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We’ll report next month about winners and losers in the highly publicized National Anthem War, but stories of theological progress and regress don’t get much attention. The National Football League has dozens of stories of theological progress and regress. Here are capsules on Ryan Succop, Britton Colquitt, Aaron Rodgers, and Benjamin Watson/Tony Dungy.
—Succop was the last overall pick (256th) in the 2009 NFL draft: The media label the last pick “Mr. Irrelevant” because last picks rarely make it. Succop, though, is in his ninth season as a placekicker and entered this season ranked 20th all-time in career field-goal percentage (at least 100 attempts). Now with the Tennessee Titans, he had made by the end of September a franchise-record 45 consecutive field goals from inside 50 yards.
Succop thanks God for his success: “Every gift and ability I have obviously comes from Him.” Kicking field goals can be a high-stress occupation: “When you’re performing before 75,000 fans out there and you mess up, everyone knows.” He reads Philippians 4:6-8 before every game and recites it in his head before every kick: “Every time I read that and pray that, the Lord has blessed me with peace and ability. God makes clear that He doesn’t want us to be anxious. Every time we’re anxious about something, we’re not trusting in Him.
—When Cleveland Browns punter Britton Colquitt was in college at Tennessee, alcohol-related incidents led to his arrest and multiple suspensions. Then-Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer met with Colquitt and his parents, yanked Colquitt’s scholarship, suspended him for the first five games of his senior season, and required him to undergo alcohol counseling. That action kept Colquitt from going off the rails entirely: He joined the NFL in 2009 and has averaged 45 yards per punt ever since for Denver and Cleveland.
Colquitt, grateful to God for rescuing him from alcohol, told Decision Magazine that when he’s punting with millions watching him, “it’s easy to say, ‘I’ve got to please all these people.’ But when it really comes down to it, God is my only audience. … So you can turn it into an act of worship because He’s called for everything we do in life to be a matter of worship, including sitting at the table having dinner with your family.”
—Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was raised in an evangelical Christian household, began questioning his Christian faith soon after winning the Super Bowl in 2011.
Befriended by Rob Bell nearly a decade ago, Rodgers this year watched Super Bowl LI at Bell’s house and has apparently embraced the former pastor’s opposition to Biblical truth. Rodgers told ESPN he no longer identifies with a religious affiliation and now believes “organized religion can have a mind-debilitating effect, because there is an exclusivity that can shut you out from being open to the world, to people, and energy, and love and acceptance.”
—Baltimore Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson is well-known as a Christian (see “Heart and Grace,” Aug. 20, 2016) and is perhaps the NFL’s most outspoken abortion opponent. He’s got an ally in former NFL coach Tony Dungy. In an August interview with San Diego’s Turning Point Pregnancy Resource Center, Watson called abortion “the ultimate form of racism” and pointed to the disproportionately large number of aborted black babies: “The whole idea with Planned Parenthood and [founder Margaret] Sanger in the past was to exterminate blacks. And it’s kind of ironic that it’s working.”
Dungy—the first African-American head coach to win a Super Bowl—praised Watson via Twitter for “speaking the truth.” Though he experienced the expected backlash from abortion supporters, Dungy stood firm: “Do abortions only deal with one woman? Are there any other people involved?”