Christian Athletes: It's More Than Simply a Game

Wide receiver Tim Brown played for the Raiders in Los Angeles and Oakland from 1988 to 2003. (Oakland Raiders)

Psalm 37 didn't mean much to Tim Brown during either his college football career or his early days in the National Football League. If it had, Brown says he believes he would have saved himself—and many others—a world of grief.

Instead, Brown chose to submit to the seductions the life of a world-class athlete can present to an impressionable young man. Not only was he hurt by his naïveté about his "sexual conquests," but so were many young women who crossed his path. It sent the wrong message to younger players who looked up to him.

It was only when Brown completely surrendered his life to Jesus that he realized the impact his faith, as well as his influence as a professional athlete, could have on those who saw him as a role model. That responsibility is one some current and former professional athletes who profess Christ take very seriously. If Brown had only known then what he knows now, he says he could have spared many who associated with him a great deal of emotional pain.

Now a surrendered follower of Jesus, Brown, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in late July, freely admits in his book, The Making of a Man: How Men and Boys Honor God and Live With Integrity, his past sexual addiction. He details how his addiction almost destroyed his life and caused "unfathomable" hurt to others, for which he felt deep remorse.

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"One of my favorite passages in the Bible is found in Psalm 37:23-24. It says, 'The steps of a man are made firm by the Lord; He delights in his way. Though he falls, he will not be hurled down, for the Lord supports him with His hand.' There was a time when I knew who Jesus was and what He expected of me, but I simply didn't act the part. Drugs and alcohol never had any fascination for me, so those things were never a problem.

"But women, well, that was a different subject. For me, that was a difficult thing to overcome. For me, it wasn't one of those things where you can just go cold turkey or go into detox with a 12-step program. What I thought was fun and a good time was painful for many women who walked away crying because they want more of a relationship from me. For someone who claimed he knew Jesus, that's bad."

Brown says he used to see his random sexual encounters during his four years at the University of Notre Dame and into his NFL career with the Los Angeles Raiders as simply the "perks" of his profession. He didn't give a second thought to how he looked to children and younger adults or how it affected the women he dated—until God told him enough was enough.

"God spoke to my heart," Brown says. "I've got four sisters, and if anyone treated them like I treated some of these women, I would be ready to jump down someone's throat. I realized I would have a daughter someday. God simply broke my heart to the point where I couldn't look at myself in the mirror. That allowed me to step up and be the man God wanted me to be and the example He needed me to be to others."

Tempted by Lukewarm Living

Carolina defensive back Charles Tillman says he can relate to Brown's lukewarmness as a professed Christ follower. Although saved, Tillman never lived in complete surrender to Jesus until 2008, when his daughter Tiana needed a heart transplant. It took dire circumstances, but Tillman, who then played for the Chicago Bears, put everything in his life at the feet of Jesus, including his Christian witness to others.

"In Matthew 28, Jesus told His friends to go and make disciples of all nations," says Tillman, a two-time Pro Bowl selection and the NFL's 2013 Walter Payton Man of the Year. "That's something everyone should take seriously. But when you're in a position of influence, and I'm saying that with all humility, you've got to see it as a commitment to God.

"I've got some teammates who don't want to have anything to do with 'that Jesus,' but I love on them anyway and try to be the best example I can be to them. Then you've got others who are looking for more in their lives than just making a lot of money and playing football. They are genuinely interested in what you have to say, and that's when you've got a tremendous opportunity to bring another soul into the kingdom. I love and thank the Lord for those opportunities."

New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson, a 12-year NFL veteran who has earned the respect of his teammates as a mentor for younger players, is thankful for a similar role.

"As an older player, a veteran, I've had many chances to have in-depth conversations about Christ with a lot of guys on our team and on other teams in the league," says Watson, who won a Super Bowl as a rookie with New England in 2004. "I take it as a great responsibility to talk to them about their marriages, their girlfriends, their children, their faith and other things.

"I'm at a place where I don't mind being a jerk and challenging them in places where other people won't. Some of these guys know there is something missing in their lives. Some of these guys have come to know Christ, and I'm very happy that I might have played a small role in that along the way."

Feeling the Burden of a Nation

 As a world-class soccer player, Aurélien Collin says he bears the burden of excellence in representing his country on the field. Many in France take le football very seriously.

Collin's burden to represent God to his fellow countrymen, however, supersedes his patriotism for France—a nation that some believe has quietly experienced revival in recent years.

 "Jesus said in Matthew 5 that we should let our light shine before men," says Collin, a defender for Major League Soccer's Orlando City. "I certainly always give my best on the soccer field to make my country proud. That's what I get paid for.

"But when the spotlight is on you because of your status as an athlete and God has blessed you with talent, you had better make sure that you're living right and acting in a Christlike manner at all times. You've got a lot of people looking at you, and you had better make sure you're trying to live a life according to God's Word. You will be held accountable for that."

Brown, Tillman, Watson and Collin preach about integrity and how influential athletes must walk in it. It's an area of life in which six-time world-champion boxer Robert Guerrero refuses to compromise.

Declining a Lucrative Deal

As a disciple of Christ, Guerrero knows well that his personal life comes under a great deal of scrutiny. After he discovered fame and fortune, he promised God he would never do anything to disgrace the gospel.

In 2011, shortly after he became the first of three fighters in history to win both featherweight and welterweight world titles, Golden Boy Promotions offered Guerrero a substantial amount of money to have his likeness appear in advertisements for Corona beer. Guerrero quickly declined the deal.

"Robert is the real deal when it comes to his relationship with Jesus Christ," says Bob Santos, Guerrero's manager. "That was a lucrative promotion he turned down, and I knew immediately what the answer was going to be when I called him about it. His character really amazes me."

The decision, Guerrero says, wasn't difficult. In fact, it was obvious.

"That's not something you even have to pray about because you know full well what the right thing to do is," he says. "I don't believe it's something God would have approved of. My wife (Casey) fully supported me in the decision. It could have meant a lot for me and my family financially, but honoring God means so much more to me than those things."

Aiming for a Greater Reward

To keep Brown on the straight path, it took other Scriptures such as Proverbs 11:18. "A wicked person earns deceptive wages, but the one who sows righteousness reaps a sure reward."

Even after he laid down some of the things preventing him from enjoying a more intimate relationship with Christ, he continued to struggle with other sins, including pride and covetousness. While other players were showered with lucrative endorsement deals, some companies were hesitant to approach Brown because of his "clean-cut image."

"After I began living the saved life, I still felt sorry for myself at times because I felt like I wasn't getting enough recognition; I wasn't being allowed to do certain things," Brown says. "I was turned down for several appearances and promotional campaigns because people said I was too clean.

"God quickly reminded me that my reward may not come on this side of heaven. To get the reward I really wanted, I knew I needed to keep living right. I reminded myself that many people are rich and famous, but how are they acting? What are they doing? I needed to keep myself in situations where I knew exactly what God wanted me to do."

Living by God's Standard

Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren believes every Christian needs to be consistent in his character.

"Integrity demands that every area of your life is treated with the same intensity," Warren says. "A person of integrity doesn't act one way in church and another way at work and another way on the golf course."

Brown says athletes who profess the name of Christ must be consistent with their behavior in the locker room, on the field and off the field. In other words,  athletes must heed 2 Corinthians 4:2 daily, which says, "But we have renounced the secret things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by expressing the truth and commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God."

"Whether you like it or not, people hold you to a different standard," Brown says. "God also holds you to a different standard. 'Come out from among them and be ye separate,' His Word says. Whether you're an athlete or waiter or a policeman, that's what the Lord demands. Live out what you say."  

Shawn A. Akers is the online managing editor for Charisma Media.

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