Former Oakland Raider recounts LDS conversion

Published: Thursday, May 30 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Dressed in a suit and tie, Burgess Owens stood at the pulpit in the Herriman LDS chapel and surveyed the scene before him on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013. The 61-year-old man could see his wife, Josie, surrounded by six children and six grandchildren, seated among the congregation. A short time earlier, male family members had participated in the blessing of their newest granddaughter. In the midst of that sweet moment, Owens wanted to share his testimony with fellow members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“The church has been everything to us,” Owens said.

More than 30 years earlier, Owens wore a different suit, one consisting of black and silver for the Oakland Raiders. As a hard-hitting safety, Owens earned a ring when the Raiders won Super Bowl XV.

But it was during the 1982 season that Owens and his wife were introduced to the LDS Church by a Mormon teammate, sparking a series of events that changed their lives.

Three decades later, the former pro football player is grateful for how following the gospel plan has blessed him and his family, not to mention those who’ve joined the church as a result of their missionary efforts.

“It (the church) has given us perspective of how important family is. It has helped us understand the parameters that the Lord wants us to live within,” Owens said in a telephone interview. “We don’t have to wonder or drift with society; the Lord has a very strong and clear pathway of what is right and where blessings come from. Understanding that, we continue to convert ourselves.”

First contact

Owens was raised in a Baptist home in Tallahassee, Fla., during the 1960s. He was one of four African-American players integrated onto a football team at a white high school. It was a rough year, Owens said.

“It was similar to what happened in the movie, ‘Remember the Titans,'" Owens said. “That was pretty much my experience.”

During the integration transition in 1967, Owens became involved in an interracial club aimed at building unity and finding commonalities. One activity was attending various churches of different faiths in the community. At one point, the group visited an LDS church and Owens recalled seeing two missionaries with black name tags.

“Someone in the club was a member. I remember being told by our instructor that Mormons didn’t like blacks, so we will go there but don’t be offended,” Owens said. “So, I kind of went in with a preconceived notion.”

As a young man, Owens was very religious. At one point, he told his father his goal was to become a minister and travel to Russia “because so many there needed to know about Christ,” he said.

“Why go to Russia?” his father replied. “There are plenty of people here in the United States that could use that message.”

Miami to Oakland

Once the Rickards High team members got past their racial issues, they started to win football games. Based on a couple of good seasons, especially his junior year, Owens was the third of four black athletes recruited to play at the University of Miami.

Owens played for the Hurricanes from 1970-72, recording 160 tackles, eight interceptions and three fumble recoveries and earning All-American honors.

Despite his individual success, his team did not enjoy a single winning season during Owens’ time with the Hurricanes. The university even considered dropping the football program at one point. That changed in time. Owens’ impact at Miami was such that in 1999, his name would be added to the famed “Ring of Honor” next to that of quarterback Vinny Testaverde.

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