Another Angle — Fifteen hundred enjoyable feet

It doesn’t matter that I know he survived. It doesn’t matter that I know he made it.

As I sit here in my office and re-watch world-renowned aerialist Nik Wallenda’s 22-minute high-wire walk over the Grand Canyon from June, I’m sure it looks more like I’m back in my high school Health & Wellness class watching a video about child birth—nervously peeking through my fingers, feeling somewhat queasy, wanting it all to be over so I can breathe again, and, like Wallenda, saying to myself, “This will be over soon; just don’t look down.”

It’s not an exaggeration.

Re-watching Wallenda’s unbelievable feat (and feet) really does give me the heebie-jeebies. When the chopper circles the speckle of a person (with no harness) balancing on a two-inch wire in the vastness of a 1,500-foot drop, I must admit, all I see is the dot on the wire meeting gravity like a raindrop.

Throw the wind in there (20 mph gusts), the canyon dust accumulating on the wire (he’s surrounded by a giant rock, after all), the rippling of the wire (something scientific that I don’t understand), the optical illusion he was experiencing (I can’t even stare at a book for 20 minutes straight, not to mention a wire suspended over eternity), and the fact he’s wearing a standard pair of jeans that flap in the wind at his ankles (did his secretary mess up his schedule and tell him he had a business meeting at Applebee’s?)—and his stunt becomes one of the most horrifying things I’ve seen since The Exorcism of Emily Rose.

In my opinion, though frightening, Wallenda’s stunt was so intriguing, skilled, and historic that it may be the best sporting moment of 2013. That’s why I’m writing about it.

But I also like what it represents. And I like what Wallenda represents.

If you haven’t watched Wallenda’s entire 22-minute walk across the Grand Canyon, I recommend it—as terrifying as it is. Yes, you’ll see him make history. But you’ll also see what he believes. It’s as much a 22-minute prayer as it is a walk.

“It (the wire) really is, in a sense, somewhat of a prayer closet,” Wallenda told me via email. “That may sound strange, but when I step on the cable, the other cares of life are no longer in play. I am focused on the walk itself, of course, but then it just becomes a conversation with God as I’m walking.”

Before he reached the midway point of his walk, he said some variation of “Praise Jesus,” “Thank you Lord,” “Yes Jesus,” or “Hallelujah” 62 times (about 83 times total). And right when he took his first step on the wire and peered over the canyon, he said, “Praise God, this is awesome. Thank you Jesus for this beautiful view.”

I find it interesting that, though fear and death are below, he embraces it all, he experiences God in the midst of the Grand Canyon in 2013 or the mist of Niagara Falls in 2012, and his prayers rise upward. I can’t think of a better example of both enjoying God and depending on Him.

As I watched Wallenda’s walk, I must admit, part of me envied him—not because I want to be on the wire, I think I’d rather be Abraham in Genesis 17, but because I want my life to look like Wallenda’s walk. To be that risky, to be that dependent, to walk with the Lord down the straight and narrow in such a way that no outside factors can deter me. I want to welcome adventure because of the view. I want to embrace challenges because it forces dependency. But how?

“As a tightrope walker, I always try to establish a fixed point to focus on, particularly when there are so many elements in play that are a distraction or that are coming against me,” Wallenda says. “My walks over Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon were perfect examples. I faced winds, mist, and the movement of the cable, but my focus was on the solid rock on the other side. Christ is that solid rock for my faith. Life brings a lot of challenges that want to knock you off course, but we have to focus on Him. He’s that solid and unmoving rock.”

See, when you know your focus is on solid rock, all you have to do is keep walking, one foot in front of the other, enjoying God every step of the way. The fact that you’re enjoying and experiencing God can make a challenging walk joyful.

“I try to focus on the promise of Proverbs 3:5-6,” Wallenda says. “To paraphrase, trust me with everything, and I’ll direct your paths.”

And sometimes that path is a wire.

ColumnSigBy Stephen Copeland

This column appeared in the January 2014 Sports Spectrum DigiMag. Stephen Copeland is a staff writer and columnist at Sports Spectrum magazine. His column tackles sports and faith from another angle, whether it’s humorous, personal or controversial. Follow him on Twitter-@steve_copeland or email him at stephen.copeland@sportsspectrum.com.

From Our Friends in Russia

The Opening Ceremony for the Winter Olympics in Russia also provided the opening for Christian athletes and leaders to serve the Sochi community through activities at three community fan zones in the city. We distributed more than 500,000 pieces of spiritual literature with testimonies of faith. Also, six Russian-speaking chaplains are here to present the Gospel by using sport as a means to share Christ with people. More than 10 other cities all over Russia are daily reaching out to the community through sports festivals and spiritual sports programs. Pray for enduring fruits of this hard and exciting work. 

This is a short two minute video from a national TV station about the work of the believers.

This ten year old boy in the white sweater is leading a Bible study group.

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These three boys decided to buy food packets and distribute them to the most needy families in the community.

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From the Archives — Can’t Hide Her Love

Kelly Clark sat alone in a Utah hotel room, writing in her journal. It was another contest beginning another season: 2004, two years past the pinnacle of her stellar career when she became the first American female to win an Olympic snowboarding gold medal.

That same year, 2002, she also won every other event, including the Winter X Games, and attained all her professional goals—at age 18. Clark was the queen of snowboarding and had everything: fame, money, travel, the ability to dictate her career. It was incredible—for a little while.

Now it all felt empty. “I was writing about if I didn’t wake up tomorrow, I was fine with that,” says Clark in the Nations Foundation film One Year. “I didn’t think anybody would care if I didn’t wake up tomorrow. I was writing if this was what life was, then I was done with life.”

Fast forward to the present: Kelly Clark is still alive. She’s still pushing women’s halfpipe riding to new levels. She’s still a medal favorite going into Olympic qualifying for Vancouver. But the emptiness is gone. Now she’s filled with love—a love that she can’t contain. And that changes everything. “Basically when I came to the end of myself, God met me,” Clark says.

Back to Rock Bottom

Later that dark day in Utah during qualifying heats, Clark overheard another rider consoling a crying contestant who had fallen and been knocked out of the competition. “It’s all right, God still loves you,” the girl offered.

The simple statement lit a spark of hope. Maybe God loves me? Clark thought. It was something to hold on to. Clark tracked down the girl at their hotel, introduced herself and asked the girl to tell her about God.

Clark had never been to church and only knew stereotypes about Christianity. “It was about going to church. It was about being good and following rules. That was my understanding of God,” she says.

Her new friend explained that following Jesus was about relationship, not religion. Clark took it to heart and began questioning life, spirituality, God. She knew her conditioning coach was a Christian and asked if she could bounce questions off him as she sorted things out. “He was like, ‘Definitely, we’ve been praying for you,’ ” Clark says. “And I was like, ‘I don’t know what that means.’ ”

He gave her a Bible and The Purpose Driven Life. Clark began to read and pray, asking God, “Okay, if you’re real, show me that you’re real.” After about five months, she asked herself two questions: “‘Could I ever wake up another day and not think about God?’ And the answer was no because He was already so real and active. And I asked myself, ‘Could I ever run from Him?’ And I was like, ‘No, because I know that He loves me.’ So I was like, ‘Okay, that’s it, and then I gave my heart to the Lord.’”

New Identity

With the winter season ending, Clark’s world travels slowed down, and she plugged into The Lighthouse, a snowboarder church in Mammoth Lakes, Calif. There she found community and a haven to grow in her new beliefs.

As the next winter drew closer, Clark felt some nervousness about how she would be received back on the snow scene. One day at church she was struck by the words of a worship song and sensed God speaking to her. “He was like, ‘Kelly, your love for me is going to be something that you can’t hide. It’s not going to be something you’re going to have to tell people about or put on display or prove. It’s just going to be something you cannot hide,’” she says.

It brought her peace and gave her an idea. She asked a friend to create a new sticker with the words Jesus I cannot hide my love. A snowboarder’s board is a place of importance, a place to display stickers of sponsors and allegiances and things of value. Kelly placed the new sticker prominently on the nose of her board.

“I basically figured honesty and openness are the best way to go,” she says. “Regardless of what was going to happen, I knew God was with me and that it was about love. It wasn’t about making a point or something.”

Some people didn’t understand the changes to Clark’s lifestyle, but most of her friends and sponsors embraced her for who she was. It was hard to argue with the fruit of her new life.

The biggest changes came internally as her identity shifted. Clark had been snowboarding since she was 7, structuring her life around the sport since her early teens and riding as a full-time pro straight out of high school. Snowboarding defined her, so it took a process of unlearning and relearning to separate who she is from the sport she loves.

“There came all sorts of freedom and joy with my snowboarding, with my competing, with my career,” Clark says. “I get to snowboard because I love to do it, and because God made me to do it. I don’t have to snowboard anymore to prove to people who I am.”

“That’s what’s rad about Kelly, she’s not trying to fit an image. She’s totally cool with how she is,” says J.J. Johnson, pro snowboarder and vice president of Nations Foundation, a snowboarding ministry. “She pushes the focus at Jesus and not at herself.”

Olympic Realities

Life didn’t become perfect after meeting Jesus, though. Clark experienced more injuries than ever in the two years after becoming a Christian. Her TK knee surgery took six months to heal, and she suffered a concussion and two broken wrists. Her return to the 2006 Olympics wasn’t sealed until the last possible qualifier.

Then at Turin, she missed a medal by one point after falling on the last trick of her final run—a frontside 900, or two and a half rotations. She describes it as “a heartbreak,” adding “But it’s not a life-shaking thing.”

Clark feels healthier than ever in all aspects of her life as she focuses on Vancouver 2010. “It’s so much more fun when you’re not thinking that if it doesn’t work out, then your life’s going to be over,” she says. “But at the same time I’ve got to put my entire heart into it.”

Being a self-described, goal-oriented person, Clark is focused on gold. If she can maintain her momentum from a strong last season, her chances should be good. Last year she finished on the podium in every halfpipe contest she participated in and won the overall titles for Dew Tour Halfpipe, Swatch Ticket to Ride World Snowboard Tour and the Grand Prix.

“She’ll definitely come out of Vancouver with another medal,” says fellow 2006 Olympian Andy Finch. “She’s riding so well. Her confidence is up. She’s boosting bigger than all the other girls. There are definitely some other girls stepping up, but they don’t have her amplitude.”

Winning another Olympic gold would bring a sense of freedom, satisfaction and validation of eight years of hard work. But whatever the outcome—win or lose, healthy or injured—Clark is confident in her identity. She knows God loves her, and that’s something she just can’t hide.

“Just being able to pursue my dreams with God is something that’s part of the journey I’m on right now,” Clark says. “It’s been a really fun adventure.”

By Jeremy V. Jones

Jeremy V. Jones is a freelance writer, and the former editor of Breakaway magazine, who lives in Colorado Springs, Co. This story was published in Sports Spectrum’s Winter 2009 issue. 

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.

NEW Super Bowl XLVIII DigiMag Now Available

February 2014 JPEG CoverOur Super Bowl XLVIII and February 2014 DigiMag is now available. This issue features exclusive interviews from Super Bowl XLVIII Media Day on Tuesday along with in-depth faith stories on players and coaches on the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos. Our columns also touch on a variety of issues. Managing editor Brett Honeycutt writes about Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman in his column “Airing It Out,” and staff writer Stephen Copeland writes about his experience in New York City in his column “Another Angle.”

Consider it our gift to you. Click HERE to view our Super Bowl XLVIII DigiMag for FREE. To receive 12 issues of Sports Spectrum magazine a year, subscribe HERE.

Airing It Out — Humility, we need more of it

Richard Sherman’s post-game rant after the NFC Championship game has been a lesson in believability, apologies that carry no weight and a reminder that humility is difficult, but that it’s what God says He desires.

He reminds us of this in Matthew 23:12 and tells us what will happen if we don’t, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Like some of you, I was shocked and disappointed when Sherman, a cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks, screamed into the microphone during a post-game interview just after Seattle beat the San Francisco 49ers to advance to the Super Bowl against the Denver Broncos.

Fox Sports sideline reporter Erin Andrews asked Sherman to take her through that final play of the game when Sherman tipped a pass that was intended for receiver Michael Crabtree in the end zone, and Seattle intercepted to seal the victory.

“Well, I’m the best corner in the game!” Sherman screamed with his deep voice that seemed to be slowly going hoarse from the strain of yelling. “When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you gonna get. Don’t you ever talk about me!”

“Who was talking about you?” Andrews asked, somewhat perplexed.

“Crabtree! Don’t you open your mouth about the best or I’m gonna shut it for you real quick!”

If this would have been an isolated incident, I would have still been shocked and disappointed, but I would have passed it off as adrenaline getting the best of someone and/or a player who didn’t care about sportsmanship, and then likely thought little about it.

But it wasn’t an isolated incident. Sherman is known for taunting players, from instigating a skirmish with the Washington Redskins to his infamous post-game rant toward New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

That incident is where my mind immediately went after watching his interview with Andrews. After the New England game, he ran up to Brady after Seattle won and began taunting Brady. Then Sherman taunted even more by tweeting a photo of him screaming at Brady with the phrase, “U MAD BRO?” written on the picture. Later, he went on Fox NFL Kickoff and laughed about it.

I also thought about the children who saw what he said after Seattle’s game against San Francisco and whether they were influenced to do the same. But then I thought about the parents who likely used it as a teaching moment about how not to act after winning and teaching them about humility and what God says about it: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6

Later, though, when I read that Sherman had apologized, I thought that he had had time to digest things and saw how wrong he had been (that’s what an apology is; someone realizes they were wrong, admits it and moves on).

He texted this apology to ESPN’s Ed Werder: “I apologize for attacking an individual and taking the attention away from the fantastic game by my teammates … That was not my intent.”

He even wrote the following in a column on Sports Illustrated’s Monday Morning QB website on Jan. 30 (he has been writing a column since July): “If I could pass a lesson on to the kids it would be this: Don’t attack anybody. I shouldn’t have attacked Michael Crabtree the way I did. You don’t have to put anybody else down to make yourself bigger.”

But those were just words. Convenient, I guess, because of the firestorm he found himself in after the game.

How do I know that he still wants the attention and that his lesson to kids was as empty as a deflated football?

Because on his personal website he is still selling t-shirts with the phrases he uttered to attack people, “Don’t you ever talk about me” and “You mad bro?” and a copy of his signature and logo on each shirt, bringing attention to himself.

Humility doesn’t look like that. It looks like someone who Richard Sherman texted and wrote about (apologetic, sorry for a wrong committed, teaching lessons to children), but not what Richard Sherman is displaying by his past and current actions (his attacking rants and promoting and profiteering from what he said was wrong).

Humility isn’t just saying something, it’s putting into action what you say.

It’s difficult, but it’s required and desired by God.

By Brett Honeycutt

This column was published in Sports Spectrum’s February 2014 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

Feature Story — Michael Robinson: Peace Within The Storm

Super Bowl XLVIII Media Day

Dehydration.

Kidney failure.

Liver failure.

Rapid weight loss.

Job loss.

All were part of a whirlwind of bad news for Seattle Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson.

And though the seeming chaos would likely have been too much to handle for most, Robinson never feared in the midst of his trial.

Jump back to the morning of August 17, just before Seattle was to host a preseason game against the Denver Broncos, the same Super Bowl XLVIII opponent of the Seahawks.

Robinson had been taking Indocin, an anti-inflammatory medication prescribed by the team, when he says he began feeling dehydrated. That, coupled with oncoming sickness, led to near liver and kidney failure.

He lost weight and missed several weeks of practice.

From there, Robinson’s news got worse – Seattle released him on Aug. 31.

Sick, weak and without a job, Robinson had to think about recovering and gaining back the more than 30 pounds he lost (he dropped from 245 pounds to 212 pounds) before he could think about playing again – for any team.

“I went to the hospital three separate times,” he said during the week of the Super Bowl. “Two times they sent me home and just told me to keep getting fluids. I went two weeks without eating, so I lost a lot of weight.”

On the third time to the hospital, they figured it out.

“(The doctors) hadn’t seen anything like this,” he said. “Then, once we brought the liver specialist in and the kidney specialist in, they had seen these types of reactions before and they were all over it.”

Slowly, he regained his strength and weight, and later visited the Tennessee Titans and New York Giants, but circumstances brought him back to Seattle, which signed him on Oct. 22 when his replacement, Derrick Coleman, went down with a hamstring injury.

Before being signed, thoughts of playing in the Super Bowl didn’t even cross his mind because he quietly wondered if he would ever play football again – for any team.

When asked during the week of the Super Bowl if he would have been content with his career had he not played this season, he said, “Yeah, I think I would have been because I don’t want football to define me. I’m a man, a Christian, a husband and a father who just happens to play football, so I would have been okay with it. It would have been in God’s plan.”

“I didn’t fear it, but yeah I did think about it. I definitely didn’t fear it because football doesn’t define me. I think that’s the big problem with players in this league. When they try and transition out of this game, football defines them. They don’t know what else to do. I encourage younger players all the time in the offseason to think of this offseason as if you’ve played your last season. What are you going to do? Get involved in other things. Have a drive, have a motive to get up in the morning other than football.”

Many saw the tears he shed after the Seahawks won the NFC Championship against their rivals, the San Francisco 49ers and he’s been asked about them quite a bit.

“I’ve gotten a lot of questions about me crying and all that type of stuff, but it was just I had a long year being cut, being sick, not really realizing the extent of the sickness,” he said during the week leading up to the Super Bowl. “I didn’t know that my kidneys were failing and my liver was failing. I had no idea. I just thought I was getting a bug. But again, hindsight is 20/20 and I’m glad I’m here now. I’ve got my weight back, got my strength back, and it was an opportunity to come back (to Seattle) and I’m glad it opened up.”

It was tough, though, coming back to a team that had cut him, but he also understood the business side of the team’s decision.

“I wrestle with it, but it was easy when I looked at my relationship with the guys on the team,” he said during the week of the Super Bowl. “That’s why you play this game, and I feel like a big reason why we’re here is that every man in that locker room thinks the same way. We all play because of the guy next to you. You all perform because the guy next to you is counting on you. Peer accountability, the biggest thing is accountability, so that’s what we try to do.”

“I got released because I was sick early in training camp. It’s the business of the National Football League. If you can’t put a product on the field, you can’t be on the team. It’s definitely gratifying to be back here with the team and in the Super Bowl.”

By Brett Honeycutt

Brett Honeycutt is the managing editor of Sports Spectrum magazine. This article was published in the February 2014 DigiMag.

Another Angle — A city’s whisper

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New York City has a way of reminding you of the vast immensity of this world.

I had never been to New York City, not until this week for Super Bowl XLVIII festivities. The closest I’d been before this week was a connecting flight at La Guardia this past fall, but the man giving me an aerial tour in the seat behind me could tell my brain got lost somewhere in the Hudson River below. For an Indiana kid who grew up with a cornfield in his back yard, NYC was a lot to handle.

Before then, my perception of NYC existed in musical productions: taking down Pulitzer and Hearst in Newsies; Daddy Warbucks singing “NYC” in Annie; that snapping-finger gang in West Side Story, a scene that would forever make me believe I was tough enough to be in a gang.

But NYC always seemed to be just that—a fantasy, something I saw through a plane window, on a television screen, or imagined while belting “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” in the shower…you know, like normal guys do.

On Monday, however, I stepped outside the bus station on 32nd street (I think) and was hit in the face with a crippling arctic wind. I looked left, looked right, pulled out the map on my iPhone, looked left again, looked right again, heard the honks of the taxi cabs and havoc of city traffic, and stood wide-eyed as New Yorkers bumped by me with their coffees and briefcases on their way to work. I could finally somewhat tangibly comprehend the magnitude of this city I had always fantasized about.

We tried to find Times Square to pick up our Super Bowl credentials but ended up in an alley. We wondered if Times Square was a hoax, then decided we were just ignorant. Eventually, we found it, and the buildings pierced into the sky as an array of moving advertisements made my distracted eyes rattle in their cages.

I couldn’t help but think about how big New York City was, and how small I felt. I like moments like these—times when you realize how small you are. Because I think a life without transcendence only leads to misery. The most stressed and anxious people I know are those who believe it’s all up to them, who are consumed in their to-do lists and solving every problem that comes their way. And I confess, much of the time, I live like this. And maybe depression thrives from this, in the lie it’s all up to us, in the lie we are bigger than we actually are. If there is nothing that transcends, then on whom do we depend on? Ourselves.

This transcendence, I think, takes place on all levels—in the depths of who we are, and in crafts we perfect. When we attended Super Bowl Media Day at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., on Tuesday, it was apparent many of the Seattle Seahawks believed that sports were merely an avenue for something else to transcend. In one of my favorite interviews from that day, Seahawks defensive passing game coordinator Rocky Seto said the following:

“Ultimately, we like to use this platform of the Super Bowl to tell people that Jesus is the greatest treasure that you could ever hope to have…and He’s free! He’s free. Everyone would like to be on a Super Bowl team, but that lasts for a moment, and it’s over. I can’t remember who won a Super Bowl three years ago. I’d have to think really hard. But Jesus never changes.”

For many guys on the Seahawks, like quarterback Russell Wilson, left tackle Russell Okung, safety Chris Maragos, and long snapper Clint Gresham, this was the theme to not only their profession but also their entire being: transcendence. Sure, they want to win the Super Bowl—more than anything. But if this is where the world begins and ends, on the field at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, then it’s an awfully small world. There’s a freedom in feeling small in a big world, but bondage in feeling big in a small world. This is counter-cultural, but it is true.

As the week unfolded, this theme continued. We left New York City on Wednesday and stayed with one of my best friends in Philadelphia that evening. That night, we attended an event through “The Veritas Forum” at the University of Pennsylvania’s Irvine Auditorium, a building I can only describe as transcending itself, its very gothic architecture capturing your soul and stretching it into the spiritual, with its 11,000-pipe organ and a ceiling so high it’d have to be cleaned by an eagle with a can of Pledge.

One of the professors on the three-person panel was a concert pianist named Mia Chung. She has performed in concert halls around the world and has been widely praised throughout the media, including The New York Times. If that’s not impressive enough for you, she graduated magna cum laude from Harvard, received a master’s degree from Yale, and obtained a doctorate from Julliard.

Chung talked about how music has the ability to extend deeper than sound. It’s an opportunity for her, being created in the image of God, to relate to the Creator in her own creation of music. She hopes her music is a mere reflection, a droplet of heaven perhaps, that gives the listener a taste of something supernatural we all foundationally long for.

Isn’t this what music is? Isn’t this what sports are? They are a mere reflection of something transcending, propelling us into the mystery of wonder, whether it’s hope or joy or pain, a city whispering to its people to experience its magnitude.

And in this whisper, I find a call for my life to reflect the same.

ColumnSigBy Stephen Copeland

This column appeared in the February 2014 Sports Spectrum DigiMag. Stephen Copeland is a staff writer and columnist at Sports Spectrum magazine. His column tackles sports and faith from another angle, whether it’s humorous, personal or controversial. Follow him on Twitter-@steve_copeland or email him at stephen.copeland@sportsspectrum.com.

Super Bowl Predictions — Clyde Christensen: The Keys to Beating Denver and Seattle

Indianapolis Colts v Pittsburgh Steelers

Clyde Christensen is the quarterbacks coach for the Indianapolis Colts, the only team this season to beat the Denver Broncos (the NFL’s best offense of all time) and Seattle Seahawks (the NFL’s best defense this season).

Sports Spectrum asked Christensen, “What are the keys to beating Denver and Seattle?”

HOW TO BEAT DENVER

1. Kidnapping Peyton would be the easiest way. But if you can’t do that, then a couple things you have to do is keep him off the field. That offense, the more snaps they get the more points they score, so you have to be able to run the ball on their defense, you have to be able to run the clock, you have to be smart with the ball, you can’t give them a short field, you can’t give them extra possessions. They drive the ball, but you have to make it take some time. You’ve got to give them a little chance to somewhat self-destruct, which they don’t do often.

2. You have to be able to have somebody to play (Wes) Welker in that slot; he just gnaws away at you. He just eats away your foundation. The ball comes out so quick to him. And if you’re not all over it, he just takes it, and he just kind of keeps slicing you up. You don’t lose any limbs, but you sure do bleed profusely. You have to have someone who matches up to him. Seattle actually does have good defensive backs; they’re very strong in the secondary.

3. Try and make Peyton and their offense single-dimensional. When they can get both (the passing and running games) going like they’ve been able to do this year, they’re extremely, extremely hard to stop. You don’t know which to defend. Both running backs are hard-nosed tough guys who get yards after contact, and if you let them have their way and start running their draws and start running around the corner and hitting the screens, combined with the passes, they’re going to have some trouble.

4. You have to not give them the big play. (Wide receiver) Demaryius Thomas, whether it’s a screen that’s thrown one yard over the line of scrimmage and then run for 90 (yards), or whether it’s a 90-yard bomb over top of everything. You just not cannot give them long balls. You’ve got to make them go the long way. Give them at least a chance to make them stop themselves and give yourself a chance to pop a ball loose.

5. You’re not going to win the game 7-6, or 10-7. It’s just not going to be one of those kinds of games. (Peyton is) too gritty. He’s been doing it too long. You have to be conservatively aggressive, if you will, offensively, because you know you do have to score points if you want to have any chance to win this thing. Again, it’s the end of the rope here; you’re playing to win the game. There’s no other consolation prize. You know you have to find some spot where you can grab a possession with an onside kick that you can get a turnover, where you can flip the field somehow with your special teams and get some help that way.

HOW TO BEAT SEATTLE

1. They play that good defense. You have to be able to get off the line of scrimmage with your receivers. They’re going to get hands on you. They’re corners are big, long, good players, and you have to get in some stacks and clusters and get some guys free to get up the field. If you can get off the line of scrimmage, you have some chances to complete some balls and you actually have a chance to complete a couple of big ones. They will gamble, they will take chances.

2. You have to control their pass rush. It will help having a neutral site. They’re hard to handle. (Like Denver) we had (Seattle) at home also, but they’re hard to handle at their place where their crowd is so loud and your offensive tackles can’t get off on the snap count. Denver will have a little advantage that they don’t have them in Seattle, but they have to control those outside guys. You can’t let Peyton get hit there. They’re excellent on getting the sack.

3. (Quarterback) Russell Wilson is a neat, neat, neat kid, and has had two great years. You have to keep him kind of contained. You can’t let him start getting 15-yard runs. On third down, you’ve got to control him and not let him run for first downs. He’s been a master of third-and-10; you’re almost off the field and he pulls that thing down and finds a way to get a first down.

4. (Running back) Marshawn Lynch, he’s probably one of the best in the business. It’s hard to play them not in your eight-man front because he breaks tackles, they have a good offensive line, and they run the ball well. Once they get running that thing, and all of a sudden you can’t get that ball back, the time of possession swings Seattle’s way, then they’re hard to handle also.

LEARNING IN THE DESERT

Two years ago, Peyton Manning was released by the Indianapolis Colts, and the organization made changes from the front office to the coaches and also within the team. Staying, though, was Indianapolis Colts assistant Clyde Christensen, who had been with the Colts since 2002 coaching various offensive positions. He is now the quarterbacks coach and is mentoring Andrew Luck, the young gun who took over for Manning, who is now leading Denver in the Super Bowl.

He shares with Sports Spectrum what God has been teaching him these last two years:

“We had such a neat bunch of Christian coaches…For whatever reason, the Lord just kind of moved everyone on…and it’s been a lonely couple of years for me. I lost a bunch of Christian brothers. I think what I have found is that God fills that void. It’s just been precious time with Him. He is the treasure. The relationship with Him is what sustains you. The brothers in Christ are the dessert, if you will, but He is the whole meal in itself, and so it’s been fun to spend my time with Him and not with quite as many brothers.

“And the other thing is that you don’t know what He’s up to. The Lord’s given us a neat opportunity to share around here and He’s brought some new faces, and believers, some unbelievers.

“I’ve been reminded that God knows what He’s doing and to just relax in Him and relax and know He’s got a plan. We don’t know what that is, it’s not all been revealed to us. You don’t know what He’s up to, you don’t know where He needs other people. You don’t know what he’s preparing you for here or this is preparation for doing something different, somewhere else, a different team, a different position. All our (former coaches and players) are out in the league now. Was it for us all to encourage each other, get strong, and then He sends us out in the mission field, in what we’ve been called, the NFL, to reproduce in Him and for Him at other franchises? I’ve been greatly encouraged.

“I get more and more peace that He’s so sovereign, so good, that He’s got such a magnificent plan, and just to make sure that I’m in it and getting myself and my ego and my selfishness, and all those things I continue to wrestle with, out of His way so that His work can be done.”

By Brett Honeycutt

Brett Honeycutt is the managing editor at Sports Spectrum magazine. This story was published in the February 2014 Sports Spectrum DigiMag.

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