Category Archives: Christianity in Athletics

Newest greatest of NBA Kwahi Leonard keen on Jesus, not so much on money

la-1558749090-vbbgqjllec-snap-imageNot Steph Curry, not LeBron, not KD.

The hottest commodity in basketball right now is Toronto Raptors star Kwahi Leonard who honors Jesus and has single-handedly carried his team to unpredicted wins, first in Game 7 against the Philadelphia 76ers to enter the Eastern Conference, then again last night to upset the Warriors in Game 1 of the finals.

“Last year was a very down year for me (he was injured); I was going through a lot,” says Kwahi, whose buzzer beater to beat the 76ers in Game 7 is now legend. “And you know, God is good! I prayed every day and ended up getting healthy, now I’m able to play basketball. You could just see what He does for you.”

Kwahi is dropping jaws both on offense and on defense. He averaged 35-point games against Philadelphia. He locked down Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks to reverse a 0-2 game deficit to secure the Eastern Conference.

SPURS__V__PORTLAND_10_TR“Leonard is killing dudes in isolation (like Harden), pounding and rocking the basketball (like Harden) before blowing past defenders or hitting step-back threes (like Harden),” Jesse Washington crows on The Undefeated.

Up until last night, the idea that the Golden State Warriors would sweep the finals — again — was thought to be as pre-determined as the Book of Revelations. It was sure to be boring, and only diehard fans and somnambulists who like eye-glazing as they observe the inevitable even bothered to tune in.

But Leonard and the on-fire Raptors suddenly woke up the soporific middle American who only turns on the game if there actually is going to be a game. Now, the final is promising to be interesting.

5bfd789c285e17dc0f8aa679a3d1f82fThe talent-rich Warriors knew they had to double-team and even triple-team Kawhi to win. Stymie the star and blitz to victory. It’s been their not-so-secret strategy, and it has worked against James Harden and Damian Lillard.

It didn’t work last night.

The Marvel’s Avengers of the NBA got blindsided by the no-names of the Raptors. Harassed at every turn, Leonard passed the ball to his teammates, who materialized superstar performance. Pascal Siakim, notorious for poor shooting, transformed suddenly into a marksman, hooping 32 points to lead his team to a 118-109 thrashing.

Will the Golden State league hegemony be broken? Read the rest of Kawhi Leonard Christian.

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First he got mugged, then…

mark munoz ufc fighterIn the cage, Mark Munoz is known as the Filipino Wrecking Machine who bested Tim Boetsch after Munoz recovered from a foot injury and depression-induced obesity. Outside, Mark Munoz is the nicest guy in the UFC and a Christian whose life changed when he turned to God.

“You look back on what happened and all the events that happen in your life, and I see God’s hand on it all,” Mark says in a This Is Me video. “And now I can give people hope.”

Mark’s introduction to professional fighting came by way of getting mugged in the 8th grade. Five kids shoe-lace-tackled him from behind, beat and kicked him and stripped him of his Jordans. He walked home barefoot and, ashamed, faked sickness for as long as he could to not go back to school.

“What happened to your J’s,” a friend taunted.

Mark didn’t want to recount his humiliation on the street. But eventually word got out. That’s when a friend, wanting him to learn how to stand up to bullies and young thugs, invited him to train in wrestling, but Mark wanted no part of it.

mark munoz chris weidman“Nah man,” he retorted. “You guys wear tight leotards and touch each other in funny places, man. I’m good.”

His buddy wasn’t going to be denied so quickly. “I bet you I can take you down in 10 seconds,” he challenged.

“Yeah right,” Mark responded. “I’m 150 pounds, and you’re barely 100 pounds. There’s no way you’re going to take me down.”

Mark broke into a fighting stance.

With two seconds, his friend darted in, picked him up and slammed him on his back.

“I’m like, if wrestling gives you superpowers, I want it,” Mark surmised.

What started in the eighth grade carried through to his senior year in high school. Mark became state champion twice, placed second at junior nationals and second at junior worlds, he says. He earned a full-ride scholarship to Oklahoma State University. He was on the national team twice and tried out for the Olympic team.

“But God had different plans,” he says.

He returned to California to study at UC Davis and met Urijah Favor, who introduced him to MMA. At first, Mark wanted no part of professional fighting; he was coaching and had a wife with four kids while getting his master’s degree.

Filipino Wrecking Machine“And probably my wife won’t allow me to do it either,” he told Urijah.

Just like the wrestling friend in eighth grade, Urijah wasn’t going to be denied so quickly.

Mark wound up going to a UFC practice. The “Who’s Who of UFC” at the time were all there. Spontaneously, he got in the ring to spar with Randy Couture, a legend in UFC and former Army sergeant with training in Greco-Roman wrestling.

Mark didn’t know what the MMA techniques were and was trying to learn and incorporate them in the ring.

“I end up snapping Randy Couture’s head back a little bit, and Urijah smacked into my chest and said, ‘See bro, I told you homie, you can do this,’” Mark remembers. Read the rest: Mark Munoz Christian UFC fighter.

Raised in Appalachian family fighting culture, he found peace with God

usa_today_10392817.0Once, Cody almost sliced off his brother’s finger with a knife. On another occasion, his brother punched his ear so hard, it swelled and became a “cauliflower ear.” Another time, they took their squabble outside city limits where they wailed on each other for 45 minutes. This is how Cody Garbrandt became an MMA champion.

But he almost lost a battle with depression until the same brother intervened.

“I almost hung myself,” Cody says on an I am Second video. “He busted down the door and came in and saved my life. He gave me the biggest hug and sat there with me and cried with me. He said everything was going to be all right. That day was a changing point for me in my life. That brought us even closer, you know, attending church together.”

cody-garbrandtCody grew up in the Appalachian mountains of Ohio in small towns where people are as proud of their hometowns as they are poor in the economically depressed areas of Uhrichsville and Denison.

Fighting is a way of life there — especially for the Garbrandt family.

“From both sides of my family, we were fighters.” Cody says. “We had a last name to uphold. Oh you’re from Garbrandt clan or the Mease clan. You don’t mess with those guys.”

He watched his uncle fight, while his grandfather, drunk in the stands, fought with a spectator.

With his brother Zach Garbrandt

“We’d just be sitting there watching it,” he remembers. “That was normal for us.”

Since fighting was “normal,” Cody and his brother Zach made grappling a normal part of sibling rivalries.

“Out of the womb, I was fighting over the bottle,” Cody jokes. “Zach was my fierce competitor. My brother was always bigger, stronger, faster, meaner than me growing up, so that’s why I was always quick to fight: I had something to prove.

“Me and Zach, we fought so many times in our lives. We had some pretty violent fights.”

Once when Zach provoked him to punch him, Cody grabbed a knife in the sink and slashed him, nearly cutting off his middle finger.

0_1218_SPO_LDN-L-UFC-GARBRANT-HG13“I remember he looked at me, wrapped his finger in a paper towel, punched the stove and shattered the whole glass stove and went back to bed,” Cody remembers.

In their last fight, Cody was 17; Zach, 18.

“We ended up fighting over a Subway sandwich,” he recalls.

After Grandma intervened to stop, the brothers jumped in their cars and drove to “the pump house.”

“That’s where we would take out-of-towners to fight,” he says. “We would take them out of city limits where cops wouldn’t go.”

The fight lasted 45 minutes.

“It was always a knock-out, drag-out fight with Zach,” he says. The fights were so fierce it was possible someone might die.

“My knuckles were all cut up, my lip was bloodied, my teeth were all busted up,” he says. “I hit with a right-handed, overhand right. He had the stanky legs like he was walking in potholes. He looked at me with this crazed look, like, ‘Alright, awesome. Cody finally hit me with a nice shot that hurt me.” Read the rest: Cody Garbrandt’s toughest fight.

He always won until his he lost his wife

zGkHc3DQ_400x400Chicago Bears star Tommie Harris was the best at everything, but he’d never been tested — until his wife died unexpectedly 41 days into their marriage.

“I was #1 getting drafted, #1 going to Oklahoma University, so I never was tested,” Harris recounts on a Grace For Purpose video. “I knew God in a good place. I didn’t know Him in a place when things didn’t go the way I wanted them to go.”

The Texas native was playing for the San Diego Chargers at the time. On a visit from his fiancé, Tommie decided to move the wedding date forward and go to the courthouse right then and there on New Year’s. They already had two kids together.

tommie harris and wifeThe church ceremony would come a few months later, and to fit the white dress better, Ashley wanted a breast reduction. It was a simple procedure, but she never woke up. A brain aneurysm tragically snuffed her life out on the operating table in 2012.

“I had something like $25 million in the bank when I lost Ashley, and not one dollar had been able to help her,” Tommie laments. “If it could have, I would have given every last cent to save my wife.” Read the rest of Tommie Harris’ loss.

Tua Tagovailoa honors Jesus with eye black

tua crimson tide christianWhen the collegiate national championship game is played Monday, the two quarterbacks competing against each other on the gridiron will both be Christians.

Trevor Lawrence at Clemson and Tua Tagovailoa at Alabama are outspoken believers who put their faith before football.

tua points to godLawrence boasts a 67% passing accuracy this season, while Tua enjoyed 70% pinpoint precision.

Tua, whose full Somoan name is Tuanigamanuolepola, made Hawaiian waves (he’s from Hawaii, so of course…) when he posted a picture of himself with eye black painted in the form of the cross under his eyes against Tennessee University.

“Jesus pride!!! Go Tua…and all others who stand for Christ,” one person commented on Facebook. “I appreciate the fact that he isn’t at all shy about his faith. Way to go Tua!”

tua tagovailoaTua selected the Crimson Tide of Alabama University despite intense competition for the quarterback position because Christianity is a big part of the locker room. The previous year, Jalen Hurts won the SEC offensive player of the year as the Crimson QB.

“A lot of people are rooted in the Word over here just like back home,” Tagovailoa noted on BamaInsider. “The Southern hospitality is almost the same as the love and the kindness that they show back at home.

with his parents diana and galu“You have to go places to compete, so why not come to the best place?” he added. “You want to play with the best, I guess. That’s kind of my thing. Anywhere you go, you’re going to have to compete.”

Tua was given a chance to play during some blowout games during his freshman season. But in the championship game when Hurts was losing at the first half, Tua was given the nod to lead his team to a comeback 26-23 victory against Georgia last season. Read the rest of the story of Tua Christian

With bow and arrow gesture, Brandin Cooks celebrates TD and glorifies God

brandon cooks archerNicknamed the “Archer,” Rams wide receiver Brandin Cooks celebrates touchdowns by mimicking a bow and arrow shot as a reference to the Bible.

“It’s just another way to be able to glorify God rather than just pointing to the sky,” Cooks says in Sports Spectrum. “Just bringing a unique way, so my hope is when fans see me, they see God in me. That’s the biggest part of it all. If anything, I’m shooting it at God. It’s my way of thanking him and bringing a little twist to it.”

Cooks alludes to Psalms 144:6: “Send forth lightning and scatter the enemy; shoot your arrows and rout them.”

brandon cooks christian ramsA devout Christian, Cooks shoots plenty of scriptural arrows through social media.

“Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Whatever you do walk with boldness, and know you are fully equipped,” he tweeted recently.

Cooks was born on Sept. 25, 1993 in Stockton, California, and lived there with his father, Worth Cooks, and mother, Andrea Cooks. His father died of a heart attack when he was only 6-years-old so Wayne and his three brothers were raised by their mother.

brandon cooks statsHe began to show promise in football playing for Stockton’s Lincoln High School. He grabbed 141 receptions for 2,508 yards and 28 touchdowns, which ranked him the 26th-best wide receiver and the 240th overall prospect in his class, according to the Recruiting Network.

Cooks then attended Oregon State University, where he caught 226 receptions for 3,272 yards and 24 touchdowns. As a senior, he was drafted by the New Orleans Saints in 2014. In Cooks’ first career game, he made seven receptions for 77 yards and a touchdown.

This made him the youngest player, at 20, to catch a touchdown pass in the NFL since Reidel Anthony in 1997. As he closed his first season, Cooks had 53 receptions gaining 550 yards and three touchdowns before injuring his thumb in Week 11 against the Cincinnati Bengals.

In 2015 Cooks began the season as the #1 wide receiver for the Saints. In the Week 5 game against the Philadelphia Eagles he received over 100 yards in one game for the first time in his career. His five receptions totaled 107 yards and a touchdown. Read the rest of Brandin Cooks Christian.

Clemson’s QB is Christian. So is ‘Bama’s.

christian quarter backs national championshipClemson freshman sensation quarterback Trevor Lawrence made clear that he doesn’t care as much about football as he does about Jesus.

“Eerily similar” to Deshaun Watson, Lawrence made heads turn as he threw for 2,933 total yards, 27 touchdowns and four interceptions with a 65.5 completion percentage, leading his team to the national championship game on Jan. 7th.

“Football is important to me, obviously, but it’s not my life; it’s not like the biggest thing in my life, I would say my faith is,” the 6’5” 215-pound precision passer said in a postgame interview. “That just comes from knowing who I am outside of (football). No matter how big the situation is, it’s not going to define me. I put my identity in what Christ says and who He thinks I am and who He says I am.

trevor lawrence christian“So really, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what people think about me or how good they think I play or whatever.”

Clemson University is happy to have the calm, cool and collected QB marshaling their missiles.

“When he first got here, you could always tell. He just had a presence about him. His talent, it’s fun to watch.” says senior offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt on The State website. “I always sensed it in practice.” Read he rest of Trevor Lawrence Christian.

Revival in public schools through Christians in athletics

Football Linemen UCLA 2018 Fellowship of Christian AthletesWhenever Christians complain about declining attendance in established churches, Josh Brodt pipes up about the thousands of kids who accept Jesus every year. Revival is happening in our public schools, he says.

“We’ve seen quite a revival taking place in the San Fernando Valley,” says Josh, 34. “Students are hungry for something real, something more than what the world offers. It’s clear to me that students need genuine faith in something more than themselves, and they’re searching for that.

“It’s been phenomenal to see.”

FCA San Fernando Valley Revival ChristianityJosh works for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which coordinates with students to bring professional and college athletes to talk to high school sports teams. He personally meets with coaches and students at 15 high schools.

Last academic year, FCA workers in the San Fernando Valley, a part of Los Angeles that holds about half its population, saw 459 kids get saved, and they gave away 2,000 Bibles. The year prior, 900 students accepted Jesus, he says.

“A lot of students feel like outsiders, like they don’t have a place to belong, a place to call their own.” Josh says. “FCA is a place where people can belong, a spiritual community where students can feel comfortable.”

“On campuses people are desperate for God, they’re desperate for Jesus,” he adds. “A lot of them are recognizing that, and they’re making decisions towards that end.”

Revival high school athleticsMedia and sociological reports harp on declining memberships in established protestant churches and the growth of “nones,” people who report to Census and other surveys as having no religion.

But these depressing numbers don’t tell the whole story. While “established” churches may be declining and closing, those same surveys don’t catch the number of new churches opening simply because they don’t register them.

And while the number of “nones” grows significantly, the hopelessness of a meaningless and moral-less worldview make for a ripe harvest field. Read more about revival in public schools.