payne Stewart, tells how, at the end of the third round of the 1999 U.S. Open, with Stewart leading Phil Mickelson by one stroke, Payne went to driving range and "worked on his irons for more than half an hour. Then he went to the putting green and spent another forty-five minutes working on his putts."

Return with me now to those thrilling days of yester-year – 1993. ABC television announced a new police drama, "NYPD Blue." Local ABC affiliate, WJBF, refused to broadcast it. Community standards were cited as the reason the program was omitted from the station's programming. The nudity and foul language were too much for local viewers to reasonably accept, management said.

But then, two years later, something curious happened. "NYPD Blue" began to be noticed and before anyone could say "Nielson ratings," standards changed.

When he made the announcement, General Manager Louis Wall said, "The decision was made after looking at the tremendous success the show had in the November [1995] ratings. We want to do well at 10 p.m. both to have a strong lead-in for our news and because it's prime time, which is the biggest revenue time period" (emphasis added).

Mr. Walls said, "I still have some concerns about the content," but his change of heart was directly related to the station's bank account. Evidently a healthy bottom line makes moral objections not so objectionable.

When I wrote about WJBF's decision to pick up the program which was once too blue for local tastes, but was turning the accounting department green and was therefore rehabilitated, I asked, "When will the garbage end? Not, I suppose, until there really are standards more important than the corporate bottom line."

Little has changed. Witness the decision of AT&T to carry sexually explicit programming on its cable television system.

In his syndicated column, Cal Thomas wrote recently that AT&T has become a top provider of pornography via cable television. Already carrying the Playboy Channel and the Spice Network, AT&T completed a $58 billion purchase which adds the Hot Network, a pay-per-view channel that shows sexually explicit films on its cable television system. For AT&T, "the bottom line now begins at the panty line."

"We hear a lot about ‘corporate responsibility' when it comes to pollution and the environment. What about some corporate responsibility when it comes to polluting the mind and soul?" Mr. Thomas asked.

Reflecting his own personal responsibility and commitment, he stated, "I'm switching to a company that doesn't carry pornography on any of its owned properties. AT&T won't even notice the loss of my business, but I'll feel better knowing I'm not contributing even a penny to a company that has ... transformed the image of Ma Bell into a harlot."

In the light (or is it darkness) of increasing bottom line morality, Robert Rowlings offers hope. Effective this month his Omni Hotels no longer offer X-rated films in its rooms. Across the industry, in-room pornographic movies generate almost $200 million in sales. Omni spokesman Peter Strebel said the decision was made because "it was in direct conflict to his [Mr. Rowling's] moral ethics, and he didn't want to profit from adult movies."

Omni's owner understands that it can be expensive to practice his beliefs. In Robert Rowlings case, it will cost his business $6 million a year.

Payne Stewart understood that it was not good enough to lead the U.S. Open at the end of the third round, and so he left the course and went to the practice range.

Tiger Woods understood that if he was to win the U.S. Open he would have to spend time practicing on the putting green.

What do evangelical Christians understand? We wring our hands and moan about the sorry state of affairs today, but are we practicing our faith in tangible, recognizable, reproducible ways? A fisherman-turned-evangelist understood what it meant to practice his faith, and it killed him. Simon Peter wrote, "For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God."

Practice makes perfect "they" say. In golf, perhaps. In life, perhaps not. But it will at least let observers will know where we stand.


Published in The Augusta Chronicle 6/24/2000

Copyright 2000 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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