In a closed-door meeting just a few days after he was fired as head coach at Nebraska, Bo Pelini addressed the Husker players. On Thursday the Omaha World Herald released an audio recording of that meeting. (Warning: the audio on this link contains extreme profanity.) Pelini spoke with the team for about 30 minutes and insulted Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst several times. Pelini did not speak well of the university, the administration, or the leadership culture in the athletic department.

If you know anything about Nebraska football and Bo Pelini (and I don’t expect readers of this blog to know anything), you quickly realized that this audio only confirms the exact reason why Pelini was fired: he had an arrogant, unprofessional, disrespectful, and vulgar disposition.

A member of our church (a Texas A&M fan) said to me before Pelini was fired, “He’s a jerk. Your fans are so nice. You don’t need a guy like that.” Yes, Pelini lost some big games by a lot of points. Coaches can’t do that and live to tell about it. But more than that, Pelini does not reflect the type of person an institution of higher education wants to employ, even a football coach.

This brings up an important point. Pelini was known not only for drama on the sidelines, but for crafting a dramatic (and well-rehearsed, it seemed) “us-against-the-world” plot-line throughout his tenure. This post-firing speech, no doubt taken to heart by so many impressionable student-athletes in that room (and for good reason: they loved their coach), was simply the narrative’s denouement. To change the metaphor, it was the Mt. Everest of the Bo Pelini experiment at the University of Nebraska. Mountain top experiences are usually good things. But this final climb to the summit had all the ice and frost bite and anger and heartache of Everest without any of the glory.

But this was about more than a frustrated former employee. It was about more than a coach who blows a gasket every now and then and has a bit of vitriol for his ex-boss. It was about more than approaching sports and coaching with an “us-against-the-world” attitude (which is a bad way to approach sports and coaching but that’s another post).

This was about the “exceeding sinfulness of sin,” as the Puritans used to say. Sin is horrific in its power to deceive the one it devours. Sin is blinding and the more one is entrenched in sin, the harder it is to see that you are actually blind. Pelini had opportunity in front of his players to say, once and for all, he screwed up. That he had not lived up to his own values of class, professionalism, accepting personal responsibility, and so on. That he had not treated people—superiors, referees, players, and others—with honor, dignity, and respect. But he did not. He blamed others. He defended himself. He exaggerated his virtues. He exaggerated the faults of his foes. He did whatever he could to protect and justify himself. Pelini couldn’t see what, it appears, everyone around him had been seeing for years both on and off the field.

Pelini provides us with an extreme case study of how easily and powerfully we can be deceived. We miss the point if we read or hear this and say, “I can’t understand how he didn’t see this! He got what was coming to him.” Instead, this case study should teach us. It should expose our own self-deceptiveness and tendencies to self-protect and self-justify. What would an audio recording of your thoughts sound like? You might not have as many expletives as Pelini, but no doubt there are voracious and dastardly self-defense strategies and tactics being developed and implemented every hour. No doubt you are deceiving yourself and loading up ammo ready to aim and fire on whoever will challenge you in order to justify yourself and dish out judgment and condemnation. Your spouse. Your child. Your boss. Your neighbor. Your small group leader. Your sibling. Your therapist. Be thankful you don’t have a platform like Pelini and a hundred college students with smart phones inside your head.

The only answer—and this is not a trite answer—is the gospel. Through God’s grace in the gospel, I see myself for who I really am. The layers of sin’s deception start to peel back. I realize that my biggest problems are inside of me, not outside of me. The gospel tells me I am more flawed and broken than I ever dared believe. How do I know this? The gospel tells me that God’s own Son, Jesus, died for me. He died for me not as an example but as a substitionary sacrifice. I would have no hope without his death. He died in my place because I deserved to die. I—you—deserved to die because I—we—assaulted God by trying to be God. You see, when we deceive ourselves into believing that our problems are outside of us and not inside of us, and that others are to blame and we are justified in our thoughts, words, and actions, we play the role of God and judge. One of the prime hallmarks of sin is that it deceives us to believe we are our own god.

The gospel shows us that we cannot be our own god and we’re doomed if we try. The gospel shows us that it is not “us-against-the-world” but rather “God-against-the-world.” In our attempts to justify ourselves, we have rebelled against God and find ourselves at odds with him.

But there is also good news in this gospel: we are more loved and accepted than we ever dared hope. The gospel reveals that God is not only against the world, but that he loves the world and he sent his only Son into the world to die for us. Jesus was willing to die and he died because we deserved it. On the cross, Jesus bears the entire punishment we deserve for our self-deception—our playing God. And he also provides the perfection you and I—and Bo Pelini—need for true and lasting justification. Jesus gives us all his beauty and goodness and obedience in return for all our ugliness and badness and disobedience. Astonishing.

What does this do in my life? It frees me from having to protect and justify myself. Why? Because in God’s eyes, I’m justified. There’s no more need to defend myself. The Creator loves and accepts me! Now, I’m free to admit my faults because the are ultimately not a threat to me anymore. God has forgiven me and is in the process of changing me and will one day bring final deliverance. Now, I’m also free to cry out with the psalmist, “Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults” (Ps. 19:12). I can admit I don’t know myself as well as I should. There are hidden sins in me that want to stay covered. In fact, I’m partly blind to some of my worst sins. That’s how sin works. But as the gospel takes deeper root in my life, these “hidden faults” become more evident. As the gospel goes deeper and I actively seek out areas of self-deception in order to put them to death, self-deception begins to wane. Slowly, but surely, by God’s grace, it wanes.

This 30-minute audio recording is about Bo Pelini, sure. But it’s also about you and me. It’s about self-deception. It’s about the gospel. Let this final, tragic episode in Pelini’s time at Nebraska help you see that sin is exceedingly sinful because it inclines us to self-deception. Even more, let it help you see that the gospel is exceedingly good because it opens our eyes to who we really are, who Jesus really is, and what he has done to provide us true, lasting justification.

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26 thoughts on “Bo Pelini, Self-Deception, and the Gospel

  1. Great work here! You put in to words much better than I exactly what I have been thinking over the past few days. Pelini’s tirade received a tidal wave of response and when you wrote, “No doubt you are deceiving yourself and loading up ammo ready to aim and fire on whoever will challenge you in order to justify yourself and dish out judgment and condemnation. Your spouse. Your child. Your boss. Your neighbor. Your small group leader. Your sibling. Your therapist. Be thankful you don’t have a platform like Pelini and a hundred college students with smart phones inside your head,” that nails it! Well thought out and points us to our desperate need for the truth of the Gospel and all that the Spirit of God has done, is doing, and will do in us to conform us to the likeness of Christ. Thank you for taking time to write this and hopefully it resonates in the lives of believers who cheer for NU. Instead of violating what Scripture clearly teaches where so many have gossiped and slandered, maybe we should have been led to be sensitive to our Lord and prayed for him and ourselves as we lay our lives over Scriptural truth and recognize our own short falls?

  2. I am so disgusted that you would try to use the Godly gospel as a way to attack a man. I understand that Bo’s speech had foul language in it but I fully stand by the message. I am a Godly women and know that NO one is perfect and we are all sinners. Bo is not a priest or a pastor. He is a Head Coach for College Football. That message was a private meeting not for the public. He did not speak in a way to represent himself to the public or conduct himself in that way. He was talking to the players with a lot of emotions after the shock of losing his job. He has brought the Huskers to a new level where academics were important, players stayed out of trouble with the law, they were apart of charity work, TEAM JACK, and while doing this kept us at an incredible stat of 9 wins per season. This is what Bo is about and what Nebraska is about. I am not certain that is what UNL Football Program is about anymore. I do not condone bad behavior but this article is ridiculous. Bo is fired so all the people who are glad he is gone…stop grinding the knife already. Those who are upset he is gone know there is nothing left to say but good luck and wish you well. Lets all focus on the bowl games and the next season please!

    1. Kelly,

      Thanks for stopping by. In your comment, there are a lot of inconsistencies, and, unfortunately, purely emotional statements that I hope you would take back:

      1. “I understand that Bo’s speech had foul language in it but I fully stand by the message.” Do you stand by the message of Pelini calling Shawn Eichorst a C-word? Do you stand by the message of Pelini calling Eichorst an F-ing lawyer? Or perhaps you stand by the message of bashing an entire program and administration because things didn’t go how you would have liked them to go? What message do you, please tell me, actually stand by?

      2. “I do not condone bad behavior but this article is ridiculous.” First, the ridiculousness of my article is really irrelevant to whether or not Bo’s behavior is condonable or not. Second, the article is not ridiculous. Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). There is nothing that came out of Bo’s mouth that was not in his heart. This episode is a public “case study” for us (even if it was not meant to be made public, it is 2014 and everyone in that room could have recorded his words—Bo should be smarter than that). The article is also not ridiculous because I’m not attacking Bo. I clearly state that this episode with Bo convicts *us* (paragraph 7, e.g. “What would an audio recording of your thoughts sound like?”).

      3. “Bo is not a priest or a pastor.” I realize that full well. Unfortunately, for him (and, fortunately, for me, a pastor!) everyone is held to the same standard before a holy God—priest, pastor, football coach, blog writer, or a stay-at-home-mom.

      4. “He has brought the Huskers to a new level where academics were important, players stayed out of trouble with the law, they were apart of charity work, TEAM JACK, and while doing this kept us at an incredible stat of 9 wins per season.” No doubt Bo was a part of all these things. I never said Bo was “all” bad. No one is all bad or as bad as she could possibly be. But to excuse Bo’s unprofessionalism and complete disdain for authority (AD, President, referees) because of these good things is nonsense. It’s akin to social karma: hopefully good outweighs the bad and things will work out. This kind of weighing is, as you know, always subjective. How can we undone the bad things we’ve done? We’ll never know. I say in the post that we can’t and only Jesus can provide us the justification—the rightness, the goodness—we’re looking for.

      5. “Bo is fired so all the people who are glad he is gone…stop grinding the knife already.” Did I ever say I was glad Bo was gone? What knife am I grinding and on whom am I grinding it? Am I not pointing out how this episode is exposing the lack of transformation in *my* life and my *readers’* lives (re-read the last two paragraphs)?

      Thanks again for reading. I would love to hear your response.

  3. I do not take back my comment and I do not need you to dissecting my comment to fill more of your opinions trying to poke hole through mine. We obviously have different view point on this. I do not know who you are. If you work for the program and that is why you are defending them so much or you were just always a Bo hater. The knife I was referring to is that Bo is gone and we have a new head coach whether people like it or not. I never agreed with how we treat our coaches. I feel angry that Bo is gone and I am not thrilled with the new coach but I am tired of the same mistakes happening over and over again. This continuously bashing over Bo does not make our program look good nor does it send a good message on how we will treat our coaches. There is nothing we can do to bring Bo back so the best thing we can do is drop this and try to show a little more class. Bo said that stuff after the firing and nothing since. I have never used those words nor do I condone them but I get his anger. I felt that very anger when I heard the news. I did not speak on it I worked through it and you have no idea what Bo has done since that meeting. You have no idea what his relationship with God even is. HIs sins are not yours. He has to work through that and pay for his sins himself. If I had people airing out my sins for the would and shaming me I would be devastated. He became the Husker’s dad figure and had a very close relationship with those boys, and he was told after just a year into a 5 year contract that relationship was over. He couldn’t even coach the last game or say goodye. I personally do not like Shawn Eichorst. I feel he is slimy and has not represented himself well in the public eye either. I have no idea who put that video out but the timing tells me it was not a player that did it. If it was recorded anyone (including Eichorst) could have gotten ahold of it and sent it out to hurt Bo. I think its ridiculous that you made the statement that Bo just didn’t his way. He fought hard for this team our program and he told Eichorst that even though he had different ideas of where the program should go he would still follow his direction. Eichorst did not care. They wanted him out no matter what. At all costs. That is how we treat our coaches? You stand by that? I do not feel your message is coming from a Godly place but instead its more of a judgmental place. I can appreciate that we just feel differently on this topic though.

    1. “I do not need you to dissecting my comment..”

      Says the person writing paragraphs upon paragraphs attempting [and completely failing] to dissect her “opponent’s” in order to support her irrationally incoherent ramblings…

  4. Kelly, after reading this second response, I do not think you understand my article, unfortunately. I’m not writing about football. Actually, this has nothing to do with football or the direction of the UNL football program. I’m writing about the nature of sin and the nature of the gospel. If you don’t see that, I don’t think there’s anything else I can say to convince you.

    And, full disclosure, I don’t work for the football program. I was born and raised in Omaha and am a graduate of UNL. Now, I live in Upstate New York, where I am a pastor of an evangelical church that believes we’re all sinners who need Jesus because no one, not even Bo Pelini, can pay for his/her sins on their own.

    Again, thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your interaction.

  5. Maybe you should stick to something you know about because your attempt to use the situation with Bo to address sin was an absolute failure.

  6. What a ridiculous blog post. If it’s self-deception you want, look at the lengths to which so-called Husker fans have swallowed (and indeed must swallow) this line fed to them by the university and the local media that Bo is the devil and Riley is St. Peter, no matter that it requires a complete abandonment of honesty.

    And for every outside college football fan you can point to that says Bo is a jerk and we’re better off without him, I can point to five outside college football fans who think the Huskers and their so-called fans are the laughingstock of college football for what has happened. So who really is engaging in self-deception?

  7. Unfortunately Kelly and Eric missed the point, maybe if they read the blog instead of just the headline they would see it isn’t No so much as ourselves that we need to examine. Good article

    1. What did Eric miss? When James says things like:

      “…this audio only confirms the exact reason why Pelini was fired: he had an arrogant, unprofessional, disrespectful, and vulgar disposition…”

      “…Pelini does not reflect the type of person an institution of higher education wants to employ, even a football coach…”

      He is impugning his own narrative, because he doesn’t know those things to be the truth. In other words, he is as self-deceiving as the man he wishes to point to as the self-deceiver.

      1. I think that is indeed what he is telling us, we all are deceived into believing our own motives are pure and the other person is at fault . Good thing you read the last paragraph, or did you?

  8. We all loved to hate BO but we all sat in front of our tv’ yelling “get em BO! ” Maybe it’s not very Christian but football in itself is not very Christian., it’s a rough sport. I can see where BO would be angry after being fired. I think he was getting better about the sideline theatrics. Ok he should not have called that guy the C.. Word that was beyond below the belt. He is working with young men not babies, I’m sure that word might have offended a few and then again maybe not.
    But it is what it is and truth BO has not said a word since even with all the haters going on and on jeez het over it. Leave him alone.
    It’s not very Christian to kick a man when he is down! For the Rose Bowl many players had BO on their helmets and jerseys so obviously they respected him as a coach.
    We all fall short of the glory of God..Period.
    I’m not sure why I answered this post other than I don’t think God wants us crucifying each other very unfair.

  9. Great article. It’s not about football but rather who we really are apart from Christ. Unfortunately, the Bo topic is hot topic and both sides dug their heels in long ago. I, for one, accepted Bo, and defended him for a long time. Unfortunately, the longer his antics went on, the more I realized he was not leading our men or representing our university in a way that reflects the values of this state. We are all responsible for our words whether in public or behind closed doors, and that is no excuse for his meeting a few weeks ago.

  10. “The gospel tells me I am more flawed and broken than I ever dared believe. How do I know this? The gospel tells me that God’s own Son, Jesus, died for me. He died for me not as an example but as a substitionary sacrifice. I would have no hope without his death. He died in my place because I deserved to die. I—you—deserved to die because I—we—assaulted God by trying to be God. You see, when we deceive ourselves into believing that our problems are outside of us and not inside of us, and that others are to blame and we are justified in our thoughts, words, and actions, we play the role of God and judge.”

    It is distressing to hear otherwise sane men despise themselves so. I agree with you that when my heart is full of bitterness and I resent those I should love, my spirit is unwell. It’s true that an insidious characteristic of this kind of illness is its ability to cause me to believe I’m fine and the world is wrong, Left untreated, the rate of my dissolution will accelerate beyond the rate at which I can muster resources by myself to defeat what is a kind of infection, and begin a return to sanity. It does become necessary to seek help outside myself, which can require humility the infection seems careful to attack first, no doubt about it. But believing these pretty elementary facts of mental health (which are also shared by 12-step program adherents) does not necessitate one despise himself, whatever tales he finds in collections of essays written and compiled by largely anonymous men who lived long ago, and to whom vast throngs have ascribed super-hero powers. I recognize you have a professional stake in perpetuating this fiction, but I expect you have talent enough to find honest work, which would relieve you of telling people in pain and confusion whom God surely loves and pities, that they are such degenerates only the suicide of a deeply disturbed political figure twenty centuries ago can save them. Just because your kind has had impressive success in persuading the benighted of their hopelessness and how certainly they “deserve to die,” doesn’t make it true or right. It just makes it more abominable than other, less successful rackets. If you honestly believe that a loving deity is requiring such ugliness and hatred of you because you too — all your thoughts and fears and desires and conduct — are abhorrent, I pray you someday come to know God’s resplendent, infinite love.

  11. Hey, Bo lost his job because of his inability to win championships. The powers that speak at UNL and any power football school are about money. Bicker back and forth about morality all you want, but the bottom lines is keeping that stadium full and supporting the business it creates. It is all about winning folks. Do you think we would in this situation had Bo won the Big ten? Religion or winning? I wonder which is more important to most folks. How about that for a gut check.

  12. Great post! The bible never told us to not judge. We are not to judge hypercritcally. It amazes me how people get defensive when sin is exposed. Now if he had a repentive heart then I might could see their point. I understand your blog and its sad that people are blinded to the truth.

  13. Bo’s seething anger and sideline antics were too much for the good and loyal Nebraska fans. Tom Osborne had raised the bar with his good example and understated calm demeanor. Pelini was lousy with the media’s sideline interviews and he certainly has anger management issues. Glad we can start fresh in 2015!

    1. Tom Osborne was always backing Bo up and showed his love for him. He was a great coach! Going to miss him a lot! Lets go 4-6 seasons again! Bet you all will miss those 9-3 seasons before you know it!

  14. Bo should not have used the language he did. The thing people need to understand about the meeting is that the head coach and the players needed closure. The players needed to know Bo’s opinion of what happened. All the players knew at the time was the fluff the AD said, and it started with an e-mail. Bo has his faults, but the good things he had done at the university out number the bad. How would you like to be giving 100% to your job and not have the support of your bosses which is what Bo has had to put up with. (I’m not talking monetary support, verbal support of Bo to the fans in public was extremely lacking.) The meeting with the player’s was probably Bo’s way of venting his frustrations to people he thought he could trust and then somebody violated that trust with the leak of the audio. The Administration had earned the comment’s Bo made about them. College football is big business especially in the state of Nebraska. Something like this could of happened at a Florida university and would not have made national news. This was a good article on sin, but it should not have been tagged to ride on the coat tails of a current hot topic in the news.

  15. “God has forgiven me and is in the process of changing me and will one day bring final deliverance.”

    That’s one of the most gospel-soaked lines I’ve read in a long time, James. Thanks for taking the time to deal with what sin means for all of us, and for the good news we have in the gospel.

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