what it’s like being a team chaplain

The latest issue of ESPN The Magazine includes an interesting article about team chaplains in professional sports. The Mag talked to Anthony Johnson, former NFL player and current chaplain for the Jacksonville Jaguars, about what it’s like being a pastoral figure to millionaire athletes. Here is a bit of what he shared.

anthony-johnson

On his theological approach to the job,

“My focus is biblical, but I make it inclusive. No matter what a player’s faith, I’ll talk to him. And I’m not afraid to engage with players who are atheist or agnostic. Those can be great talks, too.”

On what it takes to get the job,

“Each team has a chaplain. A degree, but not seminary, is required to land the job.”

On what he actually does,

“We hold chapel during camp and the night before a game; as many as 35 players attend. We’re also available for pastoral care—baptisms, wedding preparations, deaths—and we lead a variety of Bible studies.”

On counseling players through tough life stuff,

“A lot of what I do is one-on-one counseling. Most questions are about juggling life as a Christian and as a player, but we talk about anything. One guy recently asked about how to resolve conflicts in his marriage. I wouldn’t say infidelity comes up a lot, but enough. These young men may wind up in situations deemed illegal or inappropriate. I try to help them understand how that would affect them and their loved ones.”

On whether God cares about wins and losses,

“I don’t discourage players from praying for wins. But I do stress that if God doesn’t answer that prayer, it doesn’t say anything about His purpose for the guy.”

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King James

This picture of LeBron “King” James is from NBA.com’s Photos of the Year (this particular photo was taken by Jed Jacobsen of Getty Images). It’s not often that you see sports photographs that aren’t completely in focus (e.g., see the other photos in the NBA.com gallery). The creativity you usually see in sports photographs–from the sports section of the newspaper or magazines like Sports Illustrated and ESPN–seem to rely on the athletic artistry of the athletes being photographed and the angles the photographers are shooting them from, but this picture is out-of-the-ordinary/different. I think it’s a wonderful illustration of the intersection between art & sports that is often overlooked; unless the “sport” in discussion is ballet, figure skating or synchronized swimming.

Learning about sports from a 2½-year old

Bill Simmons (aka “Sports Guy”) is one of my favorite sportswriters (he writes for espn.com and ESPN The Magazine). I enjoy reading the Sports Guy because he weaves together his thoughts and theories as a sports fan with commentary on his favorite expressions from popular culture (for instance, Simmons often references shows like “The Hills” and “Real World,” which happen to be a few of my favorites); and he does all of this in a way that I find hilariously insightful. His wife (aka “Sports Gal”) occasionally contributes her humorous thoughts about life, culture and sports into his columns, and last year she was hired by ABC to write a weekly column in response to each episode of The Bachelor (the season with Andy the Navy doctor) and her commentary was nothing short of brilliant (at least that is the opinion shared by me, my sisters and the other participants in our “Bachelor Pool” – think NCAA tournament brackets, except instead of picking which teams will win, we picked which girls would NOT get a rose each week – by the way, I won in a landslide and I still haven’t seen the prize money, I should talk to my sister about that). Anyway, if you are not familiar with the Sports Guy, I think his latest article is a good intro to his writing personality (some might use writing “style,” but I think his writing has a complete personality). In the article – which is taken from the Dec. 3 issue of ESPN The Magazine – Simmons discusses a few joys of parenthood and tells a story about bringing his 2½-year old daughter (aka, ummm…Sports Daughter?) to her first NBA game. I’ll give a short preview from the article below, but you’ll have to skip over to espn.com to read the rest…

Now, here’s where my demented genius comes in: I think that kids can be brainwashed to believe anything is fun as long as you seem excited about it. You could say to your child right now, “You know what we’re doing later? We’re heading to the yard to watch grass grow!” And if you sell it well enough, they’ll be counting the minutes until the back door opens. Seriously. So when I asked my half-asleep daughter if she wanted to watch basketball in Daddy’s bed, I made it sound more fun than mashing bananas with The Wiggles. In retrospect, I probably didn’t need to sell it so hard. She was so happy to get called up to the majors (Mommy and Daddy’s bed) and maybe get her head rubbed, too. But that’s how she was introduced to basketball: I brainwashed her, lied to her and wore her down.

Fast-forward to the Nov. 11 Cavs-Clips game. When I asked if she wanted to go, I presented the offer as if I were suggesting we fly in a helicopter to eat M&M’s on the moon. And I sold LeBron as a combination of Santa, Elmo and our UPS guy. After a few YouTube clips, she was hooked, screaming at her mom, ” We’re gonna go see LeBron!” Her excitement only amplified over the next few days. Meanwhile, I started to worry because 150 minutes is a long time to keep a child entertained. Could she make it through the third quarter? Could she even make it to halftime?

There is no way Steve Nash could be a cooler guy.

I don’t like Steve Nash because he’s short (like me) or because he’s white (also like me), and I don’t like him because he’s a Canadian (unlike me, although it certainly adds to his bio as an NBA player that he is short, white AND Canadian). I don’t even like Steve Nash because he’s one of the most talented and entertaining basketball players in the world. I think what I like most about him is that he plays the game of basketball the way I always dreamed of playing, so watching him is like seeing my childhood hoop dreams come to life. It’s also really refreshing to listen to an athlete give great interviews without coming off as – here comes a Tom Cruise word – “glib”, but that’s just Steve Nash’s style – he’s a very real and cool dude (for a great example, watch Nash on Charlie Rose). Nash was hardly recruited coming out of high school (he went to college at Santa Clare University, a small div. I school in California), yet he somehow overcame all his apparent “disadvantages” (short, white, Canadian) to become a two-time MVP in the NBA…not the NHL. Add to this all the great things he has done to help children around the world and it turns out he’s not only a great basketball player, but a great human being. He put together a basketball game to raise money for kids in China this past summer with the help of Chinese basketball legend Yao Ming, and they convinced several other NBA players (including Carmelo Anthony and Baron Davis) to go along and support the cause. The Steve Nash Foundation supports organizations throughout the world to help grow healthy kids; from families of adoption in Steve’s native British Columbia to raising awareness to keep the children of civil war in Uganda safe. Steve’s foundation is also involved with environmental issues and efforts to help situations of poverty, and because he knows he can’t do it all on his own, he invites others to partner with his foundation through an initiative called the “10 Assist Challenge” (for you non-basketball fans, 10 assists is a basketball statistic reference). The greatest part is that Nash doesn’t seem to be doing any of this to be a good role model or to make a name for himself in the media; he really just seems to understand that his position of influence allows him the opportunity to help others, so that’s what he’s trying to do. He has been a lot more visible lately – doing interviews, magazine ads and a few commercials. The New York Times sports magazine PLAY had a great article on Nash a few weeks ago. The writer of the article spent some time hanging out with Nash in NYC where Steve has lived the past few summers, and where this past summer he was spotted riding a long-board around town and playing pickup basketball and soccer with locals…seriously, how cool is this guy?