Posts in category Media & entertainment

Thomas Davis: All-around champion



Thomas Davis daughterSuper Bowl week has to be an especially meaningful one for Carolina Panthers’ linebacker Thomas Davis. In every way the week’s events give reflection of the kind of man he is, on and off the field. Today — Super Bowl Sunday — he will start at outside linebacker in this year’s championship game, which is almost a miracle in itself. More on that later.

But Davis was also the guest of honor at another of the week’s most-celebrated events: the Super Bowl Breakfast, hosted by Athletes in Action, the sister ministry of FamilyLife. It’s not just a religious event, but is the occasion for the NFL to honor the one player who best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field, and in the community.

Last year the recipient was Peyton Manning, who will quarterback the opposing Denver Broncos in this year’s Super Bowl. This year it is Thomas Davis. And the award this year has even greater significance.  It is the 50th anniversary since the trophy’s namesake led his team to victory in the first-ever Super Bowl in 1967.

The Bart Starr award has been given annually since 1989, and has included such outstanding athletes and men as Steve Largent, Reggie White, Mike Singletary, Jackie Slater, Bruce Matthews, Darrell Green, Curt Warner, Aeneas Williams, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Peyton Manning.

It’s not a one-time honor for Davis, who also received the prestigious Walter Payton Man of the Year Award last season. In his acceptance speech, he challenged his fellow NFL players to use their fame and fortune to give to others.

“Let’s take charge … Let’s step up and be a village of guys that make a difference to change this world. We’re well-compensated for what we do. Let’s show these kids how much we care about them. Let’s give the media something positive to talk about instead of always bashing our league.”

Coming up from humble beginnings

Thomas Davis grew up in the humblest of beginnings in the Wiregrass region of southwest Georgia, just a couple of hours from where Bart Starr was raised. Unlike Starr, poverty was a way of life for Davis, his sister, and their single mom. There were times, he recalled, they didn’t even have running water or electricity. His mom did her best to meet their needs, but it was barely enough to cover the essentials and no more.

Davis remembers a couple Christmases waking up with anticipation, only to find no present. In his young mind, he reasoned that maybe it was because he was bad and that the reason she was having such a hard time making ends meet was because he and his sister were too difficult. As he was able, he would pick pecans and peas, bale hay, anything to earn money to help the family stay afloat. That memory of struggling for survival and significance would be the impetus for what he would do for others if he ever had the means.

Sports was his chance. He lettered in baseball and track, but he was a standout in football. Because his high school was so small, he got little notice from college football programs and received only one scholarship offer. But at the University of Georgia under coach Mark Richt he proved to be one of the best players to ever come out of the state, earning All-American honors at linebacker and a number 14 overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft.

From the top to the bottom and back

Thomas Davis PanthersGoing from poverty to riches went to Thomas’ head for the first three years of his career, as he revealed in an excellent interview with Sports Spectrum magazine. He could have and do almost anything he wanted, and he did. And, like Solomon, he found it to be meaningless.

It was during this time that the spiritual seeds sown by Coach Richt at Georgia, an outspoken Christian, began to take root in Thomas, and he became more aware of the grace of God in his life. It was also at that same time that he met his wife Kelly and he began to look outward to meet her needs and the needs of others. He got involved as a volunteer in a program that offered free heart screenings to underprivileged children and through that, Thomas discovered that he had a rare heart condition that could end his NFL career. Although it ended up not being as serious as first thought, the process of facing his immortality and the imminent loss of his career created in him a greater reliance on God and caused him to further take inventory of his life.

Thomas recognizes now that God was preparing him for what was to come. Until the heart scare, he had never had an injury or a threat to missing a game.

Then eight weeks into the 2009 season, playing on the Superdome turf against the Saints, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee. He had surgery to repair the knee and missed the rest of the season.

Early in summer training camp the next year, in 2010, just after successfully rehabbing his injury he tore the same ACL in the same knee in a fluke, non-contact accident. This time he would miss the entire 2010 season, but he would have plenty of time to properly rehab the knee this time.

Finally, in 2011 he was back to full function for the season opener — his first regular season game in 22 months. But the very next week at Green Bay a teammate’s leg slammed against his knee — the same knee — and tore the same ACL for a third time in less than two years.

In the doctor’s office the next morning, the team trainer remembers that Thomas was crying and shaking his head, saying, “I can’t do this anymore. It’s too hard.”

Thomas recalls the soul-searching few days that followed.

“My wife and I talked about it, and the team chaplain … and they just asked me, ‘Do you really feel like you’re done with the game of football? Are you, in your heart, totally 100 percent sure that you don’t want to play again?’ And the answer to that question was ‘No.’”

The following Monday, according to the trainer, Thomas came into his office and said “We’re breaking history. We’re going for records. We’re doing it again.”

Indeed it would be history. No NFL player had ever come back from three ACL tears, much less to perform at the level Thomas does. He has become the Panthers’ all-time leading tackler, and every year since his return from the knee injuries has recorded more than 100 tackles.

But then two weeks ago in the NFC championship game, Thomas was making his 105th tackle of the season when he suffered a serious break to the ulna bone in his forearm. Initially, his mind went back to the ACL injuries, resigning himself to the fact that he would have to sit out the dream game of his life in two weeks. Under the same circumstances, most athletes probably would have. But this was Thomas Davis, who is no stranger to rehabbing injuries.  The doctors were willing to take the chance and so was Thomas. The morning after the game, he was in surgery to repair it, and Sunday he’ll start with a metal plate and several screws,  protected by a specially designed cast on his arm.

After all, what’s the chance that a broken arm will stop you when you’ve come back from so many desperate situations before, and when you have a chance to help your team win a Super Bowl trophy for the first time?


Offering others a hand up

Thomas Davis playgroundSince their marriage in 2008, Thomas and Kelly created and have continued to expand their own charity. The mission of the Thomas Davis Defending Dreams Foundation  is built on the principles of educating, empowering, and defending students in developing essential life and social skills that will help them rise above circumstances to become leaders in the next generation.  Both Thomas and Kelly are intimately involved in every aspect of the organization’s work. The couple has personally invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a playground in his hometown of Shellman, Georgia, and to provide for the material needs of underprivileged children across the nation. And every Christmas, they provide presents to children to show them unconditional love.

 

Michael Oher: Something to prove in Super Bowl 50



Michael Oher: Something to prove

Michael Oher got to prove his worth this year against the team that traded him to the NFC Champion Carolina Panthers. (Getty Images)

One of the backstories of Super Bowl 50 is the ongoing rags-to-riches story of Michael Oher. The outstanding left tackle for the Carolina Panthers will be working for his second championship ring in seven years.

Michael Oher has something to prove.

He always has something to prove.

Many have seen the 2009 movie The Blind Side, about a destitute Memphis black kid who was all but living on the street until he was taken in by a wealthy white family from across town. That kid, Michael Oher, went on to become a highly-recruited high school lineman and an All-American at Ole Miss, and was selected in the first round of the NFL draft.

Most people love the movie, but Michael Oher is not one of them. Based on the Michael Lewis book, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, it focuses primarily on the Tuohy family, who adopted Michael and who continue to have a powerful presence in his life. In fact, they will be together in San Francisco for the Super Bowl.

But, as Michael puts it, the movie is what you’d expect from Hollywood, with a lot of overtly fictional elements. Then there is Michael’s book, I Beat the Odds: From Homelessness to The Blind Side and Beyond, which I just finished reading. While the movie characterized Michael as an unintelligent and unambitious young man who had to be taught the game of football, the truth is that he was already focused on sports and rising above his surroundings when he was walking the streets of Memphis. The Tuohy family just gave him opportunities he would have otherwise never had.

In his book, he gives a little perspective on the balance between opportunity and success.

Michael Oher has something to prove“When I was drafted in the first round by the Baltimore Ravens, I knew I had done the impossible. I hadn’t just beat the odds; I had blown them out of the water. But the story isn’t just about arriving at the pros. My goal had never been just to get the offer, or to sign the contract, or to get the paycheck. I wanted to do something, to know that I was working each day to do something with my potential, pushing myself to make sure that I was always giving my all. Making it to the pros wasn’t the finish line for me. The world is full of people who got their big shot and then never did anything with it. It had come too far to just let being drafted be the end of my story.”

From the start of his book, two things stand out that show that Michael was serious about his future: First, he was determined to rise above the options he was given as a child. Second, he knew the importance of surrounding yourself with people who watch out for you, and he realized the need to commit to them as well.

He knew that he could have become a bodyguard for one of the two local gangs and made a name and lots of money for himself.  But that wasn’t what he wanted. He wanted out, and at an early age he realized that sports would be his ticket. His big goal was to get a scholarship for a junior college and get an education so he could get a job that would take him out of the neighborhoods where everyone was stuck and life was just a matter of survival. READ MORE »

Carolina’s Greg Olsen: MVP of hurting hearts



Greg OlsenCarolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen arrived at the hotel in San Jose this past weekend, preparing for the game of his career.

He unpacks his bags, and there lies Touchdown Bear, his traveling companion for every game of the past two seasons (watch the video). It’s a stuffed animal, custom-designed by his three children, and a reminder to him that the Super Bowl is not the most important thing in his life. It’s also a constant reflection that this game is not the biggest challenge he’s faced. This is not the first time he’s had everything on the line, or teamed up with others to face a formidable foe.

Three years ago, Greg and his wife Kara watched as an ultrasound revealed that they were pregnant with two children, one normal, and one with a medical condition known as Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS). Simply put, TJ would be born with half a heart. Fortunately for them, Greg’s generous NFL salary allowed them to seek out and receive the best care for their son, who would have died without aggressive medical intervention.

TJ would go through three successive surgeries to rebuild his heart, and his parents would provide very specialized and intense care for their son. For Greg, the pressure to perform was almost more than he could bear when they brought TJ home from the hospital after his first surgery.  “His care was going to be so specific and so important that if I did not give him the exact calorie per ounce, he was going to die. In my mind, that’s what I thought. If I couldn’t even make his formula right, how was I going to do wound care on his scar, how were we going to do his medicine?”

That’s sure a lot more pressure than he’s going to face on the field Sunday.

Since that time, TJ has had his two other operations and is doing well for a child with HLHS. The Olsens are thankful for each day they have with TJ and their other two children, because most kids with HLHS don’t make it to age five, even with the surgeries. And as they experienced the heartache as parents of HLHS babies, they’ve developed a passion for helping other moms and dads who have fewer resources than Greg and Kara. They sought out a way to level the playing field a bit for families.

Through The HEARTest Yard initiative, they help provide medical care, counseling, and encouragement for parents of HLHS babies through Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Greg’s and Kara’s compassion earned him a nomination by the Panther’s organization for the 2015 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. Efforts to help others have earned him recognition off the field as well as on.

Annie Lane picture AHA submissionMy co-worker Tracy admits that she doesn’t follow football much, but she knows about Greg Olsen. That’s because she and husband Matt are going through their own anguishing struggle with their daughter Annie, whose heart is failing after her second HLHS surgery. Tracy remembers what it’s like to get the diagnosis.

“One day, you’re a regular family who’s never heard of a baby having half of a heart. The next day, you’re the family whose baby is being diagnosed with a rare and life-threatening heart defect,” she says.

And Matt relates to Greg’s frustration about how alone and helpless it can make you feel. “It’s not like you can just call up your buddy and he can relate. Or talk to your brother who went through that last week. Or even turn to your pastor, because, well, no one else has heard of Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome either.”

At this moment, Matt and Tracy are waiting to hear from Philadelphia Children’s Hospital, which did Annie’s first two surgeries. They’re hoping the facility can come up with a course of action to care for Annie as she waits for her third operation. In the meantime, all they can do is wait and pray. But they’re thankful that others are raising awareness of families like theirs. Tracy, a fellow writer, forwarded her thoughts to me the other day.

“Having someone like Olsen to look to is encouraging. He’s a regular guy who is loving his family well. A regular guy who had the courage to choose life in the face of a life-threatening diagnosis. A regular guy who is giving hope to other families who face this same terrifying condition.

“Heart families around the world are grateful for the awareness he’s providing because the more we know, the less afraid we have to be. The more we see that a scary diagnosis can still lead to a healthy, vibrant childhood, the more courage we have to advocate for the life of any and every baby. Olsen shares the reality that the grief is real, the challenges are real, but the value of his child’s life is real too. Those hospital-bound days fighting for TJ’s life were worth it. Whatever fight you’re in is worth it, too.”

Greg Olsen has fought to be, arguably, the best tight end in the NFL. But he admitted in an interview last year that he’s not the toughest person in his home.

“I wish I was as tough as TJ. If I was as tough as him, I’d be in good shape. What he’s gone through in his first eight months of life is more than any of us has gone through in a lifetime. Two open heart surgeries, the countless medications, the exams. He’s been through it all, and he just bounces back.”

TJ’s suffering has made Olsen tougher and more sensitive. It’s given him not just resolve, but also perspective. In the grand scheme of things, Sunday’s Super Bowl is not a life-or-death thing for Greg Olsen. In fact, I’m sure that if he has an outstanding performance, wins the big game and gets a huge bonus on top of his $22.5 million dollar contract, he wouldn’t think twice about trading it all away for TJ.

Learn the latest on Annie’s current situation, and follow the heart of HLHS parents through Tracy’s blog, Heart for Annie.

 

Carson Palmer’s highlight reel



This weekend, Carson Palmer will lead his Arizona Cardinals against the Carolina Panthers for the right to represent the NFC in the 50th Super Bowl. It’s an unfulfilled dream of his 12-year NFL career.

“I don’t want to be done, watching football on Sundays, and saying I never got a chance to play in the Super Bowl,” Palmer said in a 2014 interview with USA Today. “That lingers, heavily. Not that that’s going to make me the man that I am or the father or the husband. That’s not going to define me. But I want to experience that. I want to experience a run — a chance where you just get hot and you hit the playoffs and you make one of those runs, those magical (runs). However long it lasts, I want to be able to experience that.”

Palmer has had one of those runs, one of those hot streaks during the 2015 season, despite ending the previous year rehabbing a re-torn ACL. So in a way, this season is already reaching a goal. But it’s not the ultimate goal.

In the middle of that quote from the 2014 USA Today interview, you can see that football is not at the center of who Carson Palmer is as a man. That is made even more clear in a current Dove Men+Care commercial making the rounds on TV and the Internet. Consider it Carson Palmer’s real highlight reel.

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“As a professional quarterback, there’s so much pressure and so much on your shoulders. When you come home, you just get to be dad and shut it off. I go to work as a football player, but I was put on this earth to be a father.

highlight reelThat final quote from the commercial makes it pretty clear that football is not at the center of his life. Actually, though, neither is his family. In an 2011 interview with Sports Spectrum, he revealed that his faith in Christ is at the core of his identity as a good man, husband, and father. He also talked about the influence of strong Christian mentors, like former longtime QB Jon Kitna.

Truth is, Palmer is not the only quarterback who claims Christ to lead his team to the NFL playoff’s this year. In fact, of the 12 teams that made it, at least half were led to the playoffs by those who profess Christ. Some may have a stronger testimony than others, but here are some of the notable ones:

And it’s not just the quarterbacks who are emerging as believers and good men. Many high-profile players are speaking out about their faith and their families. It’s great to see Dove and other companies holding these men up as examples through a highlight reel of what really matters in their lives. Hopefully during the playoffs and Super Bowl, we’ll see more great commercials like the one featuring Carson Palmer.

3 steps to create a family tech plan



Editor’s Note: This post by Dan Martin originally appeared on the official blog of pureHOPE, an organization whose aim is to inspire and equip followers of Christ to flourish in this sexually exploitative age and lead their families and communities to do the same.

TeenCellphoneFor the last five years I have had the unique privilege of speaking to and hearing from parents all over the country. The question I am asked most by parents is how to handle all of the tech gadgets invading their kids’ lives and what I would recommend as a dad who has raised three teenagers in the digital age.

Finding the balance between face-to-face and digital connection is the key.  As the Apostle John said: “I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.” – 2 John 1:12

What John understood was that technology (his being paper and ink) was a substitute for something better: face-to-face interaction and connection.  John, and all of the writers of the New Testament, mastered the art of balancing these two connecting opportunities.  Just like them, we ought to seek a healthy combination of both.

Here is a three-fold strategy for managing technology in your home:

First, we are to protect our kids. 

Protection involves several layers in today’s wired environment.  A comprehensive protection plan involves activating parental controls on all digital devices, browsers, specific social media sites and apps.  Also important to this endeavor is protecting at the router level.  This will help with devices that are brought into our homes by friends of our children who might not have parental controls activated.

Filtering and/or monitoring (aka internet accountability) are also important parts of a comprehensive protection plan.  Our family has used Covenant Eyes for both filtering and monitoring for several years and we have found it to be a wonderful piece of our overall protection plan.  We used filtering when our kids were young and moved to monitoring when they got a bit older.

I also recommend that technology be used only in common areas in the home, i.e., no technology in bedrooms. Besides the obvious risk of kids viewing porn is the fact that cyber bullying has become all too common in the digital age and a 24/7 occurrence.

Second, we are to equip our kids to thrive in a digital world. 

If all we do is protect our kids … we will fail to equip them.  A home strategy should involve lots of equipping when it comes to technology.  I would much rather send an equipped child into the world than a protected one. Equipping means that our homes become incubators for healthy learning, healthy growth, healthy correcting and healthy dialogue about the impact and influence of technology. If we want them to make good decisions when they leave the security of our homes, they need to understand why prudent tech use is so important to their spiritual and emotional well-being.

Third and (in my opinion) most important, we need to model wise and healthy technology use for our kids.  

It remains true that observational learning is the primary way our kids develop understanding and learn behavior.  It also remains true that parents are the primary influence in their kids’ lives.  Not peers, not media, not celebrities … parents!  If we desire for our kids to use technology wisely, then we must model this behavior in our own lives, in our own homes.  Here are a few things I recommend doing as a family and yes, parents, you need to set the example here!

  1. Create a Tech Basket – a place in the home where all technology is placed at a specified time each evening in order to protect valuable family time. We have a rule that family meal times are also tech-free!
  2. Tech Sabbath – This could be a night or a weekend of complete rest from technology. Our family loves to go camping together, which provides time to reconnect with each other and disconnect from technology.
  3. Model Good Tech Use – As parents we also need to have our own Internet activity monitored in order to model good technology health to our kids.  When my oldest son left home for college, he received a laptop as a graduation gift.  I will never forget him bringing me his laptop prior to moving out and asking me,  “Dad, will you install that program (Covenant Eyes) you have on your laptop?”  One question to ask yourself: are you modeling the type of behavior you want to see in your kids?

A three-fold strategy involving protection, equipping, and modeling is our best bet as parents to help our children thrive when it comes to living in this digital age.

© 2015 by pureHOPE. Used with permission.

MartinDanMugDan Martin serves as Parenting Associate at pureHOPE, developing ministry activities and resources to equip parents to raise kids in the sexualized culture around us. He is also the Adult Ministry Pastor at the Chase Oaks Church Fairview Campus. Dan and Kathie have been married for 24 years and live in Lucas, TX; they are recent empty-nesters with three college-aged children. 

STEPSeek - 10-point checklist

You just finished reading “3 steps to create a family tech plan,” by guest blogger Dan Martin of pureHOPE ministry.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistHow are you doing in protecting, equipping, and modeling good digital behavior with your children?

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistGet more guidance on managing “Screens and Teens” from Dr. Kathy Koch on the FamilyLife Today broadcast.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistGet with your spouse to develop a family tech plan, using resources like pureHOPE and Covenant Eyes.

We need more Tim Tebows



EDITOR’S NOTE: Earlier this week, Stepping Up’s Jeff Kemp was guest contributor on Fox News Opinions, standing up for the “controversial” Tim Tebow. The controversy, of course, is that he doesn’t do things the world’s way. Considering the way the culture seems to be headed, that’s probably a good thing. Jeff brings out that the world could stand to benefit from Tebow’s values. (To read the entire op-ed, go to the article Bravo Tim Tebow.

we need more tim tebowsThe Internet is abuzz with the news that Heisman Trophy-winner-turned-broadcaster Tim Tebow was allegedly dumped by former Miss Universe Olivia Culpo because he refused to break his vow to remain a virgin until marriage.

Whether or not this is true, what is indisputable is that the response to the “news,” particularly from sports media, has been disgraceful.

Rather than applauding Tebow for taking a moral stand and backing it up by his actions, the media made snarky quips to mock the former quarterback. I could list a host of mean comments thrown his way, but I’d rather not give any more attention to his detractors.

. . .

That’s why Tebow’s public stand is so important—because it encourages others who are on the same path. And the truth is, we need more Tim Tebows.

Sexual abstinence outside of marriage isn’t always easy, but it pays dividends. For individuals who practice it, saving sex for marriage can deepen one’s relationship with God and increase trust with a future spouse. It also protects the individual from the potential negative consequences of sex outside of marriage—from STDs to unplanned pregnancies to a higher level of regret at the end of a relationship.

But it isn’t just the individual who can be hurt by promiscuity. Our nation pays a high price for sex outside of marriage.

According to Pew Research, 34 percent of children in the United States live in single parent families. That number is a whopping 67 percent for black children according to the Kids Count research from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Research has shown time and time again that single-parent families are more likely to be poor than are two-parent families. Children from single-parent homes are less likely to complete college, more likely to live in poverty as adults and more likely to face a teen pregnancy. And these are the lucky kids. After all, of the more than 1 million abortions that took place last year, it is estimated that 75 percent were performed on single women.

. . .

And so we come back to Tim Tebow, a young man who has decided that he will wait until marriage to have sex, regardless of what it may cost him in broken relationships and public mocking.

He won’t be contributing to the rise of unplanned pregnancies, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and the abortion epidemic. Instead, he will continue to live his life to please God and treat others well. That’s a good thing, right? Something worth applauding, right?

For those members of the media who have knocked him, I want to ask one question: would you prefer your daughter date a promiscuous “player” or a Tebow?

An All-American hero



SteinmarkBenchIt was called “The Game of the Century” back in 1969. #1 Texas visiting #2 Arkansas in a contest that wouldn’t just determine the winner of the old Southwest Conference, but the National Champion. It was such a big game that the President of the United States was in attendance.

But even bigger than that, it was the last game for Longhorn safety Freddie Steinmark. The undersized player with a never-quit attitude toughed it through the final game of the season, but finally admitted that the knee pain he’d been dealing with all season wasn’t getting any better. In fact, it was getting a lot worse.

When he finally went to see the university’s bone and joint specialist, the doctor was surprised Freddie was even able to walk, much less play football. But that was the indomitable spirit of Freddie Steinmark.

Very few football fans even recognize the name Freddie Steinmark. He never played in the NFL. He’s not in the College Football Hall of Fame. He was never even an All-American. In fact, the 5-9, 155-pound Colorado prep product only received one college offer. Every other school passed him by as too small. But Texas head coach Darrell Royal couldn’t ignore what he saw on Freddie’s high school game film—heart, determination, and a team spirit.

He sounds a lot like the main character from the movie, Rudy,  doesn’t he? He did to Angelo Pizzo, who wrote the script for that movie as well as another inspiring sports classic, Hoosiers. And now, Pizzo is making his directorial debut with his new movie and script, My All-American, the Freddie Steinmark story.

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Whatever Freddie Steinmark did, he did it with a good attitude, with all his effort. As a student, he kept a 4.0 average. As a player, he was the first sophomore to start at safety for Texas. He not only won the position, but inspired those around him to work harder, not for personal gain, but for the good of the team. Freddie Steinmark was a big-picture, big-future kind of guy.

Unfortunately, his future was cut short in his prime. He had always dreamed of playing for the University of Notre Dame. And the final game of his junior year could finally be his opportunity to show Notre Dame what they passed. The Longhorns were preparing to play the Fighting Irish on New Year’s Day in the Cotton Bowl. But because of aggressive cancer, Freddie was only allowed to be a spectator.

But he was still the game’s hero. Texas rallied after halftime to defeat Notre Dame 21-17, and in the locker room after the game, Coach Royal and the team presented Steinmark the game ball. The Fighting Irish may have had “The Gipper,” but Texas won this one for Freddie.

Much of Freddie Steinmark’s life had been football, but the revelation now that he would never play the game again didn’t mean that Freddie was ready to give up. The off-the-field story was that he became an aggressive crusader for cancer research, even gaining the ear of President Nixon, who eventually signed a bill that declared national war on the disease. It became law just a few months after Freddie lost his battle with the disease.

Days after the Game of the Century, Freddie had been given just a few months to live. Maybe it was by his determination, but he managed to push it back another 17 months. He died in June of 1971, almost exactly a year after Chicago Bears running back Brian Piccolo also succumbed to cancer.

My All-American has some of the same elements as Brian’s Song, the movie based on Piccolo’s story, which grabbed the heart of the country when it was released as a made-for-TV movie in late 1971. It extols the virtues of being a team player, maintaining a can-do spirit, and of the importance of playing for a greater cause. Plus, the end of the movie is a real tear-jerker.

The Freddie Steinmark story lacks the high-profile actors, outstanding musical score, and the depth of Brian’s Song, but it has a good heart. And the film’s financial backers insisted that it be true to life, so the viewer really gets to relive football history, and is treated to some great game action sequences as well.

One of the factually-accurate aspects of the film is the language. Despite it’s PG rating, a fair peppering of salty words probably make it inappropriate for younger audiences. For families of teens, it’s a better bet. In fact, the bond between Freddie and his parents, and the wholesome portrayal of the relationship with his girlfriend, Linda, lend to the overall positive message of the film.

The film may not become one of your favorites, but learning the story of Freddie Steinmark should leave you with a lesson in character. Hard work, good attitude, big dreams, and selflessness can make you big enough for any task.

Awful advice from Mister Wonderful



MrWonderfulSharkTankIf you’ve ever watched the show Shark Tank then you’re familiar with Kevin O’Leary, or as he calls himself, “Mister Wonderful.” Even though he plays it up a bit for the cameras, he’s still pretty much a cold-blooded, shrewd and self-absorbed person who loves money more than anything else in this world. If that last sentence was your first introduction to Mr. Wonderful then I’m sure I sound a bit harsh. In a recent article he was asked what it takes for him to pick an entrepreneur to work with and his answer will shed additional light on his worldview:

“Any entrepreneur on my team needs to understand that the goal is always cash flow, and they must be willing to do anything to keep the money rolling in. I don’t care if that means missing your kid’s birthday party or your 25th anniversary for an important business meeting.”

He explains further the philosophy for this attitude: “The reason you pursue an entrepreneurial career is to one day provide financial freedom for yourself and your family. The only way to achieve freedom in your career is by amassing wealth and the only way for entrepreneurs to reach this point is by giving their full devotion to growing their business, accepting all of the sacrifices that come with the approach.”

At the present moment the guy’s worth $300 million. I’m not sure how much you need in the bank to reach his definition of “financial freedom for yourself and your family” but I would probably say $300 million would suffice. I’d even be content with $299 million, personally. Yet he keeps missing birthdays and anniversaries for this so called freedom.

In a way I feel sorry for him. At some point he’ll look back on his life and wonder what the purpose of it was. He gave his life for amassing cash but in the end there’s no way to spend it all, and having destroyed his relationships with his kids, wife, and perhaps a friend or two, there’s nobody to enjoy it with. On the outside he looks like he’s living the dream with fancy cars, big houses, private jets, but on the inside it has to be so empty. God did not create us to be fulfilled by these things.

Solomon, in addition to being the wisest man ever, was also one of the wealthiest men to ever live. He says in Ecclesiastes 2:10-11,

“I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”

Note to self: When we run after things that are not part of God’s plan for our lives we will find ourselves empty and grasping after air.

After reading the article, it made me take a quick inventory of my life. Kevin’s trying to accumulate money, what am I running after? He’s willing to miss birthdays and anniversaries, and he certainly wouldn’t blink an eye at missing his kid’s sporting events or recitals. Are there things in my life – job, hobby, “needed downtime” – that are causing me to miss out on the same things he is? Even though I’m not pursing money like he is, are there other things in my life that I’m going after that need some re-calibration?

When it comes right down to it, this life is about relationships. Having a healthy and growing marriage, having a deep relationship with my kids, living life with other people, that’s way more valuable than anything else out there.

This post originally appeared in the Noah Gets a Nailgun blog© 2015. Used with permission.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished Todd Nagel’s post, “Awful advice from Mister Wonderful,” on the Stepping Up blog for men.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistWhat are you running after? Adding to the bank account? A bigger retirement? Or enjoying your family?

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistSometimes it’s not having more money but “Managing the Family Finances better.” Hear the broadcast.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistShare this post with another father and husband, and challenge each other to review your priorities.

Being an extraordinary man



JeffBeExtraordinaryInterviewJeff Kemp was recently interviewed by Crystal Berger of Fox News Radio for her segment of  Extraordinary.”

Jeff offers some words of encouragement about the future of the country, and the identity that is at the core of that transformation. What is in the making of an extraordinary man?

CRYSTAL: [Jeff Kemp] says the way to fixing America’s problems is by fixing families. Jeff’s community-based non-profit, FamilyLife, focuses on developing strong men.

JEFF: The root of problems with kids is parents, and the root of parents’ problems is that they didn’t get raised well themselves and that they don’t know how to make a marriage work. I don’t think we can fix the problems in America if we don’t fix manhood. In doing that, we can define “manhood” as a partnership with women to raise the next generation.

CRYSTAL:  Jeff’s father, former NFL quarterback and congressman Jack Kemp, helped him identify his purpose. His dad’s message of making your life count stuck with him.

JEFF: My dad mentored me in the sense that he gave me a lot of encouragement to be a leader and to make your life count for others.  During the off-season of the NFL as a backup quarterback, I realized, gosh, “I may never get to be the starter I wanted to be and win a Super Bowl, I’ve got to use these off-seasons for good.”

CRYSTAL: While playing professional football, Jeff realized that not everyone had a strong male role model. He now spearheads Men Stepping Up, an Internet movement that prompts courageous men to serve families when fathers are absent.

JEFF: In most cases, manhood is actually bestowed in the company of other men. A single mom needs to put her son in the company of uncles and grandpas, a pastor, a priest, a rabbi, a football coach — a mentor.

CRYSTAL: Jeff says the key to stepping up is first finding yourself.

JEFF: I remember being benched one time and going from first string to third string in one half of a game. I did an interview with someone afterwards and she asked about how you survive something like that.  I said, “It’s hard, but I remember that my identity is that I’m God’s son, and it doesn’t matter whether I’m first string or third string. My identity isn’t as a quarterback who knows God and follows him, but as a man who knows God and follows him, who happens to play quarterback.

CRYSTAL: He hopes that once a man knows who he is, then he can lead by example.

JEFF: We men need to look around to see what kid on our team doesn’t have a dad, and bring him to our house for dinner. We need to look to see who is it that hasn’t been shown what it is to be a man. Let me hang out with him — invite him to coffee, invite him to lunch. Churches need to go out of their way to make the ministry to men their primary thing. You can’t fix marriages and families if you don’t help men understand their identity.

CRYSTAL: Jeff’s message for men who don’t use their role for good?

JEFF: You can be a little boy and go consume from lots of girls. You can have a baby by someone and leave them. Or you can say “I’m going to save my best for one woman.”

CRYSTAL: Jeff gives hope to men who have lost their way.

JEFF: Our strength was made to be used to protect and bless others. We aren’t meant to be consumers; men are meant to be investors. So I urge men to ask God to help you to start reading the Bible to learn what He says, to get your identity, and to pray with your wife, if you’re married.

CRYSTAL: Jeff acknowledges that prioritizing what matters is often times hard. He says that there’s only one thing that matters when it comes to being a man.

JEFF: What’s more important is “Who are you?” Who you are is different than the stuff you accomplished and the trophies you’ve gotten. It’s more than the money you have or the car you drive. Who you are is who God says you are.

© 2015 Fox News Radio.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading “Being an extraordingary man” on the Stepping Up blog for men. 

STEPThink - 10-point checklistJeff Kemp discusses “Life Lessons From the Football Field” on the FamilyLife Today radio broadcast. 

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistRead more about how to triumph in the face of adversity by reading Jeff Kemp’s Book, Facing the Blitz.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistHelp other men become extraordinary by leading a group through the Stepping Up 10-week study.

Woodlawn: The power of reconciliation



Like many dads, Hank Erwin used to tell his sons Andy and Jon bedtime stories. True stories. One in particular that they loved was about a high school football team in the midst of crisis, until a supernatural event transformed the team, the community, the state. Now, that very bedtime story their dad told them the Erwin brothers will retell to everyone on the big screen as the major motion picture Woodlawn debuts in theaters on Friday, October 16.

WoodlawnWoodlawn recaptures the events from 40 years ago, as a high school football team at a school in danger of being closed comes to grips with their personal problems and resolves to come together for each other and for a greater vision. In many ways, the film is a historical mirror whose reflection looks very much like today.

People are becoming weary and are losing heart. The country is divided on racial, religious, and political lines. The younger generation is rebelling against the cultural emptiness of their parents, yet they don’t know what to believe themselves. The times have created a vacuum that can only be filled with supernatural hope. If there was ever a need for personal and national revival, it would be now.

In 1970, racial rioting, jaded views of politics, and disrespect for traditional authority were often in the headlines. Hope of change seemed more bleak by the day. But a revival was coming, and it showed up prominently in the most unexpected place.

A high school football field in Birmingham, Alabama.

Part of the cultural revolution that occurred in the late 1960s and early 1970s was a dramatic growth in Christianity. The same Time magazine that ran a 1966 cover asking “Is God Dead?” ran another cover story in 1971 on “The Jesus Revolution.” And just one year later, more than 80,000 high school and college students gathered in the Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas for Explo ’72, organized by Campus Crusade for Christ (now known as Cru) to celebrate the person of Christ and mobilize youth to take the Good News to friends and family when they returned to their hometowns.

One of those hometowns was Birmingham, Alabama, one of the most segregated cities in America, and the scene of bloody racial attacks in the early 1960s. Ten years later, racial tension was still high as the last of the city’s high schools were integrated. And that’s where the movie Woodlawn starts.

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Life-changing power

As the film begins, the Woodlawn football team is in turmoil. Because of racial tensions and other interpersonal strife, they can’t get along, much less function on the field. A local homebuilder comes to the coach, telling him he knows what’s missing — something he had found at Explo 72. He asks for just five minutes to speak to the team. He ends up speaking for an hour about the life-changing power of Christ. He asks the players if they’re tired of the bitterness and animosity and want to make a change, then invites any player to come down off the bleachers and give his life to Christ. One by one they come, until the whole team is standing together. It is a turning point for the team, the school, and the city that’s only 10 years removed from the tragic bombing of the black church that claimed the lives of four little girls.

WoodlawnTonyThe central focus of the movie is Tony Nathan, a gifted but untested black player who is not even sure his teammates want him there. Even though the coaches know that giving their black athletes playing time will stir tension among the predominately white student body, they do it anyway. Tony is such a standout player that, in no time, he unifies the students and community around Woodlawn football. At the same time, the spiritual revival that had begun with the team begins to spread through the school.

As the team gels, their performance on the field gets noticed. They’re not just good because they have a top-tier player in Tony. They’re good because they’re playing for each other, and for the glory of God. Woodlawn football is not just about winning, but about winning hearts and souls.

Over the course of the film, we see this spiritual and community revival spread to other teams in the city, including archrival Banks High School, who Woodlawn eventually plays for the championship. Without giving too much of the story away, community revival and great football put the 1974 Woodlawn-Banks game, played at Legion field before 42,000, in the Alabama high school football record books to this day. And each team furnished a key player — one black, one white — to the University of Alabama football team which would go on to win the 1979 NCAA championship.

Yearning for hope

Woodlawn is a very personal project for the Erwin brothers (October Baby, Mom’s Night Out). They recognize that our current culture is yearning for the hope that emanates from Woodlawn’s story of redemption and reconciliation.

The film was already in production in 2014 when racial unrest broke out in Ferguson, Missouri in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting. The Erwins were editing the film when Baltimore was thrust into chaos from racial tension. And they were in post-production when Charleston, South Carolina experienced the worst church violence since the 1963 bombing of 16th Street Baptist in Birmingham. As they spoke with producer Michael Catt (who was also behind Courageous and Fireproof) all agreed that God must have prompted the making of Woodlawn for such a time as this.

It’s also probably no coincidence that Woodlawn’s October 16 release is just two months after War Room, a movie calling Christians back to prayer. Jon Erwin points out that each of the three great revivals in our nation—the last one being the Jesus Movement of the 1960s and 1970s—were preceded by prayer. War Room was one of the top three most popular films in the nation over its first three weeks, and countless people who have seen the film have committed to be more intentional about prayer.

Aside from their desire to foster racial reconciliation, the Erwins are trying to recapture the youth generation, 70 percent leaves church after high school. These are the same young adults who buy more than two-thirds of the movie tickets sold in the U.S. each year. “It almost makes me angry that I haven’t experienced something like that in my time and my generation. That’s the reason we’re doing Woodlawn,” said John Erwin. “Film is an emotional experience. It’s a way you can taste something that you’ve never experienced before in your life. And it’s a way for a generation to taste just a little bit of what revival, spiritual awakening, whatever you want to call it, is like. And my prayer is that by going to a football movie they get a taste of revival and awakening and they begin to crave it for themselves. I feel like it’s coming.”At $22 million, Woodlawn is the highest budgeted independent Christian film in a decade.  Much of that is being sunk into publicity and getting the film in as many theaters as possible. It will debut on almost twice as many screens as War Room.

But the money also went to securing talented, big-name actors that give the film credibility among a non-Christian audience. Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings, Rudy) plays the role of Hank, the team chaplain. Bear Bryant is masterfully portrayed by Academy Award winner Jon Voight (Coming Home, Deliverance). The actor who portrays main character Tony Nathan is a newcomer to film, but his name is probably familiar to football fans. Caleb Castille won two national championship rings with the University of Alabama before he sensed God was calling him out of football to pursue acting. His father, Jeremiah Castille, played with Nathan and Banks quarterback Jeff Rutledge on the 1979 Crimson Tide national championship team.

Caleb was originally hired as a stunt double for the British actor who was picked to play Tony, but visa complications left the Erwins in a lurch. Only then did they discover Caleb’s audition tape and realize that their “Tony Nathan” was right there in Alabama, and as much a product of the Woodlawn story as they were.

Woodlawn’s great acting, outstanding production quality and poignant story line together make it a movie well worth seeing and encouraging friends to see. It’s a great film about football and the power of reconciliation, but it also is a vehicle for presenting the gospel naturally to those who mistakenly believe it has no relevance in their lives.

This post was adapted from the original article which appeared in The Family Room, the bi-monthly e-magazine from FamilyLife.

© 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading “Woodlawn: The power of reconciliation” on the Stepping Up blog for men.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistJon Erwin and Andy Erwin discuss the mission of previous movies October Baby, Mom’s Night on FamilyLife Today.

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistLet Jon Erwin tell you their dream about reaching the world for Christ through the medium of film.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistGo to the official Woodlawn movie website for more video features, theater locations and to buy tickets.

 

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