When I was 17 or 18 years old, I would have given virtually anything to trade places with Charles Rogers. Ironically, 10 years later, I’d bet Charles Rogers would give virtually anything that he has left to trade places with me.
If you don’t know, Charles Rogers is a freakish athlete that I had the “pleasure” of running in track meets against in high school back in Saginaw, MI. No, I didn’t even belong on the same track as Charles. He was world class. After graduation in 2000, he went to Michigan State University where he became an All-American and Heisman Trophy candidate who likely would have won had he not been on a relatively weak team. Conversely, I went on to Martin Luther College where I blew my knee out while helping to coach a freshman girls high school basketball team.
After several seasons playing for the Spartans, Charles made himself eligible for the NFL draft. In the 2003 NFL draft he was selected with the second pick by the home state Detroit Lions, considered the most physically gifted player in the draft and one of the most physically gifted wide receivers ever. Although he caught two touchdowns in his first game as a Lion, seemingly foreshadowing a Hall of Fame career, Charles broke his collarbone several weeks later, taking him out for the season. The next season began with renewed hope. However, Charles once again broke the same collarbone within the first couple of games, once again ending his season. When season three rolled around, Charles got busted on drug abuse charges early on and missed a number of games. Failing to register a certain minimal number of plays in his first 3 seasons invoked a clause in his contract that meant he would be paid a fraction of what his contract had been for. And the hits kept coming. Charles never cleaned up his act. The Lions eventually wanted nothing to do with him, nor did any other NFL team for that matter. In fact, he was no longer good enough or “worth it” to any Canadian Football league team or any NFL Europe team either.
What got me thinking about it once again was that yesterday when I opened my internet browser I noticed that on the front page of YAHOO News was once again Charles Roger’s mug. He’s still making negative headlines. This one read, “Detroit draft bust Charles Rogers owes Lions $6.1 million“.
I couldn’t believe it. Being known as one of the biggest flops in NFL history, Charles is still not only dealing with the enormous weight of that reputation, but actually is literally still paying for it.
I remember sitting down with him at a couple of track meets and talking with him, seeing what was going on in the mind of a future superstar. I remember asking him to sign my track spikes with both of us acknowledging that he’d soon be famous. Even by this point, autographs were no big deal to him. I was a skinny white kid with acne. He was this larger-than-life character. He seemed to already have a very professional perspective of what he was about to become, or at least what he and I thought he was about to become. Boy, were we wrong. Maybe I should have handed him my Bible instead of my cleats.
This is a simple lesson, but one I need to remind myself of daily so I hope that you appreciate the reminder too. There were a number of things that you could point to that ultimately led to Charles’ downfall, but I think the most accurate is this — the issue of priority. I understand that Charles perhaps couldn’t have prevented his injuries, but no one forced him to smoke the unthinkable amounts of marijuana that he did. That was his choice. No one forced him to get reportedly very lazy in his training regimen. That was his choice. No one forced him to act incredibly irresponsible. If he had made his career, providing for his family, and his reputation a priority, he wouldn’t have missed the games that cost him millions and millions of dollars. Instead, comfort and fun when he wanted it were more important to him.
I never got into a religious discussion with Charles, so I don’t know where his heart is at, spiritually speaking. Who knows, maybe this latest rock bottom will be God’s way of turning him to the Lord. I hope so. But I think a lesson to learn in all of this is that one of the inherent blessings of Christianity is the benefit of perspective that comes from the right priorities. There are a number of passages in Scripture that encourage this, but here’s just one selection that I think best summarizes a Christian’s priorities: But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things (earthly needs) will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33) Although every Christian’s pecking order of priorities in life might look a little different, God is going to be at the top of every list. He has to be, otherwise one fails to be Christian. Take for example the “Rich Young Man” in Matthew 19 who believes that he has perfectly followed the Lord. He asks Jesus what else he must do to be saved. Jesus says the final thing is simply to give away his wealth and come and follow Jesus. The young man walks away sad because he feels he can’t do it. The problem isn’t that the young man is wealthy. The problem is the priority of wealth in his life and in his heart. He refused to move his wealth from the top spot in his priorities.
As a Christian, what the Holy Spirit living in me wants is to have a healthy pecking order of priorities. In this world, fame always sounds good. Money always sounds good. Excitement and pleasure always sound good. Material things sound good. Big houses and fast cars sound good. Vacation sounds good. Beauty sounds good. Comfort sounds good. Family, relationship, humor all sound good. However, they can’t sound better than God. We seek then to make God the #1 priority and show him he’s our #1 priority. We follow the principles of his Word for letting the other things in our lives fall into their proper place on our pecking orders. And then every day, unfortunately, we fail, but we ask God to forgive us. And our loving God is willing and able to forgive us. Why? Because he made us the #1 priority on his pecking order. He made living a perfect life, dying on the cross, rising from the grave (i.e. our redemption process) – the most important thing on his list even though it caused him to have to sacrifice. But he was happy to do it, because he loves us that much. And so we too are happy, if needs be, to sacrifice, making God our top priority.
Although Charles Rogers has no one to blame for his problems but himself, I find myself having a tough time holding his decisions against him. Without God holding the top spot of priority in someone’s life, how are they supposed to know the pecking order that other things are supposed to fall into? Without a godly, biblical worldview, it’s tough to know the true importance of providing for family, dedicating yourself and your skills to your work, maintaining an honorable reputation, etc. In other words, it’s easy to let bad things become priorities and act very immature. If God wasn’t in my life, I’m guessing my priorities would look fairly ridiculous as well.
It’s honestly hard for me to watch all of this happen to this person that I’d put on such a pedestal 10 years ago. But I do hope Charles’ lesson serves as a wake-up call to him and all of us when our priorities fall out of place. As Christians, we try not to worry about wealth, health, fame, status, etc. We put God first (make him the top priority), and we trust that everything else (earthly things) will fall into the right place. That’s Jesus’ promise. And that’s healthy priority.