As football fans and the culture at large gear up for the biggest sports event of the year as the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals face off in the Super Bowl this Sunday, I find myself in the unfortunate position of not really caring who wins.
My Dallas Cowboys lost in heartbreaking—and rage-inducing—fashion a few weeks ago, but I’m still looking forward to the game and everything that surrounds it. That said, sports tend to be more fun when you have someone to root for.
With that in mind, I’ve enjoyed getting to know a bit more about the faith of several athletes who will be playing this weekend.
Cooper Kupp, for example, has become one of the most valuable wide receivers in the league and has consistently been the focal point of the Rams offense all season. He’s also among the most vocal and open Christians in the sport.
Whether it’s reflecting on the lessons he learned while recovering from a torn ACL a few seasons ago or when he’s asked about his growing stardom in the league, Kupp consistently points people back to God as the reason for his success and the secret to staying grounded amidst his rise in prominence.
For example, when asked earlier this season if he felt like the NFL fully appreciated his abilities, he simply paraphrased Proverbs 16:9, telling the reporter “Today, the verse that was on my mind was, ‘The heart of man chooses his path but the Lord establishes his steps. It just gave me so much freedom to go out there and play free, give everything I had [and] know the results rested in him.”
When discussing the violence inherent to the sport, he notes that “it’s the nature of the game. In the same way, it’s also sporadic and oftentimes out of your control. I couldn’t imagine stepping onto a football field and not having a full body-mind-spirit belief that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, and doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing. My faith in God and His plan for me allows me to play freely without doubt or fear.”
However, Kupp is far from the only participant to have made the news recently as a result of his faith. The Cincinnati Bengals are playing for the championship in large part because rookie kicker Evan McPherson ended the last two weeks with game-winning field goals. After his kick that sent the Bengals to the AFC Championship game, he attended the press conference wearing a black shirt with “God is good” printed across the top.
He also regularly quotes Scripture on social media and responded to being named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Month for December by posting on Instagram: “Glory to God! 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.” Paul’s instruction in that passage is to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you,” which seems to sum up McPherson’s approach to the game quite well.
And Rams running back Sony Michel would agree with him. He told reporters during a previous trip to the Super Bowl—ironically when he was playing against the Rams—that “without Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, there is none of this. We get all this glory, but the glory is not for us. It’s for Him. We do this for Him. That’s kind of my purpose. So really, none of this matters to me.”
Bengals linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither hasn’t been a Christian for as long as the others listed above, but he speaks of his faith with a wisdom and perspective that would surely resonate with the others in this article.
After being baptized last summer, Davis-Gaither posted that “after 23 years I am so proud to have given my life to Christ and Received the gift of new life! God has done wonderful things in my life, picked me up from my lows and humbled me at my highs. Every step of my life, God has blessed me in so many ways. I’m blessed that I’m able to share his love and let my life be a testimony of his unwavering love for us all.”
The impact of Christians in Super Bowl LVI
Regardless of whom you choose to cheer for this Sunday night—or even if you choose to ignore the game altogether—having Christians publicly stand for their faith while the world is watching should be an encouragement to all of us.
It should also be a reminder to pray for those willing to take that step because doing so puts a target on their back that Satan would love nothing more than to exploit. None of these men are perfect, and they will surely make decisions from time to time that our Lord would not approve of. After all, they’re still just as fallen and human as the rest of us.
So please take some time today to pray for each of these players by name.
Pray that God would continue to use their courage and their witness in ways that expand the kingdom.
Pray that God would protect them from temptation and help them to remain faithful to his will.
And pray that God will use their example to spark the desire to be used in similar ways in your own life as well.
We may never have the same reach or audience as professional football players on the sport’s biggest stage, but that’s not an excuse to take the opportunities that the Lord does give us any less seriously than if we did.
What opportunities will God bring your way today?
Will you be ready when he does?