Years ago, when Tony Dungy was head coach of the Tampa Bay Bucs, the NFL issued all teams a “no prayers on the field” edict. The whole world saw that directive get blown off when Damar Hamlin’s heart stopped beating in Cincinnati this past season. Dungy and other football greats kept the faith talk rolling in their appearances before 2,000 people attending Saturday’s Athletes In Action Super Bowl Breakfast in Phoenix.
Television networks accustomed to ignore praying athletes showed a large group of players, shaken to the core Jan. 2 as medics worked frantically to revive Hamlin’s heartbeat, praying fervently on the field.
Also boldly caught up in the Spirit, ESPN commentator Dan Orlovsky said a prayer for the Buffalo Bills safety during an edition of "NFL Live." Yes, woke ESPN.
“It’s okay to pray, and God answers prayer,” Dungy said Saturday. God is going to use Damar, and He showed us God is real. Bills’ quarterback and Hamlin teammate Josh Allen said he wasn’t too spiritual, but he saw what was happening, confessed that God is real and is using Damar for His glory.
Master of ceremonies at the prayer breakfast, Akbar Gbaja-Biamila, said the public prayers ignited by the Hamlin incident were extraordinary because people “who would not ordinarily share their faith” did just that. It was “remarkable” how many ways God used that night to change people’s ideas of what we can do as a nation. “It warms your heart and gives you hope, he said.
Hamlin would later say, “God is using me to give others hope. The journey will continue.”
The prayer breakfast featured many more inspiring current and former pro football players standing tall for Jesus. Ex-Arizona Cardinals offensive lineman Luis Sharpe told an incredible of his own redemption during six years of prison for drug abuse. “I went from football hero to crackhead zero,” he said. “I had many rock bottoms. Like David and Paul, what was meant as evil for me … God changed hearts, and He changed me. I am no longer bound to evil spirits or my negative self.”
Current Arizona running back James Conner was diagnosed with cancer in 2015, but leaned on God to overcome adversity. “I had 12 rounds of chemotherapy. A year later I was cancer free. It was something bigger than the game – speaking God’s love and the Gospel. Honor and grace to God on high. Who can I help next through it?”
In addition to praising God, Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins received the Bart Starr Award. The late Starr was a five-time NFL champion, winner of the first two Super Bowls and an awesome witness for the Gospel. Cousins is the son of a pastor and a graduate of Holland Christian High School in MIchigan.
As a young quarterback with the Washington Redskins, Cousins met Starr at Lambeau Field in Green Bay and told him, “Thank you for who you are as a man.” On Saturday, Cousins said: “Bart and Cherrie Starr were married for 65 years. They are both of the highest character and people of great faith. I can only hope that, at the end of my life, I can have someone speak of me in the same way.”
Cousins cited Hebrews 9:27 (it is appointed once for people to die and then to face judgement) and Romans 3:23 (all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God). By accepting the free gift of God’s grace, we will have eternal life.
It’s refreshing to know that, during this era of woke sports franchises and athletes, there are still stand-up, inspirational athletes with deep faith who are setting good examples by standing on God’s Word.