The Rushmore Report: The Faith of MVP Kevin Durant

One of the most fun periods of my life was serving as a chaplain for the Houston Rockets. One of the players I met was Kevin Durant, the MVP of the NBA Finals, with his Golden State Warriors winning the NBA championship Monday night. Whenever his team played in Houston, Durant never missed chapel. But what do we know abut his faith, beliefs, and commitment to Jesus Christ?

During a 2012 interview with Beyond the Ultimate, Durant said, “The Bible both pumps me up and balances me to play my best.”

It’s easy for anybody like Durant to get a swelled head amidst the constant praise and admiration heaped by the public. But he gives all the glory to God.

“The Bible says the Lord exalts humility, and that’s one thing I try to be all the time. When people tell me I’m great, I remind myself that I can always be better. Humility comes before honor,” he said.

Speaking to Liberty News, Durant added, “The Lord has blessed me with these talents to do something special. But it is not about me. I want my career and my life to be a reflection of his love and his grace and mercy. Whether it is winning games, losing games, making shots, or missing shots, it is all about giving glory to God.”

Now, Kevin is a champion. But in God’s Book, he already was.

The Rushmore Report: How Michael Vick Found God

Former NFL star quarterback Michael Vick, whose involvement in a dog fighting ring landed him in federal prison for 18 months, has found God. In a recent radio interview, Vick said that his fall from grace showed him that “God is real.” The three-time Pro Bowl quarterback is ten years past that horrific time, and is now speaking out about what prison taught him about faith, grace, and second chances.

Raised in a Christian home, as a boy Michael slept with a Bible under his pillow. His singular goal and prayer was that God would give him a career in professional football. But when his dream became reality, his worldview began to change.

Vick said, “There was a time when I was starting to feel like, ‘Oh, I made it. I arrived. That’s it.’ In all that, you start to think about what is really important. You start to think that money is more important and chasing money is more important and contracts that you have – companies and appearances and staying out late and not working as hard as you can,” Vick explained.

“It was basically, pretty much just being, not naive, but comfortable in the position that I was in. Not thinking things could always go in a different direction, whether positive or negative, but mostly negative. I mostly never paid attention to it until it happened.”

It “happened” in the form of a 23-month federal sentence for his involvement in the “Bad Newz Kennels” dog fighting ring in which over 70 dogs were seized by authorities at Vick’s property in Virginia. Vick’s time in prison cost him two seasons during the prime of his football career.

When asked how God was involved in the ordeal, Vick said, “I knew it was God the entire time. When I was going through everything that I was going through, I just felt for a long time that there was a black cloud over my head, there was nothing that I could do right. I knew the things that I was trying to hide from were finally catching up with me and it showed me that God was real, that you are not bigger than anybody, not better than anybody.”

Vick continued, “I was blessed and He blessed me. I had plenty of chances to do the right thing and I didn’t do it right. It was all about just putting myself in a position where I could see life in a different form. I think it took me 18 months to realize that, from being in a prison cell.”

While in jail, Vick said he leaned on Scripture, especially the Book of Psalms, during his worst times of sorrow.

“The Book of Jeremiah, the Book of Job – they were extremely important to me in my walk and my understanding. The Book of Psalms was very powerful. I leaned on the Book of Psalms in my toughest and my most sorrowful moments when I felt like I had no fight left. Those were the nights that I read those Scriptures and was able to wake up a new man the next day,” he explained. “I always seemed to get broken down and have to resort back to the Bible and resort back to reading it as a source of comfort and that comfort came from God.”

Vick added that while he was in prison, he prayed for a second chance.

Although he was released by the Atlanta Falcons before he was released from prison, Vick eventually signed and played with the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2009 season. In 2010, he started 12 games for the Eagles, and in 2011, he started 13 games. Following his time in prison, Vick played a total of seven more seasons with three different NFL teams.

“It took a long time for me to understand how I needed to live my life,” he said. “Life is a lesson. You make mistakes and you learn from them. If you don’t learn from them, you really don’t get second and third opportunities, especially in my profession. You can end up in places where you don’t want to be.”

Vick concluded, “I messed up one time. I prayed for another opportunity, and God has given me that. Now – the promises I’ve made to God – I have to fulfill them.”


The Rushmore Report: Lessons from Tiger Wood’s Latest Failure

Early Sunday morning, Tiger Woods was arrested for driving under the influence. Fifteen hours later, he issued a statement in an attempt to save face. Following the incident 30 miles from his home in Jupiter, Florida, Woods said that alcohol was not involved, and that his condition resulted from “an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications.” I see four lessons from Tiger’s latest fall from grace.

First, let’s consider his statement. Woods said, “I understand the severity of what I did and I take full responsibility for my actions. I want the public to know that alcohol was not involved. What happened was an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications. I didn’t realize the mix of medications had affected me so strongly.” Woods then apologized to his fans and pledged to “do everything in my power to ensure this never happens again.” He closed his statement by thanking the Jupiter Police Department and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.

So what are we to make of this latest event in the life of the man who sat atop the world golf rankings longer than any player in history? On the plus side, Woods has been a great father and perhaps the most driven and successful golfer who ever picked up a set of clubs.

On the down side, Woods is an admitted sex addict who was unfaithful to his wife through the entirety of their marriage. Add to that previous DUI arrests and huge anger problems, and you have one complicated man.

Tossing the latest failure into the mix, I offer a few observations.

1. Tiger is more like us than we may like to admit.

Tiger Woods was unfaithful to his wife. So are most married men. On occasion, Tiger drinks too much. So does about half of the American population. Tiger is consumed with personal achievement. So are most of us. Tiger Woods has personal struggles. So do we all.

2. There is one big difference between Tiger Woods and most of us.

Here it is – Tiger lives his life on the public stage. I can’t imagine what this must be like. There are three groups of people. There are those who live in total anonymity. Then there are public figures who can retreat to places of anonymity when they so choose. And then there are public figures who are so well known that there is no place to hide. Tiger Woods falls into that category.

3. Life is about what happens after the fall.

Muhammad Ali, the greatest athlete who ever lived (in my humble opinion) famously said, “What matters is not how many times you get knocked down, but how many times you get back up.” Tiger Woods has been knocked down more times than any of us can possibly know. He has been knocked down by physical injuries, the loss of his best friend and dad, a failed marriage, addiction, and countless personal flaws. But in life, as with his golf game, he keeps swinging. Last week, he vowed (again) to return to the game that made him famous and wildly successful. It seems that no injury, no personal failure, and no mistake – regardless how great – can keep Tiger down. For that he deserves great credit.

4. God is about redemption.

One of the most poignant things any of us can say, when contemplating tossing rocks Tiger’s way is this – “If not for the grace of God that could be me.” Your failures are probably not Tiger’s failures. But you have failures he does not have. The closer to God I get, the further away I realize I still am. And the more I recognize my own faults, the less I see faults in others. Life is about redemption.

Tiger Woods’ life is an open book. And it is an interesting book. But make no mistake. It is a book whose final chapter has yet to be written.

The Rushmore Report: Five NFL Players You Didn’t Know Were Christians

In America, football has become a religion. While more people attend church on Sundays than watch NFL games on TV, the NFL is gaining – fast. But Christianity and the NFL are not mutually exclusive. There are plenty of NFL players who work on Sundays – and are very active in their faith. Here are just a few football players who have embraced Christianity, and aren’t ashamed to talk about it.

1. Drew Brees

The man is a saint – twice. First, Brees plays quarterback for the New Orleans Saints. But more importantly, he lives out an active faith in Christ. He accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Savior on his 17th birthday, after having knee surgery. He credits his faith for helping him through multiple episodes of adversity in his life.

2. Aaron Rodgers

Widely recognized as the best player in the NFL, the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers grew up in a Christian home. This is how he lives out his faith as a football player: “Let your actions talk about your beliefs. Start a relationship with others, then finally when there is a chance for questions, tell them about God.”

3. Russell Wilson

A featured speaker in churches nationwide, Wilson credits his faith for the stability he has come to experience in his personal life. He explains, “I don’t have highs and lows because I play for Him.” Wilson has shared his faith with teammates, and the Seattle Seahawks now have one of the strongest chapel ministries in the league.

4. Mark Sanchez

The back-up quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys has experienced a lot of adversity in the NFL, bouncing from team to team. He expresses his faith by the way he treats others. He says, “How can you show your love for God? He doesn’t need anything you’ve got. You love Him by loving others.”

5. Robert Griffin III

Having earned Rookie of the Year honors with the Washington Redskins, it once looked as though RG3 would become the face of the NFL. Then injuries began to mount. Through trades and down times, he has remained faithful to God. He says, “My relationship with God has been my most important influence. I praise God for everything. Purposefully, you live every day for Him, and when He gives you the opportunity to speak up for Him or to do something in His name, you do it.”

The Rushmore Report: Tim Tebow Opens Up about His Faith and Baseball

Tim Tebow has traded in his football helmet for a baseball bat. Through it all, the 29-year-old athlete has kept his faith front and center. Born a son of missionaries, Tebow is spreading the gospel in a different way. He told Fox News how being a Christian has had a major impact not only in the NFL, but also in his budding career in baseball. “It impacts me daily. My faith impacts the way I treat people,” Tebow says.

“It affects how I pursue life, my vantage point. How I interact with people. Hopefully in how I’m a little more patient with people and certain things,” he said, laughing. “And how I treat people, but my faith is something that changes the way I act, the way I live, the way I think, the way I breathe, everything, because it puts things into perspective – especially what matters, and that’s something I’ve very grateful for.”

Late last year, Tebow singed with the New York Mets. He will start this baseball season playing for the Columbia Fireflies, a Class A affiliate.

“My teammates have been so supportive from the major league guys to, all the way down. Everyone has been supportive, especially they guys here,” Tebow said.

Nearly 4,000 fans showed up to Tebow’s first practice at South Carolina’s Spirit Communications Park. Heidy Webster was one of the fans who drove a great distance to be there. She said, “I think it’s great. I wish more people would do it.”

Tebow, in an interview after practice, said, “I think God has a specific plan for every single one of us. And I think that we also have choices that we can make to pursue and I think that the one thing I try to share with young people is that you matter and that you’re special, you’re unique. That God created you for a reason and a purpose. You aren’t an accident, you are special, you are important. And when you understand that and you look at it that way, you can live that way,” Tebow continued.

He admitted that he misses football. “I still love the game of football and sometimes you miss it. But I’m pursuing something else that I love and you can love more than one thing.”

The Fireflies play their first game against the Augusta Greenjackets on April 6.

The Rushmore Report: Tony Romo – ‘This Matters More than Football’

It was a sad day for football fans across America – a day few saw coming. Tuesday, the 14-year veteran of the Dallas Cowboys announced his retirement from the NFL. With the Houston Texans standing in the wings, offering Romo the chance of a Super Bowl which has eluded him all these years, the four-time Pro Bowl quarterback is leaving the football field to be an analyst for CBS.

What drove his decision? Why would Tony Romo step away from the game he loves so much when his best shot at football’s ultimate prize was right in front of him? Playing for the Texans was tempting, he said. But there is one thing that matters more to Tony Romo than football.

Tony Romo believes in God. In fact, he says that many of his life’s deepest struggles are what caused him to turn to Christ as his Savior. But he hasn’t always been so strong in his faith.

Antonio Ramiro “Tony” Romo was born on April 21, 1980. He was raised in a military family and became active in sports at a young age. He was active in church, but did not surrender his life to Christ until he was in college. Romo says, “I grew up in church, in Sunday School. But I had never known how to give myself over to the Lord. You could say, I never thought deeply about it. To me, Jesus was Santa in some ways.”

While playing at Eastern Illinois University, Romo realized God had been trying to get his attention. In college, he became a true disciple of Christ. He says, “I had never known how to give myself over to the Lord. I remember in college a few people talking about their faith in Jesus Christ. It was then that I became a real believer. It was so freeing to finally know that someone other than me was sovereign over my life and I could rest in that.”

Reflecting back on his career, the Cowboy record-holder says, “I’d love to say that my life was magically perfect after I came to the Lord, but it doesn’t work that way. You still sin, it’s still hard. But I keep getting back up and praying and asking for forgiveness and keep my faith. And he gives me peace.”

Romo is a family man, married to 2008 Miss Missouri USA Candice Crawford. He told reporters, “I think one of the most important things you’re going to do in your life is hopefully be a spiritual leader of your family.”

As for his future, Romo says, “I want to let people know I feel blessed. I don’t want to squander a gift that’s been given to me to do this. I want to give back the way the Lord intended when he allowed me to have these abilities.”

So after an exciting 14-year NFL career, Tony Romo is retiring. He is leaving the game he loves so much in pursuit of the one thing he loves even more – his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

As a Houston Texans fan, I’m bummed. But as a follower of Jesus Christ, I get it. And I’ll be rooting for Tony Romo more now than ever.

The Rushmore Report: Michael Strahan on Who Will Be in Heaven

When sports stars and famous actors speak out on politics and religion, people notice. That’s why mega-star Michael Strahan made news with his recent declaration, on ABC’s morning show, on who will be in heaven. The NFL hall-of-famer didn’t stop there. He offered a new definition of the church. I like Michael Strahan. But what he said – if he really believes it – is scary.

1. Multiple roads to heaven

First, let’s consider what the TV star said about heaven. Strahan said, “There are so many different religions,” but “they are all the same,” offering “many ways to the same heaven.” He continued, “There’re so many different religions that they all end up boiling down to the same thing, but at some point in my heart of hearts, I think we’ll all end up in heaven.”

Theologians call this universalism. The idea goes like this. God is an all-loving being who will, at the end of the day, welcome into heaven all who have ever been born, because his grace is the ultimate response to our sin.

If Strahan is right, Jesus is a liar. He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). If all roads lead to heaven, Jesus lied by saying he was the only way.

If Strahan is right, God is the worst father who ever lived. He sent his Son on a death march to the unnecessary cross – if Strahan is right. Since all roads lead to heaven, why let Jesus die as though this was the only way?

But Strahan is not right. There is one way to God and that way is through his Son, Jesus Christ.

2. New definition of church

When asked on air if he goes to church, Strahan said, “On occasion . . . I mean, I’m pretty much working six days a week and then football on Sunday.” Then he excused, “I’m always at church because sometimes church can be in a state of mind.”

The Greek word for that is bologna. Each believer makes up a part of the church. We, the church, are Christ’s bride and some day he will return for his church. At that same time, some will be left behind and not be in heaven. The church is not a “state of mind,” but rather a body of blood-bought, faith-filled, regenerated and Spirit-sealed believers in Jesus Christ – the only way to heaven.

I like Michael Strahan. He was a great football player. He is a wonderful entertainer. Of course, when it comes to getting to heaven and the subject of “church,” he has a right to his opinion. And I don’t doubt his sincerity.

But on the most important issues man will ever face – issues of eternal life – Michael Strahan is sincerely wrong.

Miracle on Ice

Mike Eruzione – have you ever heard of him?

Let me help. Mike was born in Winthrop, Massachusetts, on October 25, 1944. At 5 feet 10 and 180 pounds, he was not an imposing athlete, even in his prime. A college hockey player, his dream was to play in the NHL. But he was drafted by the WHA, not the NHL. The WHA (World Hockey Association) was a fledgling league that never competed successfully with the NHL. And Mike never even made it to the WHA. His professional career played out in the minor hockey leagues of the IHL and AHL, where he played left wing for the Toledo Goaldiggers and Philadelphia Firebirds. He was cut from the Firebirds in 1980, and his professional career was over.

But that’s where history begins.

Because Eruzione was no longer a pro, he could try out for the American amateur hockey team, going against college players for a spot on the team. Mike made the team and was elected captain, based on his seasoned age in the midst of players barely out of high school.

That amateur hockey team is better known as the Olympic team. They played in Lake Placid, New York. It was there that the unthinkable became reality – 37 years ago today.

In the medal round, or semi-finals, the American team came up against the vaunted Russian team, many of whom were NHL All-Stars and award-winning veterans. It was the ultimate David vs. Goliath.

On this day, David won.

It was never supposed to happen. This would be like a mid-level college football team beating Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. The American team beating the Russians and then winning the gold medal (which they did two days later) would be the ultimate feel-good story.

And yet, it happened.

In the final period, the scored was tied, 3-3. Then Mike Eruzione scored the winning goal. And at the sound of the final horn, legendary broadcaster Al Michaels asked, “Do you believe in miracles?” And the term “Miracle on Ice” was birthed.

You know the names of the greats of American sports history: Ruth, Ali, Jordan, and Unitas. But you didn’t know Mike Eruzione’s name.

And here’s the lesson – country above person. That’s it. We remember that the Americans beat the Russians. We don’t care who scored the winning goal. Credit goes to the team.

And that’s how it should be. When one man becomes bigger than the team or country, we have lost our way. “Miracle on Ice” will live forever in the hearts and minds of all who were of age in 1980. The names may be forgotten, but not the event. For that one day on ice, 37 years ago, America was #1.

That’s all that mattered then. And that’s all that matters now.

The Rushmore Report: Patriots Skipping White House Ceremony

Just a few days out from the Super Bowl, the number of New England Patriots who have declared their intention to skip the team’s celebratory visit to the White House has jumped to six. So much for the Patriots being Donald Trump’s team. The first two players to say they’d sit out the White House reception did so shortly after the huge win.

Both tight end Martellus Bennett and safety Devin McCourty made it clear that Trump was the reason why. Asked if he was concerned about the response from Trump-supporting Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Bennett said he wasn’t “worried at all.”

The four players who have since joined Bennett and McCourty have given a range of reasons. Defensive end Alan Branch, who has four kids at home, told SiriusXM NFL Radio he prefers to “hang out with the family and continue celebrating until the next season starts.” Linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who also skipped the team’s 2014 visit to the White House but did attend while at Alabama, justified his decision by saying, “Been there, done that.”

Running back LeGarrette Blount pointed toward the president when he was asked about the trip. “I will not be going to the White House,” he told the NFL Network’s Rich Eisen. “I don’t feel welcome in that house. I’ll leave it at that.”

Then there’s Chris Long, the only white Patriots player to publicly announce his plans to skip the White House. The defensive end, who publicly spoke out in favor of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his national anthem protest earlier this year, wrote on Twitter that he’s “skipping” the visit. His tweet came in response to a Daily News column calling on him to join his teammates after his Kaepernick comments made him stand out in a “pathetic sea of NFL white silence.”

At least one other player has suggested he may join the six above. Running back James White said that he’s still making up his mind. “I’ll wait till the time comes and decide then,” he said on NFL radio.

At this rate, Tom Brady might have to go see his pal all alone.

About the Author

Adam K. Raymond writes for the Daily Intelligencer and New Yorker Magazine.

The Rushmore Report: Why the NFL May Never Give Texas Another Super Bowl

By all accounts, Houston did an amazing job hosting the 51st Super Bowl. To date, four Super Bowls have been played in Texas. Houston has hosted three (1974, 2004, 2017) and Dallas one (2011). With new, state-of-the-art stadiums, both cities are on the short list for future games. Yet, the NFL has announced that Texas is in jeopardy of never hosting another Super Bowl.

The National Football League has warned the state of Texas that if it passes a transgender bathroom law similar to the one passed in North Carolina last year, it would likely affect their chances of hosting future Super Bowls.

The league has spoken out against a bill currently being considered in the Texas legislature that would require people to use state-owned bathrooms, showers, and changing areas consistent with their biological sex. The Texas “bathroom bill” would prevent municipal and county governments from enacting local ordinances that require businesses and places of public accommodation to allow transgender individuals to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity.

The bill was introduced in January by Republican Sen. Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is actively pushing the legislation, and at least 15 Republican lawmakers have signed on as co-sponsors.

“The NFL embraces inclusiveness,” said spokesman Brian McCarthy in an email to the Houston Chronicle last week. “We want all fans to feel welcomed at our events and NFL policies prohibit discrimination  based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard.”

McCarthy added, “If a proposal that is discriminatory or inconsistent with our values were to become law in Texas, that would certainly be a factor considered when thinking about awarding future events.”

Patrick’s office has offered a quick response, saying that the bill in no way forces NFL stadiums to keep transgender individuals out of the bathrooms they want to use and he asserted that the state is dedicated to “making sure that every Texan is welcomed.”

The Texas bill comes after former Houston mayor Annise Parker led an effort to pass a transgender bathroom ordinance that forced places of public accommodation to allow transgender individuals to use bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers consistent with their gender identity.

The HERO ordinance, opposed by a coalition of 400 Houston area churches that stood in disapproval of the ordinance, caused public uproar.

The ordinance was later struck down after enough signatures were obtained to force a referendum vote. By a large margin, Houston residents voted against the ordinance on November, 2015.

“We proved that these ordinances create unequal rights for a tiny few who are broken and hurting, and that, instead of pointing them toward hope and healing, trample on the safety, privacy, and freedom of our women and children,” said Willie Davis, a member of the Houston Area Pastor’s Council.

About the Author

Samuel Smith is a writer for the Christian Post, based in Washington, D.C. He covers cultural and religious issues from an intentionally Christian worldview.