Football Teams and The Traditional Family

L to R: Josh Gordan (Cleveland), Robert Griffin III (Washington), Kendall Wright (Tennessee), and Terrance Williams (Dallas)

The success of NFL players and Baylor Alumni RGIII, Josh Gordon, Terrance Williams, and Kendall Wright has led to some recent speculation among sports talking heads about the success of Baylor University’s football program and RGIII in particular. The conversation goes something like this: If RGIII was surrounded by such rich talent in college, are his team mates a better explanation for his success? [1. Especially given the fact that his 2 NFL years have been so hot and cold.] In other words, Is it possible that RGIII’s greatness has been propped up by the greatness of his collegiate teammates?  

Aside from sports chatter, I believe there is something important in such a question about team success and our conclusions about individual leadership as a major influence on team success. How we collectively answer the questions about RGIII and his team mates might inform the way we answer questions about other teams in American society – like, say, the traditional family.  With this in view, I believe that the conclusions we come to about RGIII and company will provide a helpful way to think and teach about the traditional family in the local church.

The Four Horsemen of the BearPawcalypse

During the 2010 NCAA college football season Baylor University’s offensive attack was spearheaded by the combination of RGIII at quarterback and wide-receivers Josh Gordon, Kendall Wright, and Terrance Williams.  The Four Horseman of the BearPawcalypse [2. Copyright Doug Hankins 2014. Seriously, I just made this up. You guys better cite me when this moniker blows up on the sports blog scene.] as they came to be known by me, put up ridiculous video game numbers:

Player Pct Yds TD Int
Robert Griffin III 67.0 3501 22 8

Wide Receivers

Player Rec Yds Avg TD
Kendall Wright 78 952 12.2 7
Terrance Williams 43 484 11.3 4
Josh Gordon 42 714 17.0 7

In retrospect, this offensive group would produce 3 All-Americans, 1 Heisman Trophy Winner, an offensive rookie of the year in the NFL, 2 pro-bowlers, and 1 NFL all-pro team.  And yes, all 4 men are starters in the National Football League.  It is in this review of accolades that some have begun to have the chicken and egg conversation about RGIII.  Was RGIII helped by having world-class teammates or were his teammates made better because of RGIII.

Role Definitions within The American Family

This conversation about RGIII and Baylor runs parallel to a conversation that many pastors and theologians have been having about the success of an undervalued team in America – the nuclear family.[3. See]  I believe that Football teams provide a helpful analogy for the way that local churches can envision and discuss the traditional family, especially as it comes to defining roles within the team. For instance:

  1. Some thinkers have suggested that families be envisioned from within a more egalitarian framework — with husband, wife, and kids having a more or less equal role within the family towards a goal of mutual benefit.
  2. Other thinkers have suggested that there be a specific break in roles between parents and children — with parents holding a disproportionate burden of responsibility.  These thinkers would then only affirm a more egalitarian distribution of roles among the parents alone with man and woman having en equivalent level of responsibility.
  3. A third group of thinkers agree on the distinction between parents and children and further suggest that that roles are more complementarian within the husband/wife relationships.  Typically, these thinkers suggest that husbands play the role of head with the wife playing a submissive/encouraging role.

As you might expect, there is much friction and disagreement over the three prominent views, particularly within the latter two views.  Views 2 and 3 are more often debated within local church circles and therefore will be addressed in this post.  View 2, what we may call the traditional egalitarian view, argues that View 3, the traditional complementarian view, carries far too much Jewish patriarchal baggage into the New Testament view of marriage and discounts the freedom that Paul speaks of in Galatians 3:28.  And often times View 2 would want verses like Galatians 3:28 to be a fundamental informant to their position, along with the nagging experience of a honorable feminism that raises honest concerns about a male dominated society.  From this vantage point, View 2 would raise the question of how wives and children can flourish within View 3, given what appears to be an unequal power structure.

Football and Role Definition

It is with the last concern in mind that I believe the conversation about RGIII and company helps clarify the beauty of the proper vision for View 3, the traditional complementarian view.  The vision behind complementarianism is why RGIII, Williams, Wright, and Gordon are each flourishing in the NFL.  The vision behind complementarianism is the reason why football recruits want to play within Baylor’s system.  The vision behind complementarianism is why Art Briles is a sought after speaker and coach.

In short, complementarianism and Baylor’s offensive system hold the following 6 core beliefs:

  • Everyone is essential to the team’s success.
  • Everyone has an essential role to play in the team’s success.
  • Roles are essential for team success.
  • There can be only one ultimate decision maker for the team to succeed. [4. Too many cooks in the kitchen spoils the meal.]
  • Skill positions are essential for a successful team.
  • Protection is essential for a successful team.

When these 6 core beliefs were implemented at Baylor in 2010, RGIII was established as the ultimate decision maker.  But the team could do nothing successful without the key skill positions and significant protection.  Everyone had a role to play and everyone understood the role and everyone played the role.  The result? One of the greatest offenses in College Football History.  And when RGIII won the Heisman trophy in 2011, his response revealed and embodied the 6 core beliefs:

“It seemed like the script was written perfectly for us to go out and win this award,”

Who won the individual award?  The Baylor team won the award. Why did they win the award?  Because they followed the script.

So how can the Baylor offense inform the vision for the local family? From a complementarian standpoint it seems that the family will find success according the following script:

  • Everyone is essential to the family’s success. Kids included.
  • Everyone has an essential role to play in the family’s success.
  • Roles are essential for family success.
  • There can be only one ultimate decision maker for the family to succeed. The husband plays this role.  He is one of two team captains.
  • Skill positions are essential for a successful family.  The wife is the chief skill position — the equivalent of the team captain WR who is relied upon in tight situations to gain the necessary yards to achieve the first down. The children are the other skill positions who are learning from the Mom and Dad how to be excellent in life.
  • Protection is essential for a successful team.  Thus, the husband has the dual role of being QB for the team as well as the offensive line.  If the husband doesn’t protect, the skill positions cannot flourish.


So who was really responsible for the success of the Four Horseman?  All were responsible because they played within the established roles of the system.  Without Josh Gordon, RGIII would not be a success.  Without RGIII Wright and Williams would not be a success.  Success is determined by prescribed system and the willingness to adhere to the system’s defined roles.  The same is true for successful families.  Husbands who embrace their role as decider [5. Copyright George W. Bush] and protector enable wives to play the role of chief supporter, thinker, and encourager, which enables parents to raise up skilled children who will one day become good husbands, wives, or successful single adults in the local church and society.


About Doug Hankins

Although not a Christian in his youth, Doug came to believe in Jesus during his teenage years. When not playing sports or pastoring Doug is probably spending time with his wife, reading a good book, or drinking some hot tea. Doug's first book Dawson Trotman: In His Own Words is available wherever books are sold. You can follow Doug on twitter.
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13 Responses to Football Teams and The Traditional Family

  1. James Hankins says:

    Do the roles change if the husband is unable to play due to injury or can the wife and children seek a replacement husband/father?

    • Doug Hankins says:

      Hmmm. You raise a good point. Should we begin creating a family IR program whereby other husbands can clear waivers and sign via free agency. Let me think on these things.

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