Christ often speaks to us through messengers from across the entertainment world.
With the recent chart-topping success of the working-class anthem “Rich Men North of Richmond,” for instance, overnight music sensation Oliver Anthony has used his sudden and enormous platform to spread God’s word. On several occasions, Anthony has even opened his concerts by reading passages from Scripture.
For nearly a century, the same phenomenon has occurred in the world of sports. In fact, five Christian athletes and coaches in particular have shown immense courage and humility in the name of faith. Their examples deserve remembrance.
In 1924, Scottish runner Eric Liddell won a gold medal in the 400-meter dash at the Summer Olympics in Paris. Liddell made news, however, when he refused to run in the 100-meter dash — scheduled on a Sunday — because he would not break his Christian commitment to honor the Sabbath.
The 1981 Academy Award-winning film “Chariots of Fire” told the story of Liddell’s courage at the 1924 Olympics. But that courage manifested throughout Liddell’s life.
Duncan Hamilton’s 2016 biography, “For the Glory: Eric Liddell’s Journey from Olympic Champion to Modern Martyr,” showcased the legendary Christian athlete’s faith under devastating circumstances.
According to a review of Hamilton’s book by The Gospel Coalition, an online repository for Christian documents and resources, Liddell devoted his post-Olympics life to Christian missionary work in China. During World War II, Liddell suffered confinement in an internment camp under Japanese occupation but did not allow his ordeal to alter his Christian commitment.
Indeed, while detained by the Japanese, Liddell lived his faith. In fact, accounts from survivors “overflow with praise for Liddell’s integrity and unselfishness.” Liddell died of a brain tumor shortly before war’s end in 1945.
Jackie Robinson’s debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Today, Robinson ranks as the most important and arguably the most famous ballplayer of the 20th century.
The role of faith in Robinson’s life, however, has received less attention than it deserves. In fact, Robinson needed his Christian beliefs to help him endure the ugly taunts and ostracism he received from segregationists.
According to the Society for American Baseball Research, Robinson found courage in Jesus’ teachings. The Gospel of Matthew, in particular, sustained him: ““You have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
Robinson’s upbringing had prepared him to rely on the Gospel. Rev. Karl Downs, a young Methodist minister in Pasadena, California, exerted tremendous influence on young Jackie. Downs ensured, in the words of one Robinson biographer, that “Faith in God then began to register in him as both a mysterious force, beyond his comprehension, and a pragmatic way to negotiate the world.”
Thus, Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey – -himself a Methodist like Robinson — did not choose his barrier-busting ballplayer by accident.
Rickey chose Robinson for his talent but also for a faith Rickey knew the young man would need.
Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden presided over one of the greatest sports dynasties in history. In a 12-year period from 1964 to 1975, Wooden’s Bruins won 10 NCAA championships, including seven consecutive. His record included an astonishing 88-game winning streak from 1971 to 1974. All of these achievements remain unmatched in men’s college basketball.
Above all, Coach Wooden inspired everyone around him with his positive message and humility. It turns out that both of these inspirational qualities had a familiar source.
Shortly after Wooden’s death in 2010 at the age of 99, the Los Angeles Times published a list of its five favorite books by Wooden, including the self-help book “Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success: Building Blocks for a Better Life.”
According to Baptist Press, news outlet for the Southern Baptist Convention, Wooden’s entire philosophy, as spelled out in “Pyramid of Success” is “anchored in God’s Word.”
“I’ve trusted Christ, and I’ve tried to live as He would have me live,” Wooden wrote. “I’ve studied His word, and I’ve prayed a great deal. I have faith He will do what He’s promised.”
The 2007 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback of the Florida Gators ranks as perhaps the most recognizable Christian athlete of the 21st century.
Tebow’s professional career as quarterback of the Denver Broncos peaked with an overtime victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2011 AFC wildcard game. The Broncos’ improbable playoff run made Tebow a national phenomenon. It showcased the quarterback’s signature act of humility and faith — what became known as “Tebowing.”
Before, during and after games – -whenever he felt the need to communicate with God — Tebow knelt, placed his elbow on his knee and touched his fist to his forehead.
“Number one, it’s definitely a personal conversation between me and the Lord, but then, you know, also it’s not being ashamed of my faith,” Tebow said.
When the NBA returned from its pandemic-induced hiatus in the summer of 2020, Orlando Magic small forward Jonathan Isaac made headlines by refusing to wear a “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt or to kneel for the American national anthem. Isaac, in fact, was the only player who took this stance.
After that first game, Issac explained why.
“I don’t think that kneeling or putting on a T-shirt for me personally is the answer. I feel like, for me, black lives are supported through the gospel. All lives are supported through the gospel,” Isaac said.
Every public display of faith requires courage. That is never more true than when the faithful man stands alone, as Isaac did.
Indeed, Christ speaks to us through many different messengers. In the sports world, He has done so for decades.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.