From abused child to FranklinCovey executive and LDS family man, Sam Bracken's journey of a radical change
“Had they not been there, it would have been easy to go back into other behaviors; I probably wouldn’t have gone on a mission. They loved me and held me accountable. I had to report to Don and I didn’t want to let him down,” Bracken said. “My testimony grew over those years and when I went on a mission, I was ready. They made all the difference.”
Preparing to serve
Bracken earned all-conference honors following his junior and senior years. He went undrafted, but received invitations to a few NFL training camps. He toyed with the idea of the NFL, but two meaningful experiences prepared him to pursue something else — a mission.
The first episode came when he was asked to briefly share his testimony and talk about his relationship with the Lord at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes breakfast prior to the All-American Bowl. There were thousands in attendance. He had spoken at firesides before, but never to a non-LDS audience.
“I felt weak all over. I don’t remember what exactly I said,” Bracken wrote of the experience in a March 1988 New Era article. “I told them about the Savior and how he’d taken upon himself the sins of mankind. I was doing pretty well emotionally until I started talking about my teammates. Then I started to cry because I loved them. I closed in the sacred name of the Savior.”
There was a favorable response and people appreciated how he had presented his spiritual message. As a result, Bracken was later invited to speak at several different Christian churches and faiths in the Atlanta area.
The second experience started with an idea that came to Bracken during sacrament meeting. He wanted to give copies of the Book of Mormon to his coaches, teammates and friends. He fasted, prayed and eventually created a list with several hundred names, including Curry, teammates, the athletic director, professors, the president of Georgia Tech and several others. With the financial support of the Conkeys, each book cover was embossed with the recipient’s name in gold. Inside, he posted two pictures — one of him in his football uniform, and one of him in a suit and tie. Next to the photos he wrote his testimony. One line read: “One can experience many victories in life, but no other experience can compare with the victories that come from obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The Conkeys hosted a party for Bracken at the end of his senior year and that’s when he passed out the copies of the Book of Mormon. Of the hundreds he gave away, only one person declined.
“They were all very appreciative,” Bracken said in the New Era article. “It was unbelievable to see the receptiveness of these people. I knew the Holy Ghost was helping me.”
Conkey knew Bracken didn’t have any money, but he found a way around that. As the church’s public affairs specialist in Atlanta, he was acquainted with prominent Mormons in the Southeast. He talked with Atlanta Braves’ star Dale Murphy and Gerald Day, the dean of Tech’s college of management and the future president of Snow College. They would work together to pay for Bracken’s mission.
Bracken was called to serve in Toronto, Canada.
Before he left, he flew to Idaho to visit his mother, who was staying with relatives while she recovered from serious injuries sustained in a car accident. His aunt was very critical of Bracken for turning down the NFL and job options to serve a mission while his mother was in poor shape. He almost changed his mind about serving until his mother gave him her blessing.
“It was the strangest thing,” Bracken said. “She said, ‘No, you have to do this. This is something God wants you to do.’”
As they said farewell at the train station in Boise, Bracken felt impressed to promise his “very hardened, Hell’s Angels biker-chick” mother that before he finished his mission, she would gain a testimony of the gospel and get baptized.
“I got on the train with tears in my eyes and thought, ‘What in the world have I done? Am I a lunatic?’” Bracken said.
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