MINNEAPOLIS – I attended the NFL Sanctioned Athletes in Action Super Bowl Breakfast in Minneapolis the day before Super Bowl LII and the room was packed.
An estimated 1700 people watched Benjamin Watson of the Baltimore Ravens receive the Bart Starr Award for his work on and off the field. He gave glory to God for his accomplishments and told why he is a Christian.
There were some media there, but not nearly the amount I expected. After all, this was a league sanctioned event that featured not only Watson but appearances from Tony Dungy and Case Keenum as well. But perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised since in general the media hesitates to cover the testimonies of Christian athletes.
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I have worked in the media for a few years as a sports writer, general assignment reporter, news director at a radio station and in television sales. I have also been published in some national sports magazines, thus I have some knowledge of this topic.
The media love to do feel-good stories, but they shy away from covering the motivation players receive from a higher calling.
“I just don’t think they know how to handle it,” said Minnesota Vikings chaplain Tom Lamphere. “I don’t think it’s a bias toward a player. Maybe they don’t relate or are just mistaken to think people are not interested.”
If the latter is the case, then why do the press flock after Tim Tebow wherever he goes? They follow every step he takes and even take shots at him, because they hope he will turn the other cheek.
In an article about him by GQ, the two-time BCS national champion was lampooned by the writer. Fox News came to his rescue and pointed out the author’s hypocrisy.
“Sportswriters are as secular as the rest of the media, and often aggressively seek to purge faith from sports. Just about any Christian athlete who dares to express his or her faith face media scorn for their witness.”
Tebow stands firm in his belief, and that is why he draws a crowd. He stands for something. Sports fans in general are hungry for more than just a win.
When Kurt Warner thanked Jesus on live TV after his Arizona Cardinals won the NFC Championship game in 2009, the packed stadium cheered as loud as when they won.
“People want to hear about this,” Lamphere added. “Fans want to hear about what drives these athletes. Some (athletes) get upset because they do interviews with the media, then they cut out all the spiritual stuff.”
His advice: “When it’s a live interview, they can’t cut it out.” That’s what Warner did, and the reaction was overwhelming in support.
Lamphere’s vision is for there to be more men and women of faith in professional sports who pick up the banner of the Lord and carry it across the finish line for the world to see.
Big-name athletes are increasingly growing bolder in their verbal proclamation of Christ. Besides Watson, Dungy, Warner and Keenum, you will hear the Lord magnified by top players such as Andy Dalton, DeAndre Hopkins, Gerald McCoy, Nick Foles, Ben Roethlisberger and Kirk Cousins to name a few.
Look at all the sold-out stadiums. The filled seats represent a harvest of souls, waiting for someone to care enough to share with them.
“We need more harvesters on the field,” Lamphere said. “Jesus told his apostles to look at all the people out there—they need to be discipled.”
There is a battle raging, and the enemy uses sports as its arena to try to take down as many followers as possible.
“Everyone is looking to see if this stuff these guys talk about is real,” Lamphere added. “Is this going to work? I tell my players to be ready to show the world God is real.”
People who are not followers of Christ are looking for something besides a victory on the field. They are seeking what we as believers in Christ already have. They come to the Super Bowl to cheer on their team, but they are also trying to find peace. With so much confusion in the world, people are searching for the answers to life’s problems, and they cannot escape from them during a three-hour game on Sunday.
More athletes and writers need to get to work and plant the seeds in the hearts of non-believers. Don’t rely on others to tell your story—be bold enough to share how good God has been to you.
Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38).