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Several NFL players have 'strong voices' of Christian faith

Published: Friday, Feb. 1 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

San Diego Chargers defensive back Corey Lynch (41) runs upfield after grabbing an interception as Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Marvin Jones, right, watches during the second half of an NFL football game, Dec. 2, in San Diego. Lynch is among several professional football players who are showing it’s possible to live and share their Christian faith in a powerful way without being as open or forthright as players like Tim Tebow or Ray Lewis.

Denis Poroy, Associated Press

When the Denver Broncos put together a string of impressive victories at the end of the 2011 season, it was quarterback Tim Tebow who openly praised God in his postgame interviews.

This year, the outspoken player is Ray Lewis, Baltimore’s emotional linebacker, who has not been shy about quoting scripture on national TV.

But there are many less-conspicuous examples of devoutly religious players in the NFL who make up a strong Christian subculture extending well beyond high-profile players like Tebow and Lewis. They are not as prominent in the headlines, but they work hard at their craft, say their prayers, study the Bible and serve in their communities. They show that it’s possible to live and share their faith without being in the spotlight.

San Diego's Corey Lynch credits God with the dramatic opportunity he had to help save a woman's life. Matthew Slater of New England says a personal miracle was the reason he reached the NFL. And for Miami's R.J. Stanford, it was a spiritual awakening during the NFL lockout that changed his life.

Such players are sharing their faith in a positive, engaging way, said Nathan Whitaker, who has authored best-selling Christian-themed books with Tebow and former Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy.

“They are hard-nosed, physical players, not meek, not wallflowers, but they do things and play the game the right way,” Whitaker said. “At the end of the day, they discuss their faith and things that are important to them, always keeping the game in perspective and reminding folks there is a bigger picture, and their faith is part of that bigger picture.”

Corey Lynch

Lynch was raised in a God-fearing Fort Myers, Fla., home in which he always saw his father reading the Bible. One of his favorite stories is that of David and Goliath, which he felt he experienced firsthand when he helped his Division I-AA Appalachian State team upset traditional power Michigan in the 2007 season opener.

Lynch said his life changed for the better when he decided not to follow some friends in “doing some crazy things.”

“That was a decision early on in my life — am I going to follow the world or God’s word?” Lynch said. “I said, 'Let me try God’s word first.' I found freedom in that and never looked back.”

Lynch went on to play football at Appalachian State, marry Cissie Graham, the granddaughter of evangelist Billy Graham, and be drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2008 NFL draft.

In June 2009, Lynch and his wife were driving on a Kentucky interstate when they witnessed a van drive off the road and plummet nearly 300 feet down an embankment, flipping several times and landing on its roof. Lynch, the son of a firefighter, told his wife to call 911 before racing down the hillside in sandals to the van, which contained four injured people.

The most seriously injured was a woman named Cynthia Brennan, who suffered a broken neck and back in the accident. Lynch crawled through the broken glass to free her from the wreckage and help sustain her until emergency crews arrived. Doctors were later able to fuse her vertebrae and she recovered. Lynch was largely credited with saving her life.

The experience taught Lynch about the brevity of life.

“Life is short and it was a blessing to be able to help that woman out. … I was able to share Christ with her,” said Lynch, who played strong safety for Tampa Bay for three seasons before going to San Diego in 2012. “Live life like it’s your last day. Share Christ with whoever you are able.”

Matthew Slater

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