Note from Matt: Over the years here at KSR, we have attempted to become the #1 website for UK sports coverage on the internet. I think we have succeeded in that goal and as such, have been able to create a platform unique in the state of Kentucky. In order to continue our growth, I have decided to begin the KSR Voices section, a series of posts written by some of the many voices in Kentucky outside of the world of sports that will touch on issues of importance in the state. Our goal is to give a platform to those doing interesting and important work and to make their voices heard on a broader scale. These will include topics as diverse as current affairs, science, business, politics, the arts and whatever else may be occurring in the state. Some will be for you, and some may not, but the goal is to allow the great diversity in this state to be heard on things beyond our shared love for UK sports. Our first contributor is my friend Robert Cunningham, who will be writing for us once a month.
Just when you thought KSR couldn’t get any more ridiculous, they go and invite a preacher to write. Matt Jones has already introduced me and the concept behind my contribution, but for those who do not know, I’m Robert Cunningham, the senior pastor of Tates Creek Presbyterian Church in Lexington. I’m also a regular contributor to the Herald Leader, offering what I hope is a thoughtful Christian perspective to the community I love and serve. And now I have agreed to do the same for KSR on a monthly basis.
It should probably be stated from the outset that I do not come to you as an outsider to BBN insanity. Born and raised in Lexington with season tickets to both basketball and football games, I cried as a kid when Laettner hit the shot (still hurts), broke furniture as an adult when Wisconsin ruined our undefeated season (still really hurts), have suffered through countless “that’s so Kentucky football” moments (actually pretty much numb by this point), and yes, I am a daily visitor to KSR (OK, multiple times a day)
But Matt knew none of that when he approached me with the idea of contributing. He was looking to expand the scope of KSR to include the opinions of leaders in the Bluegrass, and I am humbled by his invitation to be one of those voices.
So what to speak on as my first topic? There is, of course, the obvious and easy option to write a hot take on the hot mess that is UofL athletics. But I’m going to resist that temptation. Not only because there are enough of those being written, but also because I truly do feel sad for the Louisville fan base, not to mention for the consequences this will have on the commonwealth as a whole.
Instead, I want to talk about someone who is a welcome reprieve from the scandal fatigue in our state. The disgraceful leadership at UofL has only highlighted the exceptional leadership at UK, and I was struck by that contrast a few weeks ago. While the kingdom of Tom Jurich was beginning its implosion, I was eighty miles east on the field of Kroger Stadium with Mitch Barnhart, there to do what he does after every home game. Win or lose, beneath the lights and empty stands, long after the fans have gone home, UK’s Athletic Director holds hands with family and friends to conclude the evening in prayer.
Prayer is very important to Mitch Barnhart. So important that he has organized a group of people who are committed to partner with him in 40 days of prayer for UK athletics. Not necessarily for wins, but for the coaches, student athletes, and the overall culture of the athletic program. This commitment to prayer is very fitting for a man who goes about his job with an unassuming humility nearly impossible to find in the vicious world of SEC athletics.
But don’t let the humility fool you. He is as competitive and passionate as any other AD in the country, and the results are there to prove it. Last year UK finished 10th in the Directors Cup, an amazing accomplishment for a university lacking an ideal weather climate and significant recruiting base. There is no doubt he is successful.
Arguably the most successful AD in the history of UK. But the one thing Mitch Barnhart does not do is allow his commitment to success to devour his commitment to excellence.
And oh how rare that is in our day of modern leadership.
There was a time when we actually cared about the character of our leaders. How things were done mattered as much as what was done. But alas, character has died the death of our instant gratification, bottom line, results-obsessed culture. Rick Pitino and Tom Jurich survived multiple scandals for one and only one reason–they produced. And in our day, nothing survives controversy more than production.
But within the Christian worldview, from which Mitch Barnhart derives his leadership convictions, the ends do not justify the means. In fact, the ends are secondary to the means, because God is far more interested in the integrity of our lives than the production of our lives.
This ethical construct finds its origins in Jesus himself. There is nothing special about Mitch Barnhart, and he would be the first to tell you that. But there is something special about the Jesus Mitch Barnhart follows. Jesus certainly accomplished great things, most notably the forgiveness and salvation of people like me who fall miserably short of this ethical standard. But it’s not just what Jesus did that makes him so compelling. It’s how he did things.
His love for the poor and marginalized, his zeal for justice and mercy, his refusal of riches and popularity, his courage and compassion, his purity and integrity–we could go on and on extoling the virtues of this man. Jesus wasn’t just successful. Jesus was and is good. And out of the goodness of Jesus a new ethic is born where the ends actually exist in subordination to the means.
I know it’s tempting for UK fans to delight in the downfall of our rival. But I encourage us instead to use this as an occasion to thank Mitch Barnhart. Even more so, let us learn from Mitch Barnhart, who ultimately is learning from Jesus.
What you do matters. But how you do things matters more.