John McEnroe and Your Anger

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In the summer of 1981, 22-year-old tennis phenom John McEnroe was battling fellow American Tom Gullikson in a first-round match on Wimbledon’s famed Centre Court. Along with his requisite tennis whites, McEnroe sported long, curly locks tucked under a navy-blue headband, and an already legendary temper that had prompted the British press to dub him “Super-Brat.”

Midway through the match, McEnroe served what he thought was a clear ace down the center stripe of the court. Moments later, he was initially dubious, then quickly enraged, when chair umpire Edward James ruled the shot “out.”

“You can’t be serious, man. You cannot be serious!” an enraged McEnroe screamed at James. “That ball was on the line! Chalk flew up!” he said. For good measure, he later added, “You guys are the pits of the world!”

James proceeded to award a point to McEnroe’s opponent as a penalty for the tirade, which was particularly unwelcome at the austere British tennis club. The Wimbledon crowd responded with a rousing cheer in response to what they deemed a richly deserved public scolding.

The irony, of course, is that every member of the crowd that delighted in McEnroe’s reprimand for bad behavior had undoubtedly wrestled with the villain of anger themselves. Anger is an unseemly, but unavoidable emotion to which all humans are prone. The primary difference on that midsummer day was that McEnroe’s rage was on display for thousands to witness.

Thankfully, few, if any of us have laid our anger out before a crowd of thousands as McEnroe did so often during his tennis career. But the fact remains that we all encounter anger on a regular basis. Our anger may be provoked by a careless driver on the roadway, a rude co-worker or boss, or a rebellious child who wantonly ignores our rules or expectations. Regardless of the circumstances, we’ve all experienced the flash of anger in response to feeling that we’ve been disrespected or otherwise done wrong.

Last weekend, lead pastor Ben Snyder defined anger as “aggressively wanting to control what you cannot control.” This definition resonates with me when I think about my own dealings with the villain of anger. More often than I would care to admit, I allow injustices – perceived or real – to derail me from thinking or acting in the manner that I know God desires of me. I want to be treated fairly, to be respected, or even just to be heard. And yes, sometimes I want to control how others view and treat me. While these are not wholly unreasonable desires in and of themselves, I know that becoming angry when I do not receive what I desire is far from righteous behavior.

James 1:19-20

19Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. 20Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.

Often, we are tempted to give in to our anger because we deem it to be “righteous.” Unfortunately, it is virtually impossible for humans, because of our fallen nature, to be righteously angry. This is why James says, “human anger” is not godly anger. We cannot, like God, be angry in a pure way. Our anger will always be infected with sin and, for this reason, he desires that we resist the temptation to rise to anger.

As a young tennis player and fan, I delighted in rooting against John McEnroe. Like the Wimbledon crowd on that long-ago summer day, I detested his boorish behavior. My sports idol as a youth was a quiet and seemingly emotionless Swede named Björn Borg. For several years, Borg was McEnroe’s chief rival on the court, always providing a stark contrast to the American’s brash behavior. What I later learned, however, was that Borg had himself once wrestled with his temper on the tennis court.

“I was a real nutcase,” Borg said in recalling his early years in the game. “I swore, threw my racket around and cheated.” Borg was even once suspended for six months by Sweden’s tennis authorities and banned from practicing at his local club. The experience motivated Borg to control his on-court emotions, which he credited for helping him to win 11 grand slam tournaments (including five consecutive Wimbledon championships).

Borg and McEnroe faced each other 14 times on the professional tour, with each winning seven times. Amazingly, over the course of their “fire and ice” rivalry, McEnroe said he always controlled his temper. “I never acted like a jerk when I played Borg,” McEnroe wrote in his 2002 autobiography (aptly titled, You Cannot be Serious). “I respected him too much; I respected the occasion.”

And perhaps therein lies yet another compelling reason to fight against the villain of anger. By walking with God and leaving anger to him, we can serve as an example for others to behave in the manner that he desires.

What is your typical response to growing angry?


If it is not anything like getting some AIRR (see Monday), what can you do now to move toward something like that?



Heavenly Father, I am so grateful for your love and grace. I ask that you grant me the wisdom to recognize – and the strength to confront – the villain of anger. Help me to walk as you desire and leave the control of this world to you. Amen.

This post was written by Todd Romain. Todd is a regular contributor to and editor of the LivingItOut Bible Study.

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