We live in an age when, too often, rules are scorned, values are turned upside down, principles are replaced by expediency, and character is sacrificed for popularity. Individual athletes are sometimes the worst offenders, but not as often as one might think. In fact, sports teach important moral lessons that athletes can apply on and off the playing field.
Many people dream of being a professional athlete. For me, the dream seemed to be within reach because my father Jack Kemp, was an outstanding quarterback for the Buffalo Bills. The trouble was, I was not very good! I was a third-string football player through most of junior high and high school and for two years at Dartmouth College. I was not anyone’s idea of a “hot prospect.” After graduation, I was passed over by NFL scouts. When I was finally asked to join the Los Angeles Rams in 1981 as a free agent, I was designated a fifth-string quarterback.
It was a 50-to-1 shot that I would even survive training camp. Rookies were the only players required to show up for the first week of camp, and there were dozens of us competing for the few open spots.
After the first two days, a young boy approached me as I was walking off the field. He asked me if he could carry my helmet to the locker room. It was a long way, but I said, “Sure, I think you can handle that.”
The next morning, he showed up before practice and offered to carry my helmet and shoulder pads, and he was there again after practice with the same offer. So it went for the rest of the week.
On the last day, as we were departing the field, my young assistant said, “Jeff, can I ask you a question?” (We were on a first name basis by then.) I thought, “This is my first fan! He’s going to ask me for an autograph.” Then came his question:
“When do the good football players come to camp?”
Right then and there, I learned a valuable lesson in humility from a seven-year-old boy. It was a lesson I was forced to learn over and over in my first three NFL seasons when I threw just 31 passes.
Nevertheless, by that time, I had managed to outlast the five NFL quarterbacks who were ahead of me. With the Rams’ record at 1-2 to start the 1984 season, I took over for the injured Vince Ferragamo, earning my first start against the Cincinnati Bengals, and eventually led the team to nine more victories and a playoff berth.
The next season, I returned to the bench as a backup quarterback and learned the value of humility. I was compelled to remind myself that it was a good thing. It helped me appreciate what I did have, and it helped me to avoid dwelling on what I didn’t. Humility prevented me from complaining, which drains the spirit and also drains the unity of any group. Humility is what led me to persevere and be ready whenever opportunity presented itself. And it did present itself many times over the next eight years of my professional football career.
Humility is having an accurate view of yourself because you have an accurate view of God. We are not defined by our title, by our accomplishments and failures, or by comparison to other people, but by how He sees us. God thought enough of us to create us in His image. And even after sin spoiled everything, He still sees each of us flawed people with infinite worth — enough to sacrifice His Son so that He could forgive and adopt us.
Jesus came to serve, not to be served; He is the very model of humility. He will help you handle life’s ups and downs. More importantly, His humility in you will help you love and lead your family in all situations.