Cover Story — Beyond A Super Bowl

February 2014 JPEG CoverSomewhere in this wacky, Super Bowl Media Day circus are lessons to be learned.

This is what I try to say to myself as a superhero from Nickelodeon challenges Russell Wilson to a staring contest; a striped Waldo is wandering around and members of the media are actually interviewing him; a guy from VH1 is wearing an old, colonial outfit, or something with a bib, and I picture us having an epic sword fight that makes its way onto Pete Carroll’s podium.

Media Day is an insult to journalism, in some ways. You’ve got people from ESPN and Sports Illustrated battling with Nickelodeon’s “Pick Boy” to squeeze in a question with a possible Super Bowl winning quarterback. And some of the reporters from big, daily papers are actually pressed to crank out articles, yet they patiently wait their turn as lunatics ask questions like “Is this a must-win game?” or “What’s your favorite beer?”

It’s not that I don’t like Media Day—I do. In some ways, the circus atmosphere is quite fitting considering the present state of journalism. And it is important to remember: This isn’t the State of the Union address; it’s only sports. If anything, it makes me wish I had brought my Yoda mask.

But it is difficult to have in-depth interviews at Media Day, and this is perhaps what frustrates me the most. Because Sports Spectrum prides itself on its feature stories, I mostly just see Media Day as an opportunity to gather multimedia content for our YouTube channel. This is my third Media Day, and I’ve learned that it’s difficult to get more than a question or two in before another reporter barges in and asks about offenses or defenses. It’s not the most intimate setting for deep conversations, either, when you half expect to see a clown riding around on a unicycle or trapeze artists above you.

There are, however, lessons to be learned on this day, and I would soon learn that it has nothing with the atmosphere, but rather the hearts of the people who are willing to share them.

IN PURPOSE…

At past Super Bowl Media Days, the players who weren’t stationed at a podium would be scattered around the stadium for you to freely approach. This one is different, possibly because it’s in the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., the home of the New Jersey Devils, a much smaller venue than a football stadium.

To compensate for its size, they have barred off areas for the remaining players who aren’t at a podium to congregate. I laugh to myself, as they remind me of pigs rounded up in a pen. I think about feeding one an apple and telling him he’ll make a nice meal one day.

These barred-off areas, however, make the players especially difficult to access. Also, Marshawn Lynch is in one of these areas instead of on his own podium, which has led to the clutter. Lynch is saying something, and by something, I mean a word or two, and that’s when I spot Seahawks long snapper Clint Gresham.

Gresham is the founder of, in my opinion, one of the coolest football videos that came out this year called “Making Of A Champion,” featuring many players and coaches on the Seahawks talking about their faith. It has nearly half a million views on YouTube, featuring quarterback Russell Wilson, left tackle Russell Okung, safety Chris Maragos, defensive passing game coordinator Rocky Seto, running back coach Sherman Smith, and himself. It’s something they funded on their own and released for free.

Sports Spectrum videographer Aaron May and I fight our way through the crowd and finally make it up front.

“Man, I love the video,” I say.

Gresham smiles, and shakes my hand.

“Well, I’ve got one for you, then,” he says, pulling out a DVD from his jacket pocket.

“How many you have in there?” I laugh.

“Quite a bit,” he smiles.

In the back of my mind, I’m fascinated by the idea he plans on handing all of these out to the media, that, on a day when the media is gathering content from him, he’s giving something very meaningful back to them.

“It was humbling (to make the DVD),” he says. “There were times during training camp that I wasn’t sure if we were going to go through with it…But it’s just a privilege to be used by Him. It seemed like such a big task, and trying to coordinate all of it was crazy. But God is faithful, man. If we honor Him and give Him the glory, He is faithful to bring us to a position to honor Him.

“I’ve learned this year to lean on God’s promises. One of my favorite Bible verses talks about trusting in the Lord with all of your heart and leaning not on your own understanding. Even though our understanding can tell us one thing, God’s promises say something else. God calls us to trust His Word and trust what He has said about our lives to drive our experiences up to the level of what His Word says.”

His mindset is as purpose-driven as they come, and I look down and see it fleshed out in the DVD I’m holding—a vivid example that the worldview of many of the Seahawks stretch far beyond football, and, yes, even the Super Bowl.

IN DAY-TO-DAY LIVING…

That being said, just because some of the players and coaches on the Seahawks are Christians, it doesn’t diminish their passion for what they do; in fact, their belief in something bigger only fuels their desire to do it better, because working for God is a much larger purpose than working for the world.

This is evident as we wait in line to talk to assistant coach Rocky Seto, as reporters ask him technical questions about “target zones” and things that sound as foreign to me as chemistry. It’s obvious he enjoys talking about these things; after all, it’s what he does for a living. But something that gets him going more is who he is as a person.

Our turn comes, and we explain to him that we are from a Christian sports magazine, and he smiles and puts his hand on my shoulder. “Do you love the Lord? Do you love Jesus?”

I smile and nod.

“What about your camera guy?” he says, putting his hand on Aaron’s shoulder. Aaron smiles and nods, too.

Seto has a friendliness and fervor about him that makes you immediately trust him. If we were sitting in a café, I would probably feel comfortable enough to share my deepest struggles with him if he asked.

I ask him about what it’s like to be on a team that, to me, demonstrates a faith like the 2006 Indianapolis Colts team that won the Super Bowl under coach Tony Dungy.

“Think about how the Lord has positioned the spokespeople on our team,” he says. “Russell Wilson loves the Lord; Russell Okung loves the Lord; there are coaches who are on fire for Jesus. It’s tremendously encouraging…

“These brothers love the Lord, and ultimately living for Christ is more important than anything else. The Bible says that Jesus gives us every spiritual blessing. Jesus gives us every spiritual blessing. Think about that. Better than the Super Bowl. Any championship. Any fame. Any acclaim.”

I realize Seto and I are learning about some of the same concepts in life, and it suddenly begins to feel much less like an interview and more like a conversation. These are the interviews I enjoy the most.

“John Piper or someone said that enjoying Jesus as the greatest treasure of our lives is worship,” he continued. “Just enjoy it! What else do you need?” he laughs, throwing his hands in the air. “That’s acknowledging Him that Jesus is a greater reality than what we actually have in this life. Enjoy Jesus as the greatest treasure of your life, and we will act accordingly if we really believe that.”

IN TRIALS…

As we approach safety Chris Maragos, I couldn’t help but think about how the previous two interviews represented the same theme. Gresham enjoyed Christ in the way God was using him to carry out His purposes; and Seto spoke about being given every spiritual blessing and enjoying Christ on a day-to-day basis, for His mercies are new every morning.

Fittingly, Maragos started talking to us about another way to enjoy God, a message less prevalent as they stand on the brink of winning a Super Bowl—through our trials.

If anyone can preach on this in the context of football, however, it’s Maragos. He wasn’t recruited out of high school; he wasn’t on scholarship at Western Michigan; he was a walk-on when he transferred to Wisconsin; he switched positions and was cut three times before he got into the league; and now, here he stands at Media Day of Super Bowl XLVIII as a player who has been in the league for four years.

“Those trials produced perseverance, and character is what you’re seeing today,” he said. “You’re seeing what God has been able to accomplish and what He has been able to do to mold and shape my character through those trials. I think of James 1:2-4, ‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.’

“When you look at that, it sounds so backwards. You think about joy. Well, what is joy? Joy is something internal; it’s not external. Anytime you are going through a trial, that’s an external thing. If you consider it pure joy then, when you are going through those hard times, you consider it joy because you know the end result is that God will produce and mold and shape you into something that is way better than you could ever think about if you didn’t go through those things. There is a person, rhyme, and reason for everything, and God is in control of all those things, and you just have to trust that.”

IN FOOTBALL…

It’s interesting that Seto just happened to be reading from the book of Acts in his devotion that morning—the passage about people worshiping Barnabas and Paul instead of Christ. The irony is unparalleled, as much of Seahawk Nation will do the same for their team, and especially stars like Russell Wilson and Russell Okung.

But it’s in Wilson and Okung’s mindsets that place football in its proper perspective, which, fitting the same theme, allows them to enjoy God more because their priorities are not skewed.

These were our last two interviews.

“Faith has brought me a long way,” Wilson says. “God has me here for a very particular reason, just to be here in front of all these people and go against the odds. That’s all God. That’s not me. But, in terms of facing adversity, I see adversity as opportunity. That’s the way I look about it, whether it’s a game or in life. It’s an opportunity to overcome.”

And that’s exactly the way Okung sees football, too—as an opportunity. If he, as a player, can view football as merely a game and an opportunity, he hopes others can do the same—that it will not be worshiped, that they will not be worshiped, but football will rather be enjoyed as a gift from God and used to direct others’ attention toward something deeper, just as Paul and Barnabas did.

“What better chance do we have out here to show the world that we have been given a platform?” he says seriously and quietly. “Doesn’t matter what you do. Whether you are reporting or a football player, we are all privileged to be where we are and to be able to give our gifts back to God. It’s amazing. That’s what our jobs are as believers—to use our gifts because there is a need for them to give them back to this world and give them back to the people…

“When you look at Jesus and His life, He just walked and loved and served people. He said, ‘The greatest among you is a servant.’ We have been given these talents and these gifts to serve the community for it to be better. Jesus saves, and Jesus saves through his people.”

By Stephen Copeland

Stephen Copeland is a staff writer and columnist at Sports Spectrum magazine. This story was published in the February 2014 Sports Spectrum DigiMag. All videos edited by Aaron May.

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