Airing It Out — Memories etched in stone

Brett Honeycutt at Knights I have an odd recollection of names like Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Ted Williams and other baseball greats from the 1940s, 50s and early 60s, even though I was born well after they played the game.

Sure, I remember watching 1970s greats like Mike Schmidt, Tom Seaver, Willie Stargell, Reggie Jackson, and Nolan Ryan play on TV, where I also saw the Big Red Machine, the “We Are Family” Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers in those great World Series matchups.

But the names that seemed to stick with me more, and the players I revered more, were the greats from years I could never reach down in my memory and recall—because I had never actually seen them play.

Those names stuck with me because of my dad, who enjoyed the game of baseball. I think he liked it for its seemingly simplistic nature, but I think he also liked it because of the laid back way you could watch a game. Innings could go fast or slow, depending on how many runs were scored and how many pitchers were used, and you could casually watch things develop (a bunt, a stolen base, a bloop single to right field, anything small could end up meaning something big in the final result).

I learned a lot about the game from growing up around minor league baseball at an old, wooden ballpark named Crockett Park in Charlotte, N.C. We started going to games there in 1979 or 1980, when the team was a AA affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. We went to more games in 1981 and then decided to buy season tickets in 1982. We kept them even when the park burned down in 1986 and a temporary structure was built, but gave them up in 1987 or 1988, when the team moved just over the border in South Carolina to Fort Mill.

In between all of those days in Charlotte, we visited minor league parks from Florida to New York, while also catching a few major league games in Atlanta.

Baseball was a big part of our life—but it was only the instrument to spending time with each other.

So when I heard about a commemorative brick program by the Charlotte Knights (now a AAA team of the Chicago White Sox), who were moving back to Charlotte (and into a new stadium) from just over the South Carolina border in Fort Mill after 25 years away, I thought what better way to honor my dad (and my mom, too).

On the brick, I simply had inscribed:


My dad and mom gave me and my brother those memories (my mom went to plenty of games with us, too, because she just wanted to be with us and she enjoyed what we were enjoying). In reality, time at the ballpark was really family time. The ballpark was just the means to spend time doing something we enjoyed —watching baseball, being with each other and learning about life along the way.

My parents really lived out Psalm 127:3, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.” They loved us and treated us as a “heritage from the Lord” and a “reward,” not an inconvenient burden or career-ending moment in life.

They loved us and we didn’t think any differently.

So as I look back at the past and the fond memories I have of my dad, mom, brother and the time we spent with each other, I also look to the future and even more memories that will be made.

Life is different now; my dad passed away in 1998, my brother and I are married, and my mom lives by herself (but she is still as giving, kind, patient and loving as she’s always been).

What won’t change, though, are our memories. We’ll always have them and others will know about them because they’re etched in stone.

By Brett Honeycutt

This column was published in Sports Spectrum’s January 2013 DigiMag. Brett Honeycutt is the managing editor of Sports Spectrum magazine. His column addresses topics from a biblical perspective. Follow him on Twitter-@Brett_Honeycutt

Sports Spectrum’s Co-Coach of the Year: Clint Hurdle

Chicago Cubs v Pittsburgh PiratesSome of the biggest impacts Clint Hurdle had on people this year wasn’t while he was managing the Pittsburgh Pirates to their best season in more than 20 years. 

They happened off the baseball diamond in PNC Park, Pittsburgh’s beautiful home field that sits on the Alleghany River and to the left as you come off the famous Roberto Clemente Bridge.

After a game on Aug. 1, with Pittsburgh’s skyline peering over his and other player’s shoulders as they sat and stood just off the field, Hurdle shared with fans during Faith Night how he starts every day by reading II Chronicles 16:9, “The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.”

He doesn’t just read God’s Word for self-encouragement, he feeds off of that so that he can encourage and impact otherslike those fans and people within the Pirates organization.

Some of that happens through encouraging quotes and stories that he sends through daily texts and emails to his players, coaches and front office staff as a way to impact those around himmotivating them not just on the field, but off the field, as well.

It’s one way Hurdle lives his life each day in front of his players, who he coached to the franchise’s first winning season, and first postseason, since losing the National League Championship series in 1992. 

Winning on the field was a long time coming for the Pirates organization and is the reason why the 56-year-old Hurdle was named the National League Manager of the Year. That, combined with winning off the field in life, is the reason Sports Spectrum named Hurdle co-coach of the year in 2013.

By Brett Honeycutt

This story was published in the January 2014 Sports Spectrum DigiMag. 

Sports Spectrum’s Co-Coach of the Year: John Harbaugh

AFC Championship - Baltimore Ravens v New England PatriotsAs the seconds ticked off the clock and the San Francisco 49ers failed to run back a Baltimore Ravens punt for a score, John Harbaugh could finally breathe.

His Ravens had won Super Bowl XLVII, 34-31, in front of a packed Mercedes-Benz Superdome crowd in New Orleans.

The game had been billed as a battle between two brothers, John and Jim Harbaugh.

But no storyline ever trumps the biggest game in the U.S. sporting world, no matter who’s involved.

What does trump winning the Super Bowl, though, is that John Harbaugh has a faith that means more than winning a game, as trivial or as important as we might think of it or make it.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned (this year) faith-wise is that God is in the driver’s seat,” Harbaugh told Sports Spectrum at Super Bowl Media Day in New Orleans. “That is what faith is. It’s the belief in the things that are unseen, that are uncertain, that we can’t be sure about. It’s a certain trust in life and in our Creator and God himself. I happen to be a Christian. That’s my faith. If you can do that, it brings you a peace. It brings you a certain peace that surpasses all understanding. I think if you have that, it gives you a chance to accomplish whatever it is you are supposed to accomplish.”

The peace that Harbaugh spoke of was missing from his life at one point, but when he gave the reins to God things began falling in place.

“The irony of the whole thing was when I finally gave up trying to move up in the profession, that’s when God took over and things that I hadn’t even dreamed possible … became realities,” Harbaugh says.

It’s just one example of the source of John Harbaugh’s success and is the reason why Sports Spectrum named him our co-coach of the year.

By Brett Honeycutt

This story was published in the January 2013 Sports Spectrum DigiMag. 

Top 10 Christian Athletes to Watch in 2014

1. Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles: Leading the Eagles to the playoffs as a first-year starter earned Foles, then 23, respect around the NFL.

2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors: In his fourth year in the league, the 25-year-old set the NBA record for three-pointers made with 272.

3. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers: Two National League Cy Young Awards made fans think of legendary Dodgers ace Sandy Koufax. Kershaw, 25, was humbled to be mentioned in the same sentence.

4. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates: Winning the National League MVP would be enough, but McCutchen, 27, also helped the Pirates end a 21-year losing streak and playoff drought.

5. Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles: Straightening out his swing helped the 27-year-old slugger lead Major League Baseball in home runs (53) and RBIs (138).

6. Maya Moore, Minnesota Lynx: After the 24-year-old led her team to a second WNBA title in three years, Minnesota fans are hoping this will be a common sight.

7. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks: Two playoff appearances and two Pro Bowl selections in two years. Nothing else needs to be said about the 25-year-old.

8. Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins: After a breakout rookie season in 2012, the 25-year-old Morris’ consistency was one of the lone bright spots for a beleaguered franchise.

9. Derek Ernst, PGA golfer: The 23-year-old turned pro in 2012 and won his first PGA Tour event in 2013, the Wells Fargo Championship, in a playoff.

10. Kevin Streelman, PGA golfer: Though he turned pro in 2001 and won his first event in 2013, it was a breakout year for the 35-year-old. He also had five Top 10 and nine Top 25 finishes, and represented the U.S. in the World Cup.

By Brett Honeycutt

This story was published in the January 2013 DigiMag of Sports Spectrum.

Top 10 Christian Stories of 2013

Philadelphia Phillies v New York Yankees, Game 61. New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera’s retirement: With his head buried in Andy Pettitte’s shoulder, Mariano Rivera cried. It was his last home game at Yankee Stadium. The gratitude and emotions of the fans were what made Rivera’s retirement from baseball so special in each city he visited, culminating in his final home game at Yankee Stadium when longtime teammates Pettitte and Derek Jeter came to the mound to take him out of the game. The crowd applauded, chanted Rivera’s name and he came out for a curtain call—a great way to end a career that spanned 19 years and saw him earn a record 652 saves, make 14 All-Star Games and win five World Series.

Click here to watch Mariano Rivera’s last home game at the Yankee Stadium. 

2. Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh winning the Super Bowl: The Baltimore Ravens rushed out to a 28-6 lead in Super Bowl XLVII before the lights went out, but the San Francisco 49ers came back to pull within 31-29. The 49ers, coached by John Harbaugh’s brother, Jim, could get no closer, though, and the Ravens held on to win 34-31.

Click here to watch Super Bowl XLVII highlights. 

3. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson leading his team to the NFC’s best record: In two short years, Russell Wilson has led the Seattle Seahawks to two playoffs, been named to two Pro Bowls and won Rookie of the Year (2012). For someone who is only 5-foot-11 (not an ideal size for an NFL quarterback) and was a third-round draft pick (and the sixth quarterback taken), he has exceeded expectations.

Click here to watch a Russell Wilson interview. 

4. Daniel Nava leading Boston Red Sox to recovery and the World Series: Daniel Nava may only have hit .143 in the World Series, but his biggest hit didn’t come in the postseason for the World Series Champion Boston Red Sox. His biggest hit came on April 20 when he hit a three-run home run in the eighth to give the Red Sox a 4-2 lead (and eventual 4-3 win) against the Kansas City Royals in the first major sporting event in Boston since the Boston Marathon bombings rocked the city on April 15. A simple victory provided joy and healing for a beloved city.

Click here to watch Daniel Nava’s three-run homer on April 20. 

5. Pittsburgh Pirates star Andrew McCutchen earning National League MVP: Andrew McCutchen’s stats were impressive: .317 batting average, 21 homers, 84 RBIs, 28 stolen bases, but the most endearing part to this story was that he won the National League MVP while helping the Pirates to their first winning season and their first playoff appearance since 1992, also the last time a Pirate player (Barry Bonds) had been named NL MVP.

Click here to watch Andrew McCutchen’s 2013 Highlights.

6. Pittsburgh Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle earning National League Manager of the Year: The storylines in Pittsburgh didn’t end with McCutchen’s MVP and the playoff appearance. Pittsburgh Manager Clint Hurdle, in only his third season with the team, was named National League Manager of the Year after guiding the Pirates to a winning record and the postseason for the first time in 21 years. It was also the first year since 1992 that the Pirates manager had earned NL Manager of the Year.

Click here to watch Clint Hurdle humbled to be Manager of the Year. 

7. Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw earning the National League’s Cy Young Award: Winning the National League Cy Young once would be amazing, but Clayton Kershaw won it for the second time in three years after finishing 16-9, posting a league-leading 1.83 ERA and helping his team to the playoffs and the National League West Division title.

Click here to watch Clayton Kershaw’s moving testimony. 

8. Minnesota Lynx star Maya Moore leading her team to the WNBA title: Maya Moore is no stranger to titles after winning two NCAA national titles with Connecticut, a World Championship and an Olympic gold, but helping the Minnesota Lynx to its second title in two years after the team was one of the worst in the league before she was drafted by them, is remarkable. Add to that her WNBA Finals MVP and that she led the Chinese Basketball Association’s Shanxi Xing Rui Flame to a league title, and her year was one to remember.

Click here to watch Maya Moore’s Top 10 Plays. 

9. UCLA’s baseball team winning its first College World Series: UCLA pitchers James Kaprielian and Cody Poteet were just two of the Bruins players who helped UCLA to the school’s first College World Series title in school history. Amazing, considering that the storied athletic program had won 109 NCAA team titles before the baseball team won its first championship.

Click here to watch highlights of UCLA’s CWS victory. 

10. Lauren Holiday winning the National Women’s Soccer League’s MVP: In the league’s inaugural season, Lauren Holiday won the NWSL MVP after leading the league in goals (12), assists (9) and points, and she also started 10 games for the United States tying for the team lead in assists (6).

Click here to watch Lauren Holiday sharing her faith in an FCA video.

By Brett Honeycutt

This story was published in the January 2013 issue of Sports Spectrum magazine.

Devotional of the Week — Treasuring What Matters

Eric Heiden“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

Winter Olympics great Eric Heiden was very practical in his view of gold medals. In essence, they’re nice to look at, but not very useful.

“I’d rather get a nice warmup suit. That’s something I can use. Gold medals just sit there. When I get old, maybe I could sell them if I need the money,” said Heiden, winner of five gold medals at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y.

He understood the triviality of the medals, which are much like the trivial nature of wealth or stockpiling things because we just have to have them. When it came down to it, Heiden needed equipment to train more than he needed the medals. And when it comes down to worldly things compared to spiritual things, we should see the disparity between the two and store up treasures in heaven. As Matthew 6 says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

By Brett Honeycutt, Sports Spectrum

Brett Honeycutt is a managing editor at Sports Spectrum Magazine. Log in here to access our most recent Training Table. Subscribe here to receive 12 issues a year and a daily sports-related devotional.

Airing It Out — Why the NFL matters

Seattle Seahawks v Houston Texans



Sports are popular in America.

How popular? Of the top 50-most watched television programs in America in 2013, 45 were sporting events. Of those top 50 programs, the top 26, and 42 of the top 50, were NFL games.

The rest of the top 50 were the BCS National Championship Game (No. 27), NBA Finals Game 7 (No. 29), NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship Game (No. 39) and five episodes of NCIS (ranking anywhere from No. 40 to No. 50).

To put that in perspective, 84 percent of the top 50 most-watched television programs were NFL games.

And to put it in even greater perspective, the three most-watched NFL games (the Super Bowl at 108.69 million, and the AFC and NFC Championship games at 47.71 million and 42 million, respectively), combined pulled in 198.4 million viewers and outdid the eight other non-NFL games, which had 14 million less viewers at 185.04 million.

The highest rated non-NFL game (the BCS National Championship Game) drew 26.38 million viewers (or less than a fourth of the Super Bowl and about half of the NFL’s AFC Championship game)

In sports terms, anyway you look at the numbers, the comparison was an annihilation, no contest, a rout, etc.

Seems like no sport (or television program) captures a nation’s attention like the NFL, which brings me to what’s happening for the next five weeks – the NFL playoffs.

I love the playoffs and so do the majority of sports fans in America as the statistics prove. In fact, statistics also show that the NFL wasn’t just popular in 2013; it has been popular each year for a while – and it keeps building.

According to television numbers, the top four, and nine of the top-10 most watched programs in U.S. history, are Super Bowls. The only exception in the all-time list was the last episode of MASH, which ranks No. 5 (until Feb. 2 when it likely will fade to No. 6 after this year’s Super Bowl vaults ahead of it as the last four Super Bowls have since 2010).

It’s a sign of the times.

I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, but it does prove that people enjoy watching the NFL and especially the Super Bowl.

Christians can view this several ways, with one being that too much attention is being paid to sports, specifically football, or that, although too much attention is being paid to sports, especially football, that believers who play this sport have a platform like no other person can have in the United States.

When their platforms are used to honor God or bring glory to Him in some way, they have a platform that is broader than pastors, evangelists and common people like you and me. But, their platform doesn’t replace pastors, evangelists or ordinary people who share a faith in Christ. We have a platform, as well, but it’s different. And their platform actually helps us by providing a segue into sharing our faith with a culture that is crazy about sports, and the NFL in general.

In the pages that follow, you will find those athletes, specifically football players (one from each of the 12 playoff teams) who have committed their lives to Christ and have been impacting others by sharing their faith.

Not all of them will be able to win the Super Bowl, the prize they all strive for each season, but all are winners in God’s eyes because they follow Christ.

By Brett Honeycutt

This column was published in Sports Spectrum’s special 2014 NFL Playoff DigiMag. Brett Honeycutt is the managing editor of Sports Spectrum magazine. His column addresses topics from a biblical perspective. Follow him on Twitter-@Brett_Honeycutt

Devotional of the Week — Getting Up When You Fall

Detriot Lions v Washington Redskins“Even if good people fall seven times, they will get back up. But when trouble strikes the wicked, that’s the end of them.” Proverbs 24:16

A year after John Elway drove the Denver Broncos to victory in the AFC Championship Game against the Cleveland Browns, the two teams met again to see who would go to the Super Bowl.

Late in the game, with a little more than 1 minute left, it appeared that Cleveland running back Earnest Byner would tie the game, but the ball was stripped from his hands at the 2-yard line, Denver recovered, and the Broncos held on for the victory in one of the greatest games in AFC/NFC Championship history.

Unfortunately, Browns fans remember Byner for what they called “The Fumble” instead of his solid years as a running back for Cleveland.

Byner, though, didn’t wallow in his misery. After being released by the Browns the following season, he spent five years with the Washington Redskins, won two Super Bowls and was named one of the franchise’s 70 Greatest Redskins. He played for the Browns again in 1994-95 and then, ironically, ended his career in 1996-97 for the Baltimore Ravens (the team that was moved from Cleveland by owner Art Modell in 1996).

Byner didn’t let failure keep him down. His career is a great reminder of that, and that when we fall, we should get back up.

By Brett Honeycutt, Sports Spectrum

Brett Honeycutt is the managing editor of Sports Spectrum magazine. Log in here to access our most recent Training Table. Subscribe here to receive 12 issues a year and a daily sports-related devotional.

Airing It Out — From Africa with love and encouragement

Women with BetsyAs I spoke to LPGA legend and World Golf Hall of Famer Betsy King recently, I was encouraged.

I was encouraged by what she’s doing in Africa to help the people spiritually and physically through her organization, Golf Fore Africa, and through a partnership with World Vision.

But I was even more encouraged that 30 years after she was featured in the first issue of Sports Spectrum (then known as Sports Focus), she is still walking with Christ.

Back then, she talked about the pressures of playing at an elite level and what she had learned through her relationship with Christ. Previously, she had felt down on days when she played poorly, but when she became a Christian in 1980, she began to grow in her faith.

“I learned that God doesn’t love me any more because I shoot 68, or any less because I shoot 80,” she told us then. She said a relationship with Christ “gets your life back in perspective and (helps you) realize that golf is just a temporary thing. I need to be concerned about my spiritual life and what’s going to happen for eternity.”

Thirty years later, she continues to stay focused on keeping the right perspective by focusing on her spiritual life and eternity.

I’ll have more on what she’s doing now with Golf Fore Africa and as a player on The Legends Tour in a later issue.

What hit me as I listened to her talk about all that had happened the past 30 years and as she shared her heart about Africa, was that she was still as passionate (and maybe even more so) about her faith and passionate about helping people see Christ in a real and tangible way. Not just through words or Bible verses, but through her actions.

To say that someone is still walking with Christ 30 years later (or is as passionate as they were 30 years down the road) may not sound revelatory, but it is encouraging.

As I combed through the magazine looking at the stories of the athletes we had featured and then looking them up and reconnecting with them to see what they were doing now, I was even more encouraged.

I read about former NFL great (and actor) Rosey Grier, former major leaguer Alvin Davis, former NHL great Mike Gartner, former NFL journeyman John Reaves, the first Ms. Olympia, Rachel McLish, and others.

I found some struggles, and triumphs, but all had continued to walk with the Lord.

Throughout this year, we will revisit those athletes (and more) from that first issue and share their stories of where they were then, what has happened since and what they are doing now.

You will also hear from past editors and publishers of the magazine, which began as Sports Focus in 1985, was renamed New Focus in 1986 and then Second Look in 1987, before finally settling on a name that stuck, Sports Spectrum, near the end of 1990.

They will share their thoughts of their time with Sports Spectrum then and their insight on the world of sports and faith now.

It will be a walk down memory lane in a way, but more than anything it will be a celebration of 30 years of the magazine and a celebration of the faithfulness of people who continue to take their walk with Christ just as serious as they did when they were in the limelight 30 years ago.

By Brett Honeycutt

This column was published in the December 2013 DigiMag and Vol. 28, No. 1 print issue. Brett Honeycutt is the managing editor of Sports Spectrum magazine. His column addresses topics from a biblical perspective. Follow him on Twitter-@Brett_Honeycutt

A Favored Life

IdonijeSpreadThe player with the most improbable road to the NFL has a life so diverse that even a comic book would have difficulty capturing the superhero-like life of Israel Idonije.

Born in Lagos, Nigeria, to missionaries on Nov. 17, 1980, Idonije (pronounced eh-don-ish-aye) moved with his family to Brandon, Manitoba in Canada when he was four years old.

His father, Henry, served the homeless and poor in Manitoba, modeling the life Israel now leads by serving people on two continents and in three countries as he helps others in the U.S., Canada and Nigeria through the Israel Idonije Foundation.

That Israel also owns a business, Blessed Communion, which has made it easier for churches to take communion, makes the super hero narrative seem real.

Until you find out that Israel has a comic book called “The Protectors” and that he’s also a comic book character. Then you realize you really are dealing with a super hero – in real life and through the pages of a comic.

Even Israel’s name shows some type of supernatural tilt.

“‘Israel’ was the name given to Jacob after he wrestled with God,” he says. “There are a number of different meanings or variations given. ‘He would have peace with God and man’ or ‘He who wrestles with God’ or ‘Child of God’ or ‘Soldier of God.’”

“The translation that I hold most is ‘Peace with God and man’ or ‘He who has found favor with God and man.’…I’ve been very fortunate throughout my life. I’ve been blessed to have favor with my fellow humans. Without question, God has shown his favor in my life.”

And who can argue, considering everything that has happened in Israel’s life?

Road to the NFL

If Israel Idonije’s life isn’t unbelievable enough and a demonstration of God’s favor and fortune, his road to the NFL only enhances the narrative.

After moving to Canada, Israel didn’t play football until he was in the 12th grade – and even then he didn’t want to play.

“Football was never something that I aspired to do,” he admits. “I loved basketball as a child; it’s what I wanted to play.”

He was a counselor at a YMCA camp, where he ran a youth/leadership program, when his boss, Kevin Grindey, approached him about playing for his high school team.

“He said, ‘Come on and play.’ I said, ‘No, I don’t want to play football.’ He said, ‘Come out and the worst-case scenario is you would be in great shape for basketball.’ So I went out and I played.

From there, Grindey encouraged Israel to play for the provincial team, which is like the state team. Israel said he would think about it, but Grindey told him to talk to his parents.

“I never spoke with my parents,” Israel admits.

Grindey ended up calling Israel’s mother, Choice. He asked her if Israel had told her about the opportunity and that he had set Israel up with a tryout for the provincial team.

“No, he never told us anything about it.” Choice said.

“I didn’t tell her because I really didn’t want to go,” Israel recalls. “So, against my will, she drove me two and a half hours. I did not want to go to the tryout. She talked the whole way. I did not talk to her. I was not happy.”

But at the camp, Israel’s competitive side kicked in. Not wanting to be embarrassed, he “played hard, ran around, did the drills, did the exercises, and I made the team.”

It helped, because University of Manitoba head coach Brian Dobie was watching, and Israel ended up receiving a scholarship to play football there.

During Israel’s final season, a scout from the Cleveland Browns called and was interested in another player when he asked Dobie if there was anyone else he should see.

“Oh, actually, there is this kid, Israel Idonije,” Dobie said. “He is very rough, he doesn’t know the game well, but you should take a look at him.”

A concern about a SAARS outbreak kept most of the scheduled NFL scouts away the day Israel was going to practice. The only one team that showed up was the Browns.

“He pulled his car up on the field and watched me practice, and he said, ‘Hey, I think you can play in the NFL.’” Israel recalls. “And I ended up signing a free-agent deal with the Cleveland Browns. There’s been favor after favor after favor on me, and if I were to say this was my plan, or if this is what I had planned all along, it would not be the truth.


Faith and Football

Fast forward to 2013 and Israel is a 10-year NFL veteran. He spent his first nine years with Chicago (he only made Cleveland’s practice squad and never played in a game in 2003) and this season with Detroit.

Along the way, he has had a modest career. He led the NFL in blocked punts and field goals in 2005, 2006, and 2007, he was on the 2006 Chicago Bears team that played in Super Bowl XLI, he won the 2009 Ed Block Courage Award (voted by teammates who see nominees as role models of inspiration, sportsmanship and courage), and he was named to USA Today’s 2012 All Joe Team (for unsung heroes who have never made a Pro Bowl).

“It has truly been divine intervention, and a plan, that has, from Day One, been much bigger than me,” Israel says about his time in the NFL. “I’m just trying to do my part, continue to work hard, see the opportunities that arise when they’re in front of me so I can do what I’m supposed to do; do the right things, make the right decisions. Have the impact I’m supposed to have and just continue on the journey.

“To me, football has been a microcosm of real life,” Israel reflects. “Personalities in the locker room just reflect the bevy of personalities in our world, in our communities. What your faith does for you is it brings peace, it brings balance in the midst of those challenges. At your absolute worst, you lean on your faith and you understand that you haven’t been brought this far to lose or to be disappointed or to be let down, because ultimately God has a plan for everybody’s life. And in the time of your success, where everything is at the best, it’s kind of easy to lose your head. What does your faith do for you in those circumstances? It helps you to remember and realize, its’ not by your power and by your might, it’s ultimately by the grace of God that you can have that success…So whether you’re at your worst or at your best, your faith brings that balance to your life and that perspective, that regardless of what it is, up or down, you’re not alone.”

Comic Book Super Hero

In 2007, looking for a different approach to training camp, Israel wrote a story called, The Protectors. It was the basis for what would become a comic book.

“It was a story of athletes who come together to save the world,” Israel says. “These humans were given this gift to save humanity from this evil force that controls earth through religion, through media and through government. And the humans on earth don’t know it.”

“The deceptors are the evil characters that come to earth, assume human form, and become these powerful leaders. Ultimately their goal is to subjugate humanity and to control humans and make humans their subjects to worship for their evil deeds.”

“The one who created earth originally, comes to earth and basically gives humans a spark that allows them the ability to defend and protect.”

The character that Israel created to resemble him is named Isaac Chike, a football player.

“At the core of the story, the message is that regardless of who you are, where you come from, that every single one of us, we each have a gift within us, we each have been given a gift, and it’s up to us to make the right decision. The tagline is, join the fight. It means that you’re going to stand for what is good, what is right. You’re going to make the right decisions. You’re going to live on the right path; you’re going to do those right things.”

“At the core, the comic book is about how everyone can unlock your own gift,” Israel says. “And understanding that you have a gift, you have ability.”


Serving Others

After coming from Nigeria, his father, Henry, had such a heart to feed the homeless and poor that he would go to grocers and ask for food that they couldn’t sell any longer so that they would at least have something.

Henry made soup and sandwiches and went under bridges to feed homeless people.

“That’s what he did,” Israel recalls. “That was his calling, that’s his passion.”

Israel’s mother taught him that “your perspective will carry you through those challenging times. And your faith is really what’s going to shape that perspective. When you’re rooted in faith, your perspective is completely different than someone who does not have that foundation or stability.”

Israel has taken ownership of those lessons and parlayed them into The Israel Idonije Foundation, which reaches out in Chicago, Winnipeg and in parts of West Africa – two continents and three nations.

Idonije has taken Jesus’ command of going into all the world seriously.

“When it comes to service,” Israel says. “The message is, ‘Do what you can with what you have.’ I have just been fortunate.”

He uses five core skills, Self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, responsible decision making and effective communication.

“Over the past five, six years, we’ve built water wells, we’ve done mobile clinics, we’ve built clinics, we’ve done youth empowerment programs, stressing the importance of education, to get them from where they are to a better place.”

“If we’re able to touch one life and make a difference in one life, and that person goes forward and does incredible and great things, it was all worth it.”

Looking Ahead

As if Israel didn’t have enough going on, in 2009 he formed Blessed Communion, a company that sells dual-chambered, pre-filled communion cups and wafers.

It’s an efficient and affordable way for churches to take communion and commemorate The Lord’s Supper.

“It was really not something I was looking at getting into,” Israel says. “I knew that I needed to start preparing for life after football, regardless of what it might be, and I was looking at trying to start some things.”

It wasn’t success at first try, though.

“It was extremely challenging,” he recalls. “There was a point where we were going to say, ‘Cut it loose and let’s move onto something else.’ But we just stayed focused and steadfast and things turned and things got better. The business grew and more clients came on board. The business has been an incredible blessing.”

“Even though 10 years in the NFL is a long time, my NFL chapter is closing in my life,” Israel says. “There’s still so much to experience. I truly believe there is still so much journey to be had. I’m excited about everything God has done in my life, and that He is doing currently in my life, and the things that are still yet to come.”

“With everything I’ve been blessed with and everything I’ve been given and fortunate to have an opportunity to be a part of, I just feel that it’s important that I do what I can with what I have. And this saying holds true, ‘To whom much is given, much is expected,’ and I believe that. So here I am, in the NFL, the greatest platform, in year 11, I just try to continue to impact my community and impact lives around me the way I can, and hope to continue to shine a light and impact lives.”

By Brett Honeycutt

Brett Honeycutt is the managing editor of Sports Spectrum magazine.

Uncommon Challenge