Thursday, December 25, 2008

Football, God and Kurt Warner

After battling lingering injuries and back-up status demotions the past few seasons, Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner has been back to his old form this year. The two-time league MVP was recently named to his third Pro Bowl and has re-joined the ranks of the top tier signal callers in the league.

Despite all of his accomplishments on the field, Warner is perhaps most well-known for his faith and off the field charity. posted a feature article yesterday detailing how his faith shapes his perspective as a professional athlete and how it affects his relationships with his teammates.

Since taking the league by storm in 1999 while leading the St. Louis Rams to the Super Bowl title, Warner's Christian faith has been the subject of a number of discussions. Since he is vocal in sharing his faith with others and frequently mentions Jesus in interviews there are some that feel that Warner has crossed the line at times into unfair proselytizing towards unwilling teammates and reporters.

In era that seems dominated by ego-driven and money hungry athletes, I find it peculiar that so many fault Warner for being so active in sharing his faith. Granted, Warner is a flawed human, as we all are. He makes mistakes and is not going to be perfect. But aren't there worse things that he could be doing than telling others about Jesus and serving his community? While I am concerned about the prevalence of athletes who give shout outs to Jesus in interviews and live lives in seeming opposition to righteousness, Warner appears to be legitimate in the sincerity of his faith. I don't know him and I'm not one of his teammates, but he generally appears to carry himself with class and integrity.

However, one of the anecdotes in the article is a telling reminder for all of us as Christians and how we seek to relate to others outside of our faith:
"This past summer, Warner invited his Cardinals teammates and their families to his home for a day of swimming and eating. Barely anyone showed up. Warner believes the perception, still after all these years, was partly to blame.
"When I asked Larry [Fitzgerald] what happened, he told me that everyone is afraid to come over because they don't know if I'm going to stand up on a podium and preach to them," Warner said. "They just think I'm going to jump up and down and introduce them to Jesus. But that's crazy. And the people who know me realize that's not who I am."
The poor turnout disappointed Warner, Brenda said. "We try to keep it normal so that people don't think we're a bunch of weirdos, but that perception is out there," she added. "We fight it every day."
He fights it in the locker room, where some teammates don't feel comfortable around Warner and giggle like little kids on rare occasions when he curses. They fight it in the marketing world, where Warner's agent struggles to find endorsement opportunities for a potential Hall of Fame quarterback with a pristine off-the-field résumé. And they fight it in the media, where Warner tries to walk the line of getting his message out to the public without alienating fans."
As I read this particular story, I, too, felt for Kurt. At times I have also rubbed people the wrong way or pushed them away when attempting to discuss issues of a spiritual nature. I feel for a guy who is simply attempting to share the difference that Christ has made in his life with those he cares about. Though my personal interactions with others in this matter have been far more positive than negative, it is challenging to be a welcoming person while, at the same time, share challenging perspectives.

The reality that Kurt Warner faces is one that is on a much broader scale than most of us face, but it is still very similar. Those of us that consider ourselves followers of the One whose birth we celebrate today have the challenge of living out our faith in word and deed among some that are mildly indifferent or actively opposed to the message we bring. Former teammate Josh McCown brings an interesting and, possibly, very accurate assessment into the discussion:
"I think a lot of people relate to athletes who make bad choices because it brings the athlete down to their level," McCown said. "It helps them feel good about who they are and what they're doing.
"On the other side, when you hear the stories about Kurt, here is someone squeezing the most they can out of their life. And at the end of the day, that causes all of us to look in the mirror. And I think sometimes we don't like what that mirror looks like. So it's easier to rip on the things Kurt does than change yourself."
You can read the full ESPN article by Wayne Drehs here.

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