I understand why the media is so focused on stories of college football players’ off-the-field conduct. Their stories include assault, drug charges, arrests and a variety of other unbecoming behavior. The subject matter sizzles. These instances always seem to involve pre-season Players of the Year, All-Americans and potential NFL draft picks. It’s drama – a fall from a lofty position.
What these news stories overlook is “the rest of the story” – the athletes’ private lives that don’t make headlines.
Please allow me to share the rest of the story, one that involves about 65 percent of the members of the Texas Christian University football program and more than 300 student-athletes, trainers and coaches.
This information does not have the sizzle of a scandal or a fall from grace, but it leaves a lasting impression and results that will live for many lifetimes.
The TCU Chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) has created a powerful ministry that touches lives on the TCU campus, in summer camps, and in mentoring relationships with students at area elementary schools, middle schools and high schools. The locker rooms, fields, diamonds and courts are mission fields for touching and improving lives.
Four years ago, Chauncey Franks brought TCU a focused FCA program as life and character coach and chaplain for the football team.
A small core of four football players holding a weekly Bible Study has grown 75-fold and expanded into seven athletic programs across the campus. As we have seen in years past with examples such as former Dallas Cowboys Roger Staubach, Drew Pearson and Troy Aikman, students are seeing athletes as role models.
Pearson said in a speech a few years back that the athletes of his generation had to protect their reputation because they did not earn today’s large salaries as professional football players and knew they would one day have to enter the job market.
TCU-FCA cultivates the four “Cs” of FCA ministry: coaches, campus, camps and community. Using this basic formula as a starting point, Chauncey Franks has developed a program that focuses on student-athlete character, leadership skills, and spiritual growth for coaches as well as students.
Through weekly Bible Study (yes, even during season!), pre-game chapels, life skills development, character and leadership development, mentorship, discipleship and simply “being present,” these coaches and students are changing the trajectory of their own lives and every life they touch.
Over spring break, one TCU running back chose not to hit the beaches with his pals. Instead, he took a mission trip to Israel to share the Gospel while teaching athletic skills. The mix of athletics, character and ministry forms the crux of FCA’s effectiveness.
TCU- FCA attendance at the annual Texas FCA College Retreat has grown from 10 students in 2010 to more than 70 this year. TCU has had the largest number of participants each of the past three years.
The FCA weekly gathering (called a “huddle”) has grown from 10 students to almost 70 student-athletes representing most of the sports on campus.
On a recent Sunday, the FCA church service featured former NFL player Keith Davis and former Harlem Globetrotter and NBA player Melvin Adams. Each is using his athletic background to help others learn to live a more noble, selfless life through faith.
Participating TCU football players and coaches attend church together and are growing together as a team and family of faith. They are realizing that wins and losses – OK, wins – are important, but the lives they live off the field, beyond the game, determine who they are.
I played football at Baylor University and was involved in an active FCA huddle. My life was touched by many teammates, coaches and mentors through this process. I was blessed to become a better man because of the leadership and examples I learned in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
One man who impresses me is Baylor’s legendary coach Grant Teaff, who now serves as president of the American Football Coaches Association. He authored a powerful book, A Coach’s Influence Beyond the Game.
The lessons learned from caring coaches and fellow athletes who shared faith as we fought in the trenches of the athletic field continue to inspire me as I live my life now – beyond the game.
In the eyes of the jaded media, the 300 individuals spreading the ministry for Jesus Christ through TCU-FCA will never be as interesting or newsworthy as the few who cause trouble. But those 300 and the lives they touch will make a difference in the world far greater than their numbers.
Joseph DeWoody is president of Clear Fork Royalty, a mineral rights acquisition company based in Fort Worth, and is a member of the board of FCA Fort Worth.