It’s a private ritual with no bearing whatsoever on the outcome of a big game, but Greenville College’s 2013 Distinguished Alumnus Dennis Spencer has practiced it faithfully for decades.
Hours before the broadcast of an event like the U.S. Open Tennis Championships or the NCAA Final Four, Spencer, executive vice president of media and events for global sports agency Lagardere Unlimited, makes his way to the spot in the stadium or on the field where competitors will soon square off. He imagines the seats filled with fans, the elevated crowd noise and the atmosphere charged with energy. He then recalls the path that led him as a young graduate from picturesque Greenville College in south central Illinois into the multi-billion dollar industry of sports broadcasting.
Early one morning last April, Spencer repeated this routine at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, where many of the anticipated 700,000 spectators would assemble for the iconic race. Nothing in his brief moment of meditation foretold that in seven and a half hours, bombs would explode near that spot.
In the hours that followed the blast, government agents meticulously examined every second of video captured by Spencer’s crew for signs of bombing suspects. In time, TV viewers worldwide would see clips of the targeted pair shouldering their deadly backpacks with shocking ease and blending in with the fans around them. In sweatshirts and baseball caps, they looked as common as the next guy walking down the sidewalk past the spectators that lined Boylston Street.
“It’s something now we live with every day,” Spencer told students gathered for Homecoming chapel at Greenville College last month. “It’s a dark world out there, probably a lot darker than we know, yet we are called to be the light.”
The 1975 Greenville College graduate spoke from more than 35 years experience as a Christ-follower navigating the marketplace in the sports industry – a world, he says, “where the currency of the moment can be prestige, power, intellect, guts, popularity, publicity, marketability, magazine covers, TV shows and always the dollar.” But not faith.
Spencer told students that when he negotiates a business deal or represents a client, his partners and potential partners find his faith irrelevant. “[Nobody] cares if I am Christian, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, Buddhist, or Scientologist. Nobody cares if I am born again, if I was sprinkled or immersed, if I am sanctified or not.”
What they do care about, however, is credibility and uprightness, “whether or not I am authentic, Christ-like, above reproach and most of all, live a life of personal integrity.” Spencer described light that grabs attention in the marketplace as doing the right thing in the right way for the right reason. God’s word, he stressed, gives clear direction in knowing what is right.
He pointed to the Bible’s call for Christians to practice a lifestyle that is above reproach and maintains a good reputation (I Timothy 3:7), to do good work that glorifies God (Matthew 5:16) and behave honorably (I Peter 2:12). “If you commit to living this way in the marketplace, people will want what you have in Christ,” he said. “They just don’t know what to call it. It’s our job to tell them.”
Spencer’s message is encouraging in this day when church has lost its appeal for many people. They may not frequent the pew, but they do frequent the marketplace, still seeking the goodness that life in Christ offers.