Jersey Influence

Professional athletes in our country face a huge amount of pressure to perform or to not have their contract renewed and get traded, or worse, to end their career. There is also the constant threat of injury which can hamper or end a sports career as well. They are also scrutinized by the press, written about in the sports columns and discussed on talk shows. In the past few years we have had several athletes whose careers have been marred by alleged substance abuse, others by their bad behavior. But we have also had “Tebow Mania,” and “Linsanity,” as a couple Christian athletes who are very vocal about their faith have had their moment in the limelight and used it to glorify their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We are happy for those who use their success and subsequent media coverage as a platform of testimony. Some call it the “Jersey Influence,” the impact that professional athletes can have because of their position. Remember Eric Liddell who won the 400-meter run at the 1924 Paris Olympics, setting a world record?  His story, and his refusal to run on Sunday, became the basis for the movie Chariots of Fire.

     Have you heard of Hunter Smith? He won a Super Bowl as a punter with the Indianapolis Colts, but was then traded to the Washington Redskins where God used a career-ending play to spiritually challenge and mold him. “It was drizzling rain at Washington’s FedEx Field on Dec. 12, 2010, and seven seconds remained on the clock. As the holder, Hunter was getting ready to help his new team send the game into overtime against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  All he needed to do was what he had done countless times before this–grab the snapped ball, hold it for the kicker, and watch the extra point sail through the goal posts. But this time the center’s snap was high, and after it caromed off of Smith’s outreached and slippery hands, the Buccaneers recovered the loose ball as time expired. Tampa Bay won 17-16” (Sports Spectrum, Vol. 26, Number 1, p. 8).  As Hunter went to the locker room, God was really dealing with him and he had some decisions to make before the inevitable post-game interviews took place. He thought of all the excuses he could use to pass the blame: the snap was high; it was raining; the kicker had missed field-goal attempts of 34 and 24 yards earlier in the game; the offense had first-and-goals from the 8-,6-, 5-, and 2- yard lines, yet only scored two touchdowns. What about all the dropped passes, the missed scoring opportunities?  What about?  What about? And, this was only the second time in 12 seasons in the NFL that he had missed a hold, both coming in the rain, the other during a superbowl, although it didn’t cost them the game as it had this time.   But all the press would want to talk about was his mistake that cost his team an opportunity to send the game into overtime.
     As Hunter was struggling in him mind with what he would say, he sensed God speaking to His heart over what really mattered in his life. Hunter realized the significance of his “jersey influence” as a Christian both in time of success and victory and in time of failure and defeat.  He thought about his beautiful wife and three wonderful children and the faithfulness of His God. It wasn’t that his failure to hold a ball didn’t mean anything to him because it hurt his team, but he knew at that moment that he could put that behind him and move forward to the next game against the Dallas Cowboys.  When interviewed, he assumed all the responsibility for his mistake, without making any excuses or passing the blame. Two days later, the Redskins let Smith go and he hasn’t played since. That ended up being the final play of his NFL career!  But, he’s okay with that. He writes in his book, The Jersey Effect, “You see my ultimate hope is in Him, it’s not in this game. My life is in His hands. God is my reality. I’m not saying the game doesn’t matter, of course it matters. People’s livelihoods are on the line when athletes don’t perform well. But ultimately my life is in God’s hands, and His purposes are more important in my life than anything else. In the midst of this moment of defeat God impressed on my heart that my jersey as an athlete is to be used for His glory not only in victory but also in moments of defeat. And He will be glorified in me if my reality is in Him and not contingent upon Him giving me all I want in areas of success.”  (Amen!) 
     As believers in Christ, we have folks watching our lives to see how we respond both to success and to failure.  They watch to see how we act when we make a mistake, whether we make excuses and pass the blame to others, or whether we assume full responsibility for our actions. I believe that Hunter Smith was as much a testimony for Christ during his time of failure–maybe more–than he was during all his successes as an NFL punter. I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul who wrote this to the Philippian believers: “…I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:11-13).  To the church at Rome he wrote: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Ro. 8:28). And obviously not all the things that work together for good are “good things.” Think of all the difficulties, suffering and adversity that Paul faced. But all of those things were working together for the purpose he goes on to describe: “…to become conformed to the image of His Son” (v. 29). God’s molding process involves failures as well as successes in our lives.
     We may not all wear a “football jersey,” but we all have areas where we have opportunities to influence others through our work, our friendships, our recreation, our hobbies, etc. What kind of “jersey influence” do you have?
                                                                                                                Forever His,
                                                                                                                        Pastor Dave

About Pastor Dave

Until my retirement 2 years ago, I pastored an independent Bible church in Northwest Montana for nearly 38 years. During that time I also helped establish a Christian school, and a Bible Camp. I am married and have children and grandchildren. The Wisdom of the Week devotional is an outgrowth of my desire to share what God is doing in my life and in our world, and to challenge you to be a part.
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