Inspiring Athletes

Inspiring Athletes

Hot Topic Tuesday: Character does matter

posted by Chad Bonham

Last week I posed the question, “Does character matter?”

In general, I think most people would probably agree that character or integrity is important in today’s society. Most people would also likely agree that the lack of character (especially at high levels of leadership and influence) has caused many problems not only here in the United States but across the globe.

So why do actors, artists and athletes tend to get a pass when it comes to character? Why do we look the other way when it comes to the people who make us laugh, inspire and entertain us or wow us with their superior athletic ability?

I don’t have an answer for that (other than straight up selfishness), but I do know that character should matter whether we admit it or not.

First of all, let me clarify that I’m not saying you shouldn’t root for a team just because someone on that team has poor character. If that were the case, no team would qualify for our support and loyalty. But when a team does have a core group of character guys (and I would argue, athletes that hold to a strong faith), it makes it so much easier to cheer them on or that much harder to cheer against them.

Also, I write about this topic at the risk of sounding self-righteous or perhaps naive about how the world works. But I truly believe that we should expect more out of our sports stars. After all, we the fans are paying those exorbitant salaries with our ticket sales, our TV viewership and our merchandise purchases.

Three years ago I was blessed with the opportunity to write a four-book series for Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) based on the organization’s four core values. One of those values is integrity. In writing the book, I was able to get to know some pretty impressive people like Tony Dungy, Lorenzo Romar, Aaron Baddeley and Josh Davis. The overriding theme was that integrity (or character) does matter. It may not seem to be the case at the moment a key decision is made, but at some point, there will be some sort of consequence (good or bad) that will emerge.

One of the people that was originally interviewed for the book was Orlando center Dwight Howard. His chapter was the first I finished, but just days later it was revealed that Howard had fathered a child out of wedlock. The editorial team made the quick decision to pull him from the book. We weren’t passing judgement on Howard but it was clear that he would need some time to regroup and at some point address his transgression in a meaningful way and more importantly create a stronger system of accountability to help him get back on track.

Howard, up to that point, had been very vocal about his Christian faith. But once he suffered a moral failure, he was wide open for criticism and pot shots from the naysayers who never liked his outspoken stance in the first place. I’m reminded of the scripture in Titus 2:6-8 that says, “Likewise, encourage the young men to be sensible about everything. Set an example of good works yourself, with integrity and dignity in your teaching. Your message is to be sound beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be ashamed, having nothing bad to say about us.” (HCSB)

In that same book, former NFL MVP Shaun Alexander told me this: “It don’t matter how big the jug of water is or how small the cup of water is. It only takes a little bit of dirt to make the whole thing mud. Integrity says, ‘I’m not going to accept a pinch of that dirty.’ Every now and then we all get dirty because we’re selfish sinful people, but when you start accepting pinches of dirt, it really gets bad.”

So character first and foremost matters to the individual person striving to have influence with others and desiring to live a pleasing life before God.

The other reason character matters is because of the people who are watching our lives. This is just as true for us as a regular “non-famous” folks as it is for the pro athlete who enjoys a massive platform. Just last week PGA golfer Rickie Fowler attested to this principle.

“I’m definitely conscious that I’m being watched at all times,” Fowler told me, “I want to be a good role model. I don’t want to be a screw-up or anything like that. I want to do the right things and set the right example.”

We may not believe it, but we are influenced (even as adults) by the actions of those we admire and respect. And if that’s the case, think how much more easily influenced our kids and teens are by the sports stars that they idolize.

Again, it’s too much to expect all of our athletes to live with impeccable integrity. Even those who are known for their good character can and will make mistakes (see Andy Pettitte, Brian Roberts, etc., for example). But if anything, I would like more people to take a second look at how they approach being a fan. Perhaps looking for the good guys in sports and not just looking for what athletes and teams can do to make us feel good (as we live vicariously through their exploits) will make the games we love that much more enjoyable.

This way of thinking has transformed the way I personally watch sports. I’m still brutally loyal to my Houston Astros, Dallas Cowboys, LA Lakers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Tulsa Golden Hurricane, but having athletes that represent my values out there playing for the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Bulls, Calgary Flames, New York Jets and every team in between brings a whole new level of excitement and intrigue to virtually every sports event imaginable. — cb

Tomorrow we’ll hear PGA rising star Kevin Streelman talk about what inspired the FCA Game Day program and how integrity separates golf from other sports.

The Inspirational Sports Report: Stenhouse Jr., shines in Iowa, Berkman lays out the leather, and Brees puts his money where his mouth is

posted by Chad Bonham

Exciting weekend in sports with the Mavs and Heat taking 2-1 leads in their respective NBA Conference Finals, the NHL playoffs heating up, David Toms rebounding from his TPC playoff loss to win the Crowne Plaza Invitational and interleague play in the MLB kicking off. Here are a few highlights from The Inspirational Sports Report:

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., snags first NASCAR victory

In just his second full-time NASCAR Nationwide Series season, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., picked up that first career victory at Iowa Speedway’s John Deere Dealers 250 on Sunday. It was a rare chance for the Nationwide guys to take center stage as the Sprint Cup drivers had wrapped up All-Star festivities in Charlotte the night before. Stenhouse Jr., held off the only two Sprint drivers competing (Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski) in his #6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford Fusion.

Watch the final moments of Stenhouse’s big win here.

The 2010 Nationwide Rookie of the Year is finally starting to live up to high expectations but has still managed to keep his head on straight. Stenhouse Jr., does so by attending Bible studies with other drivers like Trevor Bayne, Michael McDowell and Justin Allgaier as well as chapel services led by Motor Racing Outreach.

Lance Berkman makes spectacular grab, takes one for the team

Not known for being the fleetest of foot, Cardinals right fielder Lance Berkman made a pretty spectacular grab last week during the series against his old team, the Houston Astros. Berkman spent most of his career in Houston before being traded to the Yankees midway through last season and then signing with the Cardinals this year.

Check out the catch here.

Even though Berkman has played mostly at first base, the slugger has adjusted nicely and is having one of his best seasons yet.

Drew Brees organizes player-led practices, covers some costs out of own pocket

In an interview with ESPN, New Orleans Saints quarterback revealed that he had not only been organizing player-led practices during the NFL lockout but was also paying for some of his teammates’ expenses. He discusses why he has put himself on the front line during this collective bargaining and revenue sharing debate in the following clip:

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You can also learn more about Brees’ Christian faith by watching this video produced by my good friends at FCA and Sharing the Victory magazine:

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Last week, Inspiring Athletes posed the question “Does character matter?” We’ll try to answer that in tomorrow’s blog. See you all then.

PGA young gun Rickie Fowler on being a role model and the pressure of high expectations

posted by Chad Bonham

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Back home from Fort Worth, Texas, but not before getting interview time with some of the PGA’s finest during the practice rounds and Pro-Am at the Crowne Plaza Invitational.

Today, it’s a short Q&A with 22-year old PGA star Rickie Fowler who has yet to win a tour title, but has already made a big splash as a second-year full-time pro. The 2010 PGA Rookie of the Year is doing his best to live up to some high expectations that follow an impressive amateur career and an appearance on the 2010 U.S. Ryder Cup team.

Just look around at any given golf tournament and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Young golf fans follow him around the course, many of which sport his signature Puma brand flat-billed hat. Fowler is aware of it too. Here’s what he had to say about being a role model and dealing with the heavy weight of high expectations:

Rickie Fowler on the practice green at the Crowne Plaza Invitational. (Photo by Chad Bonham)

Bonham: How does it feel to be an inspiration to the next generation of young golfers?

Fowler: It’s great to be somewhat of a role model. I want to be a positive and good role model and lead by example and try to do the best I can. Playing good golf definitely draws attention but I want to have a good attitude on the course and do the right things.

Bonham: Does that attention challenge you to play the game with integrity and live your life away from the course the same way?

Fowler: Yeah, I’m definitely conscious that I’m being watched at all times. I want to be a good role model. I don’t want to be a screw-up or anything like that. I want to do the right things and set the right example.

Bonham: How much encouragement and strength do you get from the weekly Bible studies you attend while out on the tour?

Fowler: (It helps) to be around good guys. I just bumped into Ben Crane over here, one of my good buddies out on tour. (It helps) to have guys like that to hang around and guys like Bubba Watson. We recently spent a little time with Tobymac (at The PLAYERS Championship Bible study). It definitely helps to be around positive guys and guys that are out trying to do the right thing and it encourages me to do my thing.

Bonham: Do you feel any pressure knowing that you’re a younger player to whom the veterans are trying to pass the torch?

Fowler: Yes and no. There are a lot of good young players right now. Obviously I’d like to step up and be that guy. I need to play a little bit better. I definitely would like to be that guy they pass the torch down to, but I have to keep playing well, step up my game a bit and ultimately get my first win out of the way.

To learn more about Rickie Fowler, check out his official website by clicking here.

Next Monday, we’ll have a weekend sports wrap-up, plus later in the week be looking for interviews with PGA golfer Kevin Streelman and actor Ryan Merriman, star of the inspirational sports film The Fifth Quarter.

PGA FedEx Cup contender Mark Wilson on his responsibility as a Christian athlete

posted by Chad Bonham

Fort Worth, TX — Yesterday’s hot and windy outing at the Colonial Country Club yielded some short, but substantial encounters with the PGA’s finest including interviews with Mark Wilson, Kevin Streelman and Rickie Fowler as the players rubbed shoulders with amateur golfers during the Crowne Plaza Pro-Am.

For today’s Inspiring Athletes, I’ll share what Mark Wilson had to say. Wilson is having a huge season. Before 2011, he had two PGA Tour victories–a number he’s doubled less than halfway through this season. His big numbers have landed him at #3 on the FedEx Cup standings (heading into the Crowne Plaza Invitational), but his big heart and even bigger desire to live for God is what really makes this 36-year old golfer stand out.

Bonham: How important is it for the golfers to have this chance (during a Pro-Am tournament) to interact with the fans throughout the day?

Wilson: It’s unique to professional sports. In professional golf on the day before the tournament starts, amateurs get to come along and see how the course plays and play with us. You can’t do that in football or basketball. A lot of people would get hurt. So we take advantage of it and I think the amateurs see a lot of value in it.

Bonham: Talk about FCA Gameday and why it’s something that you participant in at various tournaments.

Wilson: Kevin Streelman came up with that idea a couple years ago. We usually play a practice round anyway and there are a lot of demands on our time.  So he came up with the idea where kids could walk with us during the practice round for nine holes. We’ve had as many as 60 kids at one time. I did it in L.A., this year and there was 30 kids. I think they really enjoy that. We try to interact with them as much as we can and that way we can witness to them.

Bonham: How important is it for you to use your platform to share who you are and what you believe?

Wilson: It’s what I try to remind myself of every day. I’m always trying to keep God’s agenda in mind. Some days it’s easier to do that than others, but even when we fall and fail in this game, we have to remember that people are watching. How we carry ourselves in the tough times might be the reason why someone wonders what’s going on in our lives. It might make them want to investigate it. Hopefully they’ll see that the peace comes from Jesus. That’s why I’m playing golf. That’s why God gave me the talent. That’s why I’m out here.

To learn more about Mark Wilson, check out his website here.

Tomorrow I’ll post a Q&A with PGA young gun Rickie Fowler who talked to me about being a role model and the importance of having accountability with fellow Christians on tour.

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