Jay Feely is an 11-year NFL veteran kicker, who wants to change the world. When he’s not kicking game winning field goals for the Arizona Cardinals or working to make the world a better place, he’s either golfing, fishing or spending time with his wife and four children. Not necessarily in that order.
I got a chance to talk with Jay about his faith and the role it plays in his life on and off the field. I found the conversation to be very encouraging and filled with practical truths that anyone, athlete or not, can apply to his or her own life.
Kim Anthony: Jay, at what stage of your life did your faith enter into the picture?
Jay Feely: I had grown up in the church, so I always had faith, but early on I had looked at God as someone who had a checklist. He was marking off when you did good and when you did bad. Really, all the way through high school, I kind of envisioned God that way. It was not until I got in college that I began to look outside that box and try to figure out who God really was and try to develop a personal relationship with Christ and begin to see who he wanted me to be. That (relationship with Christ) began to grow and develop.
Sports was always my support system and it was taken away from me, my freshman year in college. I was playing at the University of Michigan at a high level and, at that point, was at the pinnacle of my career. (I was) Leaving high school in Florida and going to play at the University of Michigan and all of a sudden I tear my quad on my kicking leg and I can’t kick. You feel like you’re useless and worthless and that no one wants you there…because if you’re a kicker and you can’t kick, they don’t really have much use for you. That’s really when I began to look to God and to trust in him.
I said, “I don’t know, God, if I’ll ever play football again,” because at that time, I really didn’t know. You don’t know how you’re going to respond (to injury) and that’s such a critical muscle for kicking. That quad. You know, the big fiery muscle… I said, “You know what God? I’ll just trust in you and I’ll rely on you and whatever happens, I’m okay with it.” That’s really where that kind of trusting relationship began to develop.
KA: So it took an injury to bring you to a place where you completely surrendered to God. Sometime that’s what it takes for us to come to the end of our selves isn’t it?
JF: I think that all of us have some type of ego and when you’re in sports, you kind of have to have an ego. When you’re successful you begin to think you can do everything for yourself; when everything goes well, you’re doing well in sports, you’re doing well in school and everything’s easy. That’s kind of how it was for me through high school. Then, you don’t feel like you need God. When it’s all taken away, that’s when you get humbled and that’s when you come crawling on your knees. And you say, “You know what, I really do need you (God) and I don’t know what I’m going to do with out you.” I think God uses circumstances like that in all of our lives whether it’s an injury, losing a job, or a spouse walks out on somebody. Often at those valleys, when we’re at the depths, that’s when we look up and we have nothing to do but look up.
KA: I’m sure a lot of people will be encouraged by those words. Perhaps they’ll see that whatever difficult circumstances they may be facing right now, is an opportunity for them to reach towards God. And when they do, he will meet them right where they are. What type of person were you before you surrendered your life to God. What’s the difference between the old Jay and the new God dependent, Jay?
JF: I was a good person. I was somebody who did a lot of community service. My brother, who had an allergic reaction to DPT shots when he was young, was the equivalent of a six month old, his whole life. So I grew up helping take care of him with my mom as well as the people he lived with. I was around that all the time, so
I began to do things like muscular dystrophy camps and Special Olympics and be involved in charity events like that all through high school. I was a kid who didn’t get in trouble and loved sports and I poured myself into sports always. That was my support system. It’s what helped me get through my parent’s divorce when I was 13. Whenever something was wrong I always had sports. The difference was that before I gave my life to Christ sports was who I was. It defined who I was.
JF: When I did well in sports I was happy, when I did poorly in sports I was sad and upset and mad. A lot of my self worth was derived from my success in sports and after I gave my life to Christ, that didn’t take away any of my competitive fire, it actually may have even increased that competitive fire because I had a greater purpose and a greater reason for succeeding in sports. But what it did was it gave me a peace. Paul (an apostle of Jesus) says a peace that transcends all understanding. It gave me a peace in all circumstances to know that it wasn’t just me. I wasn’t just out there competing for myself.
There was a greater purpose and I could trust in God when I failed and when I succeeded. When you succeed there is a greater purpose and when you fail, you know that God has a plan for that, so he gives you a peace in all circumstances.
Sports, was what Jay Feely relied on to bring him satisfaction and even help him get through some tough times in his life. What do you find yourself relying on? Is it working for you? In part two of Feely’s interview, we’ll find out whether or not his faith in God was worth relying on when it came to him facing the biggest disappointment of his career.
What about You?
Is there a particular pro athlete you’d like me to interview about his faith or a specific question you would like me to include? How has this story impacted you? To submit your suggestions and comments, you can contact me through www.KimAnthony.net. I’d love to hear from you!