Report on Champions for Christ

"Religion & Ethics Newsweekly"/September 4, 1998
Hosted by Bob Abernathy

As the new pro football season begins, controversy between the NFL and an evangelical group that's rapidly gaining ground in its recruiting efforts.

Mr. David Jamerson (National Representative, Champions For Christ): We actively seek athletes to want to see them come to know God, come to know Christ.

Bob Abrenethy, anchor:

First, Religion and Ethics Newsweekly begins today our second year on the air, and we celebrate that in a few minutes with our fearless choices of the most influential religious men and women of this century for Americans.

This Labor Day weekend we also celebrate work, the end of summer, the start of school, and the opening of the professional football season.

In the National Football League, officials hope a troubling pre-season controversy has ended. It involves an evangelical group called Champions For Christ, which has attracted a strong following among the league's players, to the apparent alarm to some of the teams. Why would the NFL care about the religious associations of its players? Paul Miller reports from Austin, Texas, on the curious case of the NFL and a group of Christians.

Paul Miller reporting:

Curtis Enis found God this summer; the NFL found controversy. Enis, a Chicago Bears first-draft pick, says he was a womanizer and a heavy drinker until he found Jesus through Champions For Christ, or CFC. Enis fired one agent and hired another with close ties to CFC. The sudden turnaround led to allegations that CFC recruited Enis so he would give them money. CFC steers players to certain agents, who in turn get the players to give CFC money. Washington Redskins' all pro Darrell Green, who is on the board of CFC, says those taking on the group are making a mistake.

Mr. Darrell Green (Champions For Christ Board Member): The Bible says the battle is the Lord's, it's not my battle. It's not the guys in Champions For Christ, and as I've said before, if they're fighting, they're fighting God and that's a dangerous thing to do.

Miller: The NFL, which has a policy and procedure for about everything involving its players, is taking a look at CFC. It won't say why. A spokesman said, "There's nothing sinister about investigations, which are routinely undertaken." The league may be nervous about an unrelated case, where an agent who won a player's trust by emphasizing his faith, fleeced them of $11 million. The idea of the league investigating a Christian organization makes some people uncomfortable. CFC says it recruits players to be good role models and good Christians.

Mr. David Jamerson (National Representative, Champions For Christ): We really believe that Christ is the way, so we-we do, we actively seek athletes to want-to see then come to know God, come to know Christ.

Miller: And they've succeeded. It's estimated that between five and 10 percent of all NFL players are somehow affiliated with the organization, and the numbers are growing. It's become commonplace for NFL players to pray together, but even in the more devout NFL, CFC may have been too aggressively evangelical, too fundamentalist.

Mr. Don Beck (Sports Psychologist): Champions For Christ took a very rigid fundamental turn, unlike the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, or Athletes In Action, that welcome membership from all different churches. This one virtually has become a church itself, with a pretty rigid set of beliefs.

Miller: Some Jacksonville Jaguars felt teammates who were CFC members were overdoing it. League sources said Jacksonville joined Chicago in complaining to the NFL. Both teams deny it and the basis of any complaint is unclear. Was it CFC's success or its zeal?

Unidentified Man: One Lord, one faith, one baptism.

Miller: Franchises say they don't want to interfere with player's beliefs, but they don't want religion or anything else to divide their teams, and they don't want organizations influencing how players spend their money.

Some NFL players, including Jacksonville quarterback Mark Brunnell give 10 percent to CFC, but says the contributions are strictly voluntary.

Mr. Jamerson: We don't have firm-you know, conviction of, "Hey, you have to give to Champions For Christ, and we don't ever say that to an athlete, but we do believe that they do need to give 10 percent, whether it's to a local church, to a variety of ministries. That's the only standard that we really set.

Miller: Jamerson, a former NBA player who works in CFC's Austin headquarters, says the group raised about $1 million last year. The organization says it spends its money ministering to professional athletes and to students here at the University of Texas in Austin, and at 19 other college campuses where it has chapters. It also runs youth outreach programs. CFC's critics say ministering to the NFL includes steering players to certain agents.

Mr. Beck: This same kind of mindset and deep belief structure was translating into agent relationships, where agents were perceived in terms whether or not they were Christian to the same degree that Champions For Christ are Christian.

Miller: Other agents say those who work with CFC strongly encourage players to give money to the group. CFC says the complaints are from agents who are jealous because they lost clients. The NFL's investigation of CFC remains a mystery. The league and the teams are reluctant to talk. It's not clear who is upset with CFC or why, but it seems the league is always interested when religion, money and the NFL intercept.

Abernethy: Paul, welcome back. Indeed, it is, as you say, a mystery. What possible business is it of the NFL where a player worships?

Miller: It could be an issue of control, Bob. Football is a very regimented and discipline sport. The NFL has a reputation as being a very regimented league. It may not like the idea that some of its players would owe allegiance to another organization. There's a couple of specific cases that might be troubling to the NFL. One of which is some of these players indicated that they're not comfortable with the idea of playing football on Sundays. And I'm sure the NFL would not appreciate it if a large number of players suddenly came to the league and presented it with a non-negotiable demand saying we're not going to play football on the Sabbath.

Abernethy: That's really interesting. Thanks.

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