As sports headlines continue to reflect off-the-field social issues, it's safe to assume conversations around the water cooler include more than just fantasy football picks, league trades or playful banter about X's and O's. The same can be said of conversations in locker rooms on college campuses.
We asked our Athletes in Action staff about the realities their athletes face and the complex issues they discuss with them. Below are responses from them on how they attempt to care for students by providing encouragement through the gospel, by providing professional support, and by having nuanced conversations around difficult issues that affect all of us.
Responses have been condensed and edited for clarity
“As staff what we’ve attempted to do is bring in experts or professionals in those areas. For example, when we had one of our women’s basketball players pass away from suicide, a month to two months later, we had counselors and psychiatrists come and give us more information and knowledge and how to have those hard conversations with people who are either dealing with thoughts of suicide or people who are suffering from a friend who committed suicide.
“In regards to ministering to our students, it’s a lot of listening, weeping with those who weep, a lot of silence, hugs, and allowing people to verbally process hurt and go through grief.”
- Lance Evans, Chicago Metro Team
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On politics and policy
“We need to think critically as Christians. We need to think issue by issue. Jesus is not fully on either side of this broken political system. That’s what one thing we talk about because our allegiance is to Jesus and not a party or a country first.
“I work with a ministry in downtown Phoenix working with mostly DACA students, immigrants, undocumented immigrants and refugees and the poorest of the poor in this community. One thing that the community there teaches me is that this is nothing new. We have been here before. Justice will prevail. God is present. They find so much hope because they’ve lived in this environment of being on the oppressed and being on the margins and overlooked, being seen as the outsider and the other.
“I get hope from the communities that are most affected by these unjust policies. I think we [as ministers] think ‘Oh, we need to bring hope to these communities who are really affected by this.’ The community doesn’t need me, I need the community because they give me hope. The ones that are directly affected are the ones who bring hope and strength, and remind me of what’s true from the Word of God.”
- Emma Tautolo, Arizona State University
On gender identity
“We had our first transgender athlete involved in our group at CSU and it has been an amazing journey with this athlete and I’m so thankful they chose to come and be a part of our movement. They challenged us, pushed us, helped us rethink things, given us permission to ask questions. The journey of this athlete has been the most challenging only because there’s a face and there’s a soul, somebody who’s been completely rejected not just by society, but by believers and there’s such a weight of, ‘We want to get this right.’
“I think the number one thing when you tackle hard issues like this is not coming in as the expert. I’m not an expert when it comes to LGBTQ community, but I do know Jesus, I do know what his word says, and I know what it means to love people. I always lead with ‘Hey, I don’t understand all the nuances of this. I can give you the perspective I see through scripture and what's consistent with who Jesus is.’”
“It’s not my job—no matter what the issue is—to fix it. My job and my opportunity is to present the gospel and introduce people to Jesus and allow the Holy Spirit to work in people’s lives and for the Holy Spirit to be the change agent.”
-Reza Zadeh, Colorado State University
On racial conciliation
“I’m not doing anything specific, but [oneness] has become a part of everything I do.This semester, we intentionally chose Galatians because that [covers] identity in Christ, It’s oneness and unity in the body of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. In teaching and in shaping, I’m intentional now to point out things that probably early in my learning just went over my head because everybody that taught me looked like me.”
-Nathan Buxman, University of Missouri
On encounters with law enforcement
“It’s very similar to that process that we use to deal with suicide to be honest. Dealing with trauma or talking through ways [black male athletes] have been treated unfairly. Most guys know someone or have actually been treated unfairly by law enforcement or been stereotyped at one point. If it’s not a black male and we’re talking with [someone of a] another gender or ethnicity, it’s more about bringing awareness and trying to bring balance and knowledge to that area.”
- Lance Evans, Chicago Metro Team
On Charlottesville and white supremacy
“We—based on previous events in our country—know our students are greatly impacted by those things. We want to make sure we provide a space to acknowledge that. This week we gave space before we went into our time of prayer to talk about what’s happened in Houston and in Charlottesville. A couple students were still emotionally raw talking about how they felt in light of Charlottesville and knowing that it’s not an isolated incident.
“We want to affirm we’re made in the image of God. We very specifically say how God created us and how it’s awesome and affirm our students’ dignity and the value they have whether you’re black, white, Latino, Asian, whatever it may be. As staff, we’re really intentional to make sure to say those things as our students are wrestling through some of that when they’re being told or being viewed as a threat or that they’re less than simply because of the color of their skin.
“What does it communicate to our students if we don’t talk about what’s happening, if we overlook what’s happening with DACA and how 800,000 undocumented adults are on the verge of deportation and most of them have lived [in the U.S.] their whole lives? If we don’t talk about these things we are missing a huge moment. Our students are aware and if we don’t address it, what does that say? What does that say about the God that we serve and know? God cares about all of those things. It can be uncomfortable to talk about some of this stuff, but it’s necessary.”
- Alethea Lamberson, Atlanta Metro Team