- ABC’s Nightline recently featured a special report on Christian athletes featuring Philadelphia Eagle’s defensive end Reggie White.
- M magazine ran a cover story on L.A. Dodger’s Hershiser, Butler, Strawberry and Carter – dubbing them “God’s All Stars.”
Suddenly, the American media seems to be interested in the spiritual life of some of the most well known superstars in sports. Some journalists have raised criticism and some have asked, “Is the playing field the place for preaching the gospel?”
Even so, evangelical Christianity has become a dominant force in the sport’s world. Baseball, hockey, football and basketball each have their own ministries dedicated to evangelizing the players and ministering to the spiritual needs of the players on every team.
For the last six years Athlete’s International Ministries has sponsored a Prayer and Praise conference in Phoenix, Arizona. According to executive director Larry Kerychuk, “Over 2,700 athletes and family members have been touched by this ministry.” The Phoenix ’91 conference featured well known sports personalities such as Rosey Grier, Ernie Shavers and Meadowlark Lemon, as well as Chicago Bears’ Mike Singletary, KC Chiefs’ Christian Okoye, L.A. Lakers’ A.C. Green and Philadelphia Eagles’ Reggie White.
Greg Ball, National Director for Champions for Christ, was formerly a full-contact karate kick boxer. Now he ministers to some of the most well known sports personalities in the country. According to Ball, “About seven years ago, there were so many athletes on university campuses giving their lives to the Lord that we saw a need for these men to be discipled, trained and given the real message of the kingdom of God. Many of them have now become effective preachers.”
Ball tells the story of how he and some other campus evangelists led A.C. Green to the Lord while he was a student at Oregon State. “A.C. was reached at the university level. He was discipled as a part of a local church there. As he went into the NBA playing with the Lakers, there was another church in the L.A. area which was networked with the church at Oregon State. It was a big adjustment to make but because of the church, he was able to continue to grow.”
Professional sports have always produced fiery preachers – partially due to the similarity of discipline required in training the body of an athlete to the type of spiritual training needed to be an effective witness for Christ. In the past, baseball players such as Billy Sunday and Tony Kubek were outspoken proponents of the faith. Yet they suffered ridicule by the press and were called “opportunists.”
Today, because of the input of more mature leadership provided by ministries such as Athletes International, Christian ballplayers have been getting more respect from the press and the television media. Although more widely accepted than ever before, outspoken Christian athletes are still criticized for their public preaching or their display of faith on the field. Some are merely letting their character, performance and drive on the field do the preaching. Off the field they are letting their lifestyle and character be a witness for Christ.
According to Dodger’s pitching ace Orel Hershiser, “I don’t preach. I have to play on this team, with these guys, so I just don’t do that. But I do let my pitching be an example and an influence for Jesus Christ.”
Some Christian superstars have even been criticized for their aggressive style of play, being thought of as a contradiction to the meek obedience taught by Jesus Christ. Says Philadelphia’s Eagle Reggie White, “A lot of people look at what I do and say, ‘That’s not Christian.’ A lot of people think that being a Christian means you’ve got to be a wimp. I think Christians should be the toughest athletes in the world. I think we should go all out at all times.”
L.A. Laker A.C. Green echoes this belief: “God wants his people to be warriors – to be battlers and fighters. And I don’t mean waging war or getting into fights … but a fight to get the rebounds and to score points. It’s that spirit of might that moves me. I don’t start anything, but I won’t back down, either.”
But whether they are criticized for preaching or their style of aggresive play, these men and women are living faithfully in simple obedience to Christ’s command: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15).