Inspiring Athletes

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Over the weekend, the spectacle that is college football provided millions of fans with countless thrills, breathtaking plays, last-second heroics and memorable moments that will live on for years to come. But there may not have been a more powerful image than what was observed before one game in particular even kicked off.

At Penn State’s Beaver Stadium this past Saturday, the majority of players and coaches from both the host team and the visiting Cornhuskers gathered at midfield as Nebraska assistant coach Ron Brown led a 90-second prayer amid a virtually silent crowd of over 105,000 fans. You can watch raw footage of that video below:

This act of pregame solidarity would have been an unusual site under the most normal of circumstances, but there was not much normal about this match-up between the Nittany Lions and the first-year members of the Big 10 from Nebraska. Personally, I don’t care to get into the gory details, but if you don’t know what I’m talking about, just Google the words “Penn State” and “scandal” and you’ll figure it out pretty quickly. Actually, you might not even need to include the word “scandal.” The child abuse allegations that rocked the university and it’s football program last week has been fodder for relentless media outlets across the board.

But on this day, an unheralded figure stepped forward to help make sense of it all through a heart-felt prayer that players on both sides acknowledged was a chilling moment they will likely never forget.

Nebraska running backs coach Ron Brown

Ron Brown, age 54, is in his second stint at Nebraska and currently serves as the running backs coach. He previously worked under legendary head coach Tom Osborne. In between that time, Brown was the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) state director in Nebraska and continues to be an ardent supporter of the national sports ministry. He writes a monthly column in the organization’s magazine Sharing The Victory, a publication to which I have been fortunate to contribute over the past several years.

It’s moments like these in which we are reminded of the truth found in Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (NIV)

While we may never know the exact truth of what happened in this horrific case (although details will continue to emerge over the next few days and weeks), we can rest assured that somehow, some way, God will work through the situation and draw people closer to Him. And just as importantly, we can know that healing is available for anyone who has been the victim of another person’s sinful nature. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit,” David wrote in Psalm 34:18 (ESV)

Be inspired by Coach Brown’s prayer and take some time to pray for those you know who have suffered through the pain of disease, death, abuse, poverty, hunger, depression, injustice, rejection and all other physical and emotional challenges. But don’t stop there. Reach out to those people with the kindness, compassion and love that is available to us by virtue of God’s grace.

And remember, football is never bigger than life. But sometimes football can teach us some pretty significant lessons about life if we’ll sit still long enough to hear God’s voice speaking in those moments, even through something as simple as a pregame prayer.

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