Mormon church helps former NFL player sort out spiritual puzzle

Published: Thursday, Nov. 4 2010 6:30 a.m. MDT

AKRON, Ohio — Minutes after two Mormon missionaries walked out his door, Stacey Miles was on the phone with his attorney. His mind was swimming with skepticism.

"Have you ever heard of John Smith? I need you to run a background check on this John Smith," Miles said into the phone. "I need everything you can find by morning."

When the clean-cut LDS messengers returned the next day, Miles felt like an expert on John — check that — Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet, having read more than 60 pages of information. He was intrigued with Joseph's account of the First Vision.

His religious investigation was just one piece of the puzzle.

For 22 of the next 25 days the former NFL lineman and sports agent learned about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, developed priceless friendships and eventually was baptized. The gospel was a major missing piece in the puzzle of his life. It gave him spiritual strength to tackle his physical problems.

"There was a hole in my life. Then things fell into place," Miles said. "The puzzle is still not complete, but I know what it is supposed to look like, and I can start to put it together. It is the best thing that ever happened to me."

Miles describes the circumstances that led to his conversion as "strange." A healthy man most of his life, physical ailments gradually took over his body. If not for the health problems, he probably wouldn't have found the LDS Church, Miles says.

Once upon a time Miles was a great athlete who played tennis, college football at Cal State Northridge and then in the National Football League for three years with the Seattle Seahawks. Injuries and operations kept him more on the bench than on the field. When his playing days were over, he made a living as a sports agent. One of his more prominent clients was former NBA star and close friend Larry Nance.

But injuries and illnesses began to take a toll. A tumor was found in his arm after he broke his arm playing tennis. Another tumor was located in his head and removed. The 350-pound man also had problems with his legs and couldn't find crutches to support his weight.

The thought of spending the remainder of his life in a wheelchair worried him. If he surrendered, he might not walk again. That's when, via the Internet, he found Ken Lester and his super crutches.

Lester, of Logan, Utah, owns a company that manufactures crutches designed to support individuals up to 400 pounds. His crutches are now used all over the country, especially by major college and NFL teams.

Not only did Miles get the crutches, he found a friend in Lester, a Mormon bishop at the time. With time, discussions about the crutches eventually became friendly conversations about life.

"We would talk for hours," Miles said. "We talked about religion. I never asked what his religion was, but he had a peacefulness in his voice that I was searching for. I thought this was someone who has his puzzle pieces in order. This was something I wanted and I knew I couldn't buy it."

Lester said he looked forward to the calls, especially when his business struggled. When he wasn't feeling great, he talked to Stacey.

"He was encouraging," Lester said. "When I needed a pick-me-up, I called him and it made a big difference."

Their friendship was solidified when the pair attended a Cleveland Indians baseball game. "We just sat and talked," Lester recalled.

"It was like I had known him my whole life," Miles said. "We looked up and suddenly the game was in the seventh inning."

Get The Deseret News Everywhere