Most people know that Orlando, Florida, was home to the 2012 NBA All-Star weekend. But what many do not know is that less than 10 miles from the events celebrating basketball greats, over 150 NFL players were spending the week celebrating their God.
I step onto the elevator in one of Orlando’s many beautiful resorts, joining about seven other people who were already on board. We all exchange friendly greetings as I press the button to my destination. The doors are about to close when a large hand extending from a forearm the size of my thigh, jams itself between the closing doors. Three more join us and the elevator suddenly drops several inches, sending my pulse rate soaring. The three additions weigh at least 300 pounds each. Add that weight to the three “regular” sized people and the four 300 pounders already in the elevator, and the scenario becomes a little disconcerting. I immediately start calculating in my mind and searching for the little sign that displays the elevator’s weight capacity, which I am sure we are exceeding. Perhaps it is the little “yelp” I let out as the elevator drops and the look of terror on my face that leads one of them to utter the comforting words, “It’s okay. It happens all the time.” Should I feel better about this? I have my doubts. But unable to escape, I took a deep breath and trusted his words.
The elevator doors open to a lobby swarming with NFL players and their families. Gentle giants carry tiny babies in their arms; some watching the kids to give their wives a chance to get a quick nap in before the ensuing event. Why can’t the world see this side of NFL players? There are far more good guys than there are bad, but you wouldn’t know that watching the media. These men and their families could have spent the week anywhere, but the fact that they chose to attend the annual Pro Athletes Outreach (PAO) conference where they can grow in their faith, become better husbands and fathers, and pursue character is evidence that their faith in God is a priority.
WHAT IS PAO?
PAO is a ministry of pros to pros, which offers this annual conference to meet the specific needs of the NFL player and his family as they cope with the unique pressures of life in pro sports. It is a “safe” environment free from the press and requests for autographs, giving them the opportunity to be themselves without expectations or judgment. It’s also a safe place where guys who have made poor choices are welcomed and strongly supported by a brotherhood of godly men who want to see them win as husbands, fathers and role models. The women at the conference, who find themselves fighting against the stereotype placed upon them by ultra dramatic reality shows, enjoy the comfort of being among other wives who sincerely desire to grow in their faith and who understand the pressure and difficulties that come with being married to a pro athlete. With the goal of providing a fresh perspective on faith, relationships, finances and calling, PAO trains and equips attendees with the tools they need to live for Jesus Christ.
The intentionality of PAO being a ministry from pros to pros is clear. From up front, PAO president and retired NFL quarterback Steve Stenstrom shares the ministry’s strategy as to how they will have a greater impact in the future. Retired linebacker and PAO director of football, Don Davis, emcees the event. Leaving his Super Bowl rings at home, he makes it clear that his mission is to point others to the person of Jesus and not to entice them to worship the earthly rewards, which many long for. Relating his own experience, Don Davis says, “Football is a tool that (God) has put into my hands in order to shed more light on Him…The way I look at life (has been) transformed…PAO is that catalyst.
Attendees of the 2012 PAO conference included the who’s who in the NFL, but you will not see their names listed in this article. Out of respect for their privacy, and my goal to provide a safe environment for them with Walking the Talk, I felt it important to maintain their anonymity. Yet those who desire to share their personal stories of faith will always have an open opportunity to communicate to others through Walking the Talk.
The 2012 PAO conference boasts award-winning musical worship and teaching from some of the most well-respected pastors and teachers in the nation. Many are baptized in the resort’s pool, while hotel guests marvel at the spectacle. Grown men, large men, lean back into the water and come up in tears. Husband and wives go under, hand in hand, and come up to cheers. Others, at the last minute, decide to make that same commitment, stepping into the water fully clothed and completely surrendering their lives to Christ. Why can’t the world see this side of NFL players?
The conference culminated when one player took the stage with his girlfriend of six years. He talked about how the conference had impacted him and then shared some sweet words about their relationship. This particular couple was in my husband and my process group, so we had gotten to know them and understood firsthand the growth they were experiencing. Then it happened. “I just have one question to ask you,” rolled off his lips. Squeals of excitement and thunderous voices filled the place. The entire ballroom exploded to their feet, with a lengthy round of cheers and applause rivaling what you would hear at a game! In his nervous voice, ready to move from boyfriend to fiancé, he begged the audience, “Come on ya’ll, let me do this.” As the room quieted, he proceeded to ask her for her hand in marriage. To which she happily and softly replied, “Yes.” The cheers return. It’s normal to see women excited for one another in such circumstances, but watching this young player’s NFL comrades rush to congratulate him, brought tears to my eyes. Because I know that even though these guys compete against each other during the season, they still have one significant thing in common. They are all members of God’s team. Married and single alike, these men all want their teammate to be the MVP for his future wife and family, and they will stand by his side to support him.
Why can’t the world see this side of NFL players? Men who adore their wives, seek to honor God and use their platforms to benefit others.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
Is there a particular pro athlete you’d like me to interview about his faith? How has this story impacted you? To submit suggestions and comments, please contact me through www.KimAnthony.net or follow me on Twitter @RealKimAnthony. I’d love to hear from you!