The NFL’s Matt Stinchcomb and Jason Wright donate their time and testimonies to a lasting resource
By Rick Weber
|Stinchcomb (left) and Wright (center) with FCA's Kevin Burrell|
As Jason Wright and Matt Stinchcomb fielded questions from Kevin Burrell, Atlanta FCA area representative, they tried to imagine what message their hearts would need to receive if they were the high school athletes who ultimately would view the DVD Burrell was recording.
They tried to imagine being 17 years old. They tried to imagine worrying about what others were thinking and the paralysis that develops when your identity is lost. They tried to imagine the pressure of being accepted and the lure of drugs. They tried to imagine the temptation of taking steroids to artificially enhance performance.
It wasn’t that difficult. Wright is a second-year running back for the Atlanta Falcons, and Stinchcomb is a seventh-year offensive lineman for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It wasn’t that long ago that they faced the same feelings.
“When I was sitting there answering questions, God was giving me the heart to say, ‘What would you need to hear?’” Wright said. “I know the right words at the right time would’ve made a big difference to me. I feel like I would have come to a true and loving relationship with Christ quicker if I had heard exactly what I was going through."
“I know the right words at the right time would’ve made a big difference to me. I feel like I would have come to a true and loving relationship with Christ quicker if I had heard exactly what I was going through."
“I’m sure there will be a lot of kids watching this who have been in church their whole lives, but it’s their parents’ faith they’re living and not their own. This will be a time to hear the truth from guys who understand and aren’t the preacher they’re used to. You get an instant connection being an NFL player. Otherwise it takes time to earn trust at the relational level. Their hearts are ready to receive, where they might not be otherwise.”
The 30-minute DVD, recorded on April 27 at Crossroads Church in Newnan, Ga., will be viewed by 1,500 players and coaches at the 2005 FCA High School Football Kickoff dinners on Aug. 4 and Aug. 11 in the south Atlanta area. Burrell, who covers six counties with area director Randy Bruno, can envision a day when this DVD is used at FCA Camps all over America.
“God was the One who inspired it,” said Burrell, a former professional baseball player and national scouting supervisor for the Houston Astros. “We didn’t go looking for it. Jason and Matt were brought together.”
Jere Johnson, an FCA staff member and chaplain at Northwestern University, Wright’s alma mater, delivered Wright. Paul Snellings, who played at the University of Georgia, delivered his former teammate, Stinchcomb. As they got to know the FCA staff, they were asked about collaborating on a project, and both were excited.
In the DVD, Wright and Stinchcomb talk candidly and passionately about how they came to know Christ and the mentors who shepherded them through their walk with Christ. Wright says Johnson was to him what Paul was to Timothy as they traveled extensively and established the early church. Just as Paul exhorted Timothy to stand firm in his faith (1 Timothy 6:11-12) and live above reproach (1 Timothy 6:13-16), so did Johnson to Wright.
|Stinchcomb a seven year offensive lineman for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. |
“The Scriptures talk about Paul being a spiritual father to Timothy, and that’s what Jere’s been to me,” Wright said. “As I was stepping into the life God was calling me to, Jere was there to explain to me what was happening and teach me the ways of the Lord. He’s an amazing man.”
For Stinchcomb, that spiritual father was Kent Reynolds, pastor at St. James United Methodist Church in Athens, Ga. Stinchcomb first met him when Reynolds came to speak at pre-game chapel during Stinchcomb’s sophomore year.
“Kent’s delivery was the right delivery—the right words at the right time,” Stinchcomb said. “It wasn’t a ‘rah-rah’ speech—go get ’em, David and Goliath and all that. He said, ‘I’m here to talk to you about Jesus Christ.’ It was like a bucket of cold water on my head. I went to chapel all the time, but it was almost like a good-luck charm: ‘Here I am in chapel, and maybe I’ll play even better, get a little help from upstairs.’
“I asked, ‘Where is this guy’s church?’ After that, I’d go on Sundays. His leadership from a spiritual standpoint has been tremendous in my life.”
Both Wright and Stinchcomb say they can’t fathom how anyone could deal with life in the NFL without God—the intense daily pressure to perform, the innate violence of the game, the stark and humbling realization that the average career is just 3.8 years.
“I don’t know how some guys cope with it,” Stinchcomb said. “And in a lot of cases, they don’t. There’s a void that only God can fill. They try to fill it with various other things. You see it all the time.”
But for both players, there is no greater truth than John 14:6: “Jesus told him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”
“Seek Him out. Not for your life to be blessed—not for this trouble-free, worry-free walk,” Wright said. “I know there are a lot of guys out there who are feeling like I felt in high school and for most of my college career. My entire life was to put on a face for other people. Turning one face to these people so they’d say, ‘Oh, he’s cool. He can go out and party.’ Putting on one face for the teachers, ‘Oh, he’s a solid student. He’s very focused academically.’ Making sure that everybody knew about my athletic accomplishments… so someone would talk about it, and I’d get that validation.
“You feel anxious. You might not even know who you really are because you’re putting on so many faces for so many people. I tell people, ‘If you want that anxiety gone, if you want identity that’s real, if you’re sick of being tormented by what people think of you, Christ is it for you.’”