I’ve always been amused by the fact there are 246.8 million Christians in the United States but the minute one single athlete mentions “Jesus” the reporters’ pencils always stop. It’s true; 32 percent of the world is said to be Christians but with today’s more liberal media, the people who cover sports today are more interested in whatever they can find that leans more towards sinning and the devil.
This weekend everybody made a big deal over the fact Webb Simpson went to Wake Forest on an Arnold Palmer scholarship, but hardly anybody mentioned that this year’s winner of the U.S. Open is a devout Christian who majored in religious studies when he was such a great golf standout for the Demon Deacons.
Not long ago there was a huge story about Masters’ winner Bubba Watson being chased for 37 minutes by some ardent admirer while he played in the Memorial Tournament, but omitted from the harrowing account was that Bubba and his wife had just left a Christian music concert when they were followed by some kook.
In a recent issue of Sports Illustrated, baseball sensation Josh Hamilton was on the front cover and S.L. Price wrote a fabulous story about how fragile the Texas superstar is now that he must deal with his lifelong battle against drugs, his impending free agency, and the fact he’s probably the greatest player in the game today. Josh is so Christ-centered there was no way to ignore what he unashamedly calls his Guiding Light and the fact Josh is so adamant that he constantly seeks God’s guidance cannot be ignored.
In the very same issue, a big story on boxer Manny Pacqiao told how less than a year ago the fighter drank, gambled and cheated on his wife but that now, with a Bible constantly by his side and sermons galore playing in his personal theater, he is totally changed. "If I died before I changed, I would not have gone to the eternal kingdom," Pacqiao told reporters. "I was an immoral man. Now I am a new creation."
This week it is U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson in the spotlight and the 26-year-old golfer who, at one point trailed by six strokes, doesn’t mince words as he said, “The Lord just kept telling me to be patient. I'd be stupid not to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, because it was tough out there and I was nervous, and I felt His presence all day," Simpson said afterwards. But – answer me this -- did you read it anywhere in the mainstream media?
Simpson will tell anyone he’s “a sinner loved by a Savior” and laughed as he told eager reporters, “I probably prayed more on the last three holes (Sunday) than I have in my whole life.” But instead of asking for a victory, guys like Simpson and Watson will both assure you they pray that God’s will be done and they are eager “to give God all the glory.”
To some that may not make for interesting reading but to Christians around the world, it makes perfect sense. I’ve always had enough free spirit – or maybe Holy Spirit – in me to openly write about Christians – athletes or not – who are blessed because of their belief and their uncanny ability to handle life’s downturns with grace.
Christians also grasp that only through faith can you have hope. To a golfer, where the last 15 majors have been won by 15 different people, hope is so fleeting that many rely on Divine intervention. Through groups like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Baseball Chapel countless professional and college athletes are no longer under the stigma that being a Christian shows weakness or that some consider it not “manly” at all.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Baseball’s Hamilton, who notoriously went to nine different rehab hospitals for alcohol and drug use, has long suffered and – more recently -- just been hospitalized with a severe intestinal virus but the Texas Rangers hero still has a commanding lead in the American League statistics. He’s a shoo-in for the upcoming all-star game and could have his best year ever in the majors this summer.
In May he hit four home runs (and a double) in one game and the minute it ended he told the swarm of TV cameras, “I think about what God's done in my life, everything I did to mess it up …
"To finally surrender everything and pursue that relationship with Christ on a daily basis and understanding when I don't pursue it, I end up messing up," Hamilton said. "Understanding that what I'm doing and what God's allowed me to do, coming back from everything I went through and allowing me to play the game at the level I play it, it's pretty amazing to think about."
Josh, who has already hit 22 home runs this season, said keeping the devil at bay is a daily task and said that without Jesus Christ, it would be impossible for him to continue. “I pray every day. That’s how I do what I do. I live one day at a time -- Tomorrow is not promised and yesterday's gone," he said.
Guess what, the only two guys to win golf “majors” this year – Bubba Watson and Webb Smpson – do the same thing. Now Manny Pacqaio has signed on and when he lost the controversial bout against Timothy Bradley, the “born again” Pacqaio immediately pledged millions to those who had lost their homes in horrifying flooding in the Philipines.
Here’s exactly what he said. “Yung pera na to ay di galing sa gobyerno kundi galing sa bulsa ko. Sabi ko balato ko sa kanila.” Translated, it means, “This money is not from the government but from my own pocket. It’s my treat to them,” he said. Does that sound like a guy who once tearfully admitted he cheated on his wife?
The reporters made a big deal over Manny back then but now, let’s just say it’s tough to translate his language and not throw stones at those who quit scribbling when the J-word comes tumbling out of the winningest athletes in the world right now.
But, you have to admit, it is a bit amusing.