Jags Deny Religious Rift

Jacksonville Times-Union/August 4, 1998
By Pete Prisco

If the Jaguars' locker room is divided over religious beliefs, as some national media outlets have reported, Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin says he hasn't seen it. ''I'm telling you that's not the case,'' Coughlin said.

The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune, in stories related to the Champions for Christ religious group, recently have written of division in the locker room stemming from several players' affiliation with the group.

Among those in the group are quarterback Mark Brunell, tackle Tony Boselli and linebacker Bryan Schwartz. Other Jaguars members are wide receiver Will Moore, defensive end Joel Smeenge and offensive tackle Todd Fordham.

''I don't buy it,'' Boselli said of a possible rift in the locker room. ''In that locker room, you hear people talking about the women they're getting together with at parties. That's OK, but it's not OK to talk about the way I live my life? I have a problem with that. But do I go to bat and fight for the guys who don't live the exact way I do? Yeah. I love and I'll fight for those guys. I'll be there for them.''

''We have some real good guys on this team,'' Brunell said. ''I love all the guys. If they don't go to the Bible study, or they're not Christian, I don't have any problem with that.''

The Times story said the Jaguars were one of two teams to ask NFL security to investigate the Champions for Christ group. The Jaguars, though, say they have never requested any investigation, although they did not deny talking with the league about the group.

''There's nothing that came from this part of the organization,'' Coughlin said.

NFL security does not comment on its investigations, but Greg Aiello, the league's vice president of public relations, said background checks of people who conduct business dealings with league players are commonplace.

''It's standard practice,'' Aiello said. ''One of the purposes of these checks is to see if there is any useful information for the players in these business dealings.''

Champions for Christ is an Austin, Texas-based ministry that is headed by pastor Greg Ball. Brunell has known Ball since his days at the University of Washington, but the relationship grew during his second year in the league in Green Bay.

Ball is not an agent, although Greg Feste, who does have ties to the CFC, is now a registered agent. Feste represents Schwartz, and also is the marketing representative for Brunell, but not his agent.

''Greg's a great guy,'' Brunell said. ''He's my pastor. I don't have a local church. When Stacy [his wife] and I are struggling, or I need help as far as a parent, I call Greg.''

Brunell is leading the charge to build a Champions for Christ church in Jacksonville. Currently, he and several of his teammates meet every Wednesday at the Marriott at Southpoint to conduct services. They hope to build an actual church, with a pastor, in the near future.

In addition, Brunell said he tithes 10 percent of his earnings to churches and ministries, with most of it going to Champions for Christ. Boselli also tithes, as do most of the other members of the group, which is why the league would look into it.

''I give them 10 percent, I'm not afraid to admit that,'' Brunell said. ''And who I give it to, and how much, is up to me and Stacy. I give them a lot because I have a lot. The money I do give them I'm comfortable with giving.''

In the Times story, several Jaguars players said teammates in the group aggressively tried to recruit other members, passing out leaflets. They also said the players were asked to donate to Champions for Christ and would also express disapproval of players who used alcohol.

''I read an article where we're trying to pressure people into giving money to Champions for Christ,'' Schwartz said. ''That's a lie.''

''I read one thing where Jaguars players got on them about drinking alcohol,'' Boselli said. ''If a person wants to go out and drink, do I think it's right? No, I don't drink. But if the way I live my life bothers them, then that's their problem.''

Brunell says it was he who distributed the leaflets throughout the locker room. He says he didn't do it to push his religious beliefs, however.

''We have meetings every week,'' Brunell said. ''We invite guys. I read something about a flier. That's never been anything more than posting a flier and saying you're welcome to come.''

At least one player would like to see less of the religious faction in the locker room.

''I'm for separation of church and state,'' tackle John Jurkovic said. ''And I'm for separation of church and football. Whatever guys choose to do should remain private.''

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