On Thursday, April 29, 2021, the Jacksonville Jaguars, with the #1 pick of the NFL Draft, selected Trevor Lawrence, quarterback for the Clemson Tigers who led his team to the National Championship as a freshman in 2018 and in his three seasons at Clemson lost only two games. He was a team leader and could read a defense and wow, could he throw the ball! In fact, the only doubts any had about his potential in the NFL had nothing to do with talent or poise, but about his character. Some think he “has too much character”! Trevor, you see, is a committed Christian who is very public about his faith and the way it shapes his life and he “might be too soft” to succeed in the NFL.
In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, Lawrence said, “I don’t have this huge chip on my shoulder, that everyone’s out to get me and I’m trying to prove everybody wrong. There’s more in life than playing football.” He was speaking, of course, of his being a devoted follower of Jesus Christ and how that takes precedence over football. He is also very strong on family. In fact, he skipped an NFL pre-draft event to marry his high-school sweetheart. This “crazy behavior” and his avowed life priorities fed a narrative that Lawrence, like other Christian athletes, is probably too “soft” and “lacks the kind of monomaniacal focus required to succeed in the NFL” (from a recent article by John Stonestreet and Roberto Rivera in Breakpoint).
Hmm! Given that there have been a plethora of Christian players who exhibited deep faith and were not ashamed to be known as followers of Jesus, and achieved great on-field success, this narrative is totally baseless. Take for example, Russel Wilson, quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, or Drew Brees, quarterback for the New Orleans Saints or quarterbacks Carson Wentz, Nick Foles and Derek Carr; or going back a few years, Roger Staubach of the Dallas Cowboys and Frank Reich of the New York Giants. Or consider the amazing “beady-eyed” linebacker for the Chicago Bears, Mike Singletary or Troy Polamalu for the Pittsburgh Steelers. No one who was on the receiving end of a tackle by them thought their faith made them “soft!” Do you happen to remember a member of the great Green Back Packer defense (and later the Philadelphia Eagles) named “Reggie White”? He was known as “The Minister of Defense” and many consider him one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history. And similar lists can be made for other sports on both a collegiate and professional level of devoted Christians who excel at their sport, yet men (and women) of great character and testimonies for Jesus Christ.
Still, the presumption persists that the perspective, balance, and priorities shaped by a sincere Christian faith are somehow liabilities and obstacles to athletic success. So, when Lawrence tweeted, “I am secure in who I am, and what I believe. I don’t need football to make me feel worthy as a person,” the critics pounced, but their critiques only expose how absurd discussions of character have become in our culture. Hardly a week goes by without a story featuring an active or former NFL player in trouble with the law for domestic abuse, drug abuse, weapons charges, etc.–even murder. The NFL has learned about character the hard way. Whenever a player is selected in the draft later than their abilities suggest or a free agent has trouble landing a position with another team, the reason is nearly always a concern about Character. Teams spend a lot of time and money assessing a prospect’s character because they’ve learned how costly it can be. In 2013, after tight end Aaron Hernandez was charged with murder, the New England Patriots became the first NFL team to hire a “character coach.”
All of which makes concerns that a player like Trevor Lawrence has “too much character” completely foolish and unfounded. If anything, those who exhibit the qualities of a growing, committed Christian, make them a safe and wise choice. Listed among the “fruit of the Spirit” in Gal. 5:22,23 is “peace, patience and self control,” things which surely you would want in a member of your team. And, a dedicated Christian athlete is also likely following Paul’s admonition in Col. 3:23: “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.” Christian athletes should, no matter how talented they might be, be among the hardest working members of a team…and they usually are! Character Counts! In a world of “expressive individualism” and “inclusiveness” and “diversity” things like Christian character and virtue and integrity seem old fashioned, but it’s these old-fashioned qualities our young men and our society need the most! Do I hear an amen?