Faith and Sports: It’s a RAP

Athletes in Action’s “Faith and Sports: It’s a Rap” event was held at the University of Toronto on March 5, 2014. The event featured Raptors forward Landry Fields and forward-guard John Salmons, who discussed their lifestyles as Christians with the man dubbed “the voice of the Raptors”, announcer Herbie Kuhn. They sat down for a Q&A session in front of an audience of Christian students, young athletes, students from various campuses and a mix of the three groups, speaking about more than just their time on the court.

The discussion took place in an intimate setting, suitable for the subject matter of the event. Kuhn conversed with Fields and Salmons, asking them about their humble beginnings and how Christianity helped the players stay grounded as they were faced with the temptations that come with a successful career as an athlete. Salmons cited temptation as one of the challenges of being an NBA player, saying, “People for whatever reason look up to pro athletes. (There are) a lot of girls…if you want to, you can live a very secular life.” Asked how he lives out his faith as a Raptor and a Christian, he recalled the difficulty he faced upon joining his hometown of Philadelphia’s basketball team, the 76ers: “When I got drafted to Philly, I was home. I knew where to go and where the spots (were), so I was kinda in and out. I was trying to do it right but there’s a lot of temptation there. It took about 2 years to overcome that.”

As for Fields, he told a short anecdote which revealed that his ex-girlfriend gave him a book entitled, “The Christian Atheist” by Pastor Craig Groeschel, who leads a large church ministry in the United States with an emphasis on their website, providing invaluable resources online. The book explains the concept of “believing in God, but living as if God didn’t exist.” Fields recalled, “I got drafted in—of all places—New York City, which is…crazy. I fell into the stereotypical NBA (lifestyle): single, I’m going out almost every night after games, (with) lots of girls. Then this girl I was dating—she gave me that book. My life started to change. I started feeling God calling me, like, ‘Landry, this isn’t what I had in mind for you. I have something greater, something much more than this. This is leading you to a dead end.’ “

Kuhn put both players’ responses into perspective for the audience, turning to us and saying, “We are barraged with messages that say, ‘It’s your body, do what you want with it, live your life.’ That’s what the world would say, and you have two gentlemen up here in front of you, who are telling you right from their hearts that they lived that, and it didn’t fulfil them. It wasn’t enough. It came to a point where they knew inside that changes needed to happen. What are people telling you is the dream life?” Kuhn’s suggestion to consider what messages we’re internalizing as we’re told of “the dream life” is profound, as the vast majority of students and people in general assimilate with the world’s values without much thought. Kuhn’s statement reminds us to stay focused on what God’s intentions for us are.

The Raptors’ also spoke about how they handle setbacks in the game, revealing how they retain their strength and conjure up perseverance to work through their struggles, whether they pertain to their careers or personal lives. Salmons mentioned the Holy Spirit and how it would help him deal with a coach’s decision if it weren’t particularly to his liking, saying “I try not to look at the coach, like it’s not really about him. It’s more about my relationship with God, as far as how I’m dealing with (the) situation.”

Fields described his experience with handling a hand/elbow injury that has partially impaired his ability to perform to the best of his ability on the court, saying “The last year and a half, I’ve never been closer to God in my whole life. Through this injury, it’s allowed me to rely on God and not basketball and not certain material stuff in this life. You don’t understand that God’s all you need until God’s all you have. My favourite Bible verse, Romans 8:28 says: ‘All things work together for good for those who love God’—that’s the condensed version, but it gives meaning to setbacks in your life.”As many in the public are not accustomed to hearing prominent athletes speak about God, this event was successful because it was thought-provoking. Students in attendance were left with the concept of God needing to be central in our lives, as that is the only way we will truly be fulfilled in our lives.

Written by Salem Tesfai