Last week, more than 200 young athletes heard their names called at the 2019 NFL draft, signaling their official welcome to the National Football League. In the aftermath of being picked up by their coveted team — or passed over and ignored by others — many prospects turned to a singular theme in their immediate post-selection interviews: faith.
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, the flashy No. 1 overall pick in this year’s class, became the first athlete to be selected in the first round of both the NFL and Major League Baseball drafts.
“Glory to God,” Murray told reporters minutes after making history.
As for former Florida star Jawaan Taylor, viewed by many draft experts as a near lock for a top-20 selection, his lifelong dream was deferred by a day. When the Jacksonville Jaguars moved up a few spots to take him in the second round, Taylor accentuated his faith over the air on ESPN Radio.
“God has a plan for me,” Taylor said.
Like it or not, religion has played an integral role in the industry of professional sports. Avid fans who flip on SportsCenter after a Tiger-wins-the-Masters-esque moment know what to expect — the star of the hour, tipping their cap to those around them for the journey. But if they are believers in the man upstairs, it’s almost a given that God is thanked first.
More often than not, religious athletes acknowledge God’s blessings throughout their journeys, thanking him at the end of the draft process, after a game-winning performance and during their first postseason run.
But on the flip side, they still have to face the camera lights and iPhone Voice Memos app when enduring the hardships that every athlete experiences during their career, from shooting slumps to hitless streaks to being cut from a team on short notice.
That’s the game of life — an eternal life that Christians believe God granted us when Jesus came and saved us from our innate sins. Electing to pursue an athletic career and making it to the top 1 percent of a sport require every ounce of hard work, dedication and luck that is humanly possible. Elite athletes face a pressure that is unique in nature but nothing that God can’t handle.
John 3:16, the most recognizable Bible verse across the world, states “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
For each Christian athlete, their journey and success within their career are unique in everything from draft position to championship rings. But the one thing that all of them share is a steadfast belief that God’s plan is always working.
Perhaps the most recognizable Christian athlete out there is former college football legend turned minor league left fielder Tim Tebow.
While Tebow’s football career eventually stalled out and the next chapter of his eventful journey began with its fair share of skeptics, his story is one that perhaps illuminates God’s love the most. Born and raised in a devout Christian household, Tebow was nearly aborted before birth but was saved and grew into one of the biggest household names in the college football sphere.
Before games at both the collegiate and professional level, Tebow would expose the world to a variety of Bible verses he proudly carried, literally, on his face (in college) and wristband (in the NFL). Against all odds, he managed to lead the Denver Broncos to a postseason appearance in his second year in the NFL, and in his playoff debut against the Pittsburgh Steelers, he wore John 3:16 on his sleeve.
A game-winning 80-yard strike to Demaryius Thomas in overtime sent shockwaves throughout the football world. Tebow’s final passing total on the day? 316 yards.
While God has worked magic into the lives of our favorite athletes from day one, it’s easy to forget that when we’re struggling, God has the perfect plan out there for us too. Every milestone is one that God has set out for us, aware of what we can and can’t handle.
With every blessing, thank God, and with every challenge, know that God has a plan — just as the football stars (and minor league outfielders) we love do.