I couldn’t help but laugh, watching the news media dodge and duck like some nimble wide receiver, during the college football National Championship game Monday night, because the poor, poor ‘wags’ (a silly misnomer for derelict sports writer) were beside themselves. I know … I was a sports writer who grew up in a full half-century where a small yet select group of certain key words are absolutely forbidden on a sheet of newsprint or any video tape.
Of all the hateful and vulgar words you would hear in locker room or late-night bar the ‘J-word’ could turn off an athlete, a coach, or a fan faster than a light switch.
What made the whole thing even funnier, I would purposely use the ‘J’ more and more, always in a column of a video tape, and I got more high mileage out of using it in public than you can imagine. My genre, if you will, is that I have been what’s called an “emotion writer,” one who plays on the human element more than statistics or play-by-play. I used to get kidded by my close friends when I would be on assignment. “Well, did you make more people laugh or cry this weekend?” they would ask, and I was never bothered that much because I believe some of the best stories have a foundation of emotion.
And what’s the ‘J word,’ you wonder? As I tell you, I want you to think about the fact you rarely see it in a public newspaper or on network TV or hear many athletes on any level ascribe to it. That said, I read and heard ‘Jesus’ more times when Clemson just beat Alabama than I can ever remember in my life. If you aren’t a Christian, you either loathe it or will abandon any conversation where the Savior’s name is being used. I believe the ‘J-word’ makes people so uncomfortable because they are scared for some eerie reason…
Yet to Believers like myself, we can find more hope, inspiration, promise, encouragement and love in that one single word that no other can in any way come near. In the National Championship game Monday night, true freshman Trevor Lawrence, was the Most Valuable Player. As he led the Tigers to a stunning 44-16 win over Alabama, Lawrence was spectacular, finishing 20-of-32 for 347 yards and three touchdowns.
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TREVOR LAWRENCE AFTER THE BIGGEST VICTORY IN HIS LIFE
“Football is important to me, obviously, but it’s not my life; it’s not like the biggest thing in my life, I would say my faith is,” the 6’5” 215-pound precision passer said in a postgame interview. “That just comes from knowing who I am outside of (football). No matter how big the situation is, it’s not going to define me. I put my identity in what Christ says and who He thinks I am and who He says I am.
“So really, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what people think about me or how good they think I play or whatever.
“Just think about the privilege it is to have a Lord like ours. Imagine the mercy and grace it takes to offer us this life with Him. In all of our disgusting sin and how we’ve betrayed Him, He STILL pursues us. If He has done that, I’ll live this life for Him. There’s nothing that compares.”
WHY ALL-AMERICAN QUARTERBACK TUA TAGOVILOA PICKED ALABAMA
“First and foremost, it was their belief in God,” Tagovailoa said per SB Nation. “Their belief in God was one of the biggest things that kind of struck me. That kind of lines up with everything in my life. It’s not really structured, ‘There’s God, and there’s anything else.’ It’s more, ‘God’s so in the middle, and everything revolves around Him.’ That’s the kind of atmosphere I want to surround myself with.”
(After Alabama won the national championship last year) “Excuse me, first and foremost, I’d just like to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,” Tagovailoa said per AL.com. “With him, all things are possible. That’s what happened tonight…All glory goes to God. I can’t describe what He’s done for me and my family. Who would have ever thought I would have been here, right now in this moment. So, you know, thank God for that, and I’d just like to thank my teammates and coach Saban for giving me the opportunity.”
CLEMSON DEFENSIVE LINEMAN RODERICK BARNES
“No matter what happens, I will always have the victory because of Christ,” Byers said last week. “Whether its people doubting me, or things aren’t going my way in a game, I know I can overcome all things because a price has been paid for me. I am who God says I am, and I can do all things through Him.” (Byers’ teammate, Eric Mac Lain, an offensive lineman, said the verse Matthew 5:14 personally gives him strength every time he takes the field. “I play with the intent to glorify the Lord on every snap, so that people may see His light shining through me — Matthew 5:14,” Mac Lain said in a press release.)
AND THEN THERE IS CLEMSON HEAD COACH DABO SWEENEY
Minutes after Clemson’s stirring win, a sports writer asked from the audience, “When you hoist a trophy, you spend time talking about God and faith. Can you speak about that a little bit more? ‘Cause it’s impressive that’s where you are right after hoisting a trophy.”
(Dabo pauses, a smile appearing on his face…
“That’s the easiest question I’ve had all day,” the coach responded. “To me, it’s just the priorities of my life. I made a decision when I was 16. I grew up in a family where I was taught there was a God, but I didn’t really have a relationship with Christ until I was 16. That was a game-changer for me, it has really become a foundation in my life.”
That would have been enough to answer the reporter’s question, but the National Championship winner wasn’t done yet. He continued to speak candidly about the “hope and peace” that Jesus has given him through all the trials and tribulations of this life.
“It’s hard to survive and thrive in this world if you don’t have a spiritual foundation and something that will give you peace,” Swinney explained. “‘Cause life is hard. And we’re all gonna experience death, failure, setbacks, disappointment, cancer — it’s a really difficult world. For me, my relationship with Christ has given me hope and peace.”
Sweeney then quoted Jeremiah 29:11:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
“I’ve applied that to my life along my journey,” Swinney explained. “To me, if there’s really hope in the future, then there’s power in the present to deal with whatever mess you’re dealing with in your life.”
“That’s what my relationship with Christ did for me,” he said. “It gave me the ability to have a hope and a belief beyond my circumstances.”
The highly successful coach also revealed that it was his “greatest accomplishment” to see his three sons come to know Jesus Christ.
“Those are personal decisions that people have to make,” he said. “It’s just how I choose to live my life.”
“People that know me know I ain’t perfect, but I do try to live in a way that is hopefully pleasing to my maker,” he added. “Because I know I’m gonna meet him one day and he’s not gonna pat me on the back and talk about how many wins I had, how many coach of the year trophies I got or how much money I made. He’s gonna hold me accountable about the impact I had on young people, the type of men we develop through a game.”
“Appreciate you asking that question,” Swinney laughed after his epic answer. “Didn’t expect that one!”
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Neither did the national sports media. Or those who dread the ‘J-word.’
But in my life I’ve never seen anything like it.