Off-the-Field NFL Heroes

Despite what the news or ESPN would lead people to believe, there are many NFL athletes who use the popularity they have been blessed with to spread goodwill and help those who are less fortunate. Whether that is through volunteer work, running foundations that raise awareness of a problem, or just signing autographs, some players willingly take time out to serve others and follow the example Jesus Christ set. Here are five Christian players who follow the Lord’s lead.

Peyton Manning, Quarterback, Denver Broncos

The five-time NFL MVP grew up in a Christian household led by New Orleans Saints’ legend Archie Manning. Manning prays before each game and in crunch-time situations, like the prayer he spoke before his game-winning play in the 2007 AFC Championship. “I said a little prayer there on that last drive. I don’t know if you’re supposed to pray or not in those kinds of situations, but I did”, said Manning. Soon after entering the league, Manning started the Peyback Foundation to help disadvantaged children in Louisiana and Tennessee. Peyton and his younger brother Eli together helped to deliver 30,000 pounds of water, baby formula, pillows, Gatorade, and diapers to New Orleans residents right after Hurricane Katrina. The St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis was renamed Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent” when Manning and his wife donated an untold amount to the hospital. Manning maintained a close relationship with the hospital since his arrival into the NFL.

Drew Brees, Quarterback, New Orleans Saints

The Super Bowl XLIV MVP found Jesus at age 17 after pondering who he was and why he existed as he sat in church with a torn ACL. Brees commented on his decision saying, “God was looking for a few good men to carry the torch and to represent the Christian faith. I just remember thinking to myself, ‘Man, I’d like to be one of those few good men.’” Brees’ Super Bowl victory helped rebuild New Orleans’ mentality after Hurricane Katrina’s destruction, but his Brees Dream Foundation linked up with Operation Kids to restore schools, recreation centers, and after-school programs throughout the city. The eight-time Pro Bowler authored the book “Coming Back Stronger” which uses his life as a testament to why believers need to follow God’s plan and never give up.

Charles Tillman, Cornerback, Chicago Bears

The Walton Payton NFL Man of the Year award is meant to honor a player’s volunteer and charity work along with his gridiron prowess, and Charles “Peanut” Tillman was the well-deserving recipient of this award last season. Why? Because since Thanksgiving 2013, he hosted a 5K to raise money for his foundation, took ill children shopping and delivered Thanksgiving meals to Navy sailors. When Tillman’s daughter Tiana was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy in 2008, Tillman realized that despite how well he could provide for others, he was unable to fix this situation and needed God’s intervention. Tillman confessed, “At this particular time I was rendered helpless. At that moment it was just like me surrendering and just saying, ‘God, I give it all to you right now. Please… I can’t fix it. I need you.’” After Tiana’s successful heart transplant, Tillman created the Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation to improve the lives of Chicago’s critically ill children.

David Garrard, Quarterback, New York Jets

The All-Pro quarterback became angry at God and stopped attending church after his mother passed away from breast cancer while he was just a boy. By the time Garrard reached college, though, he realized that there was a void in his life that partying, football, and drinking could not fill. It was not until he had lunch with his team chaplain one day in September 2000 that he realized that strong faith in Jesus makes a complete quarterback, so he accepted Christ that day. After Garrard’s battle with Chron’s disease in 2004, he created the David Garrard Foundation to raise awareness of Chron’s disease, while promoting a healthy lifestyle for children. Garrard has visited clinics to talk about Chron’s disease and run football camps and tournaments to raise money for his foundation. “I believe I’m in the limelight to be a light for Him”, said Garrard.

Israel Idonije, Defensive End, Detroit Lions

With a clear understanding of what it means to be a Christian, Idonije explains, “Christianity isn’t about religion; it’s about your personal relationship with the Lord.” The Nigerian’s faith has led him to persevere through going undrafted and working his way up the Browns’ and Bears’ practice squads, and he uses his platform to give back to society. Idonije’s company Blessed Communion creates pre-filled Communion cups for individuals and religious organizations. Established in 2007, the Israel Idonije Foundation serves Chicago, Winnipeg, and West Africa by providing programs that facilitate the development of social and emotional life skills. These programs give children the chance to go shopping with a cop, train in football and cheerleading drills and thrive in a safe, constructive after-school program. Idonije also goes to Africa each year to implement medical and youth sports programs.

Jonathan Ebanks is an avid sports fan who doubles as a freelance writer/editor and as a financial analyst for the Law Offices of Krupnick Campbell Malone. Email Jonathan at [email protected].

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