Most Americans are aware Super Bowl XLVII is happening today. What they may not be aware of, however, is that two openly Christian men are leading the opposing teams: Ray Lewis, veteran linebacker for the Ravens, and Colin Kaepernick, heavily tattooed quarterback of the 49ers. 13-time-Pro-Bowler and Super Bowl XXXV MVP Ray Lewis has been accused of double homicide and has fathered six children from four women, but now holds fast to the redemption found in Jesus Christ and was recognized with a Lifetime of Inspiration Award at Friday night's Super Bowl Gospel Celebration. Most of his faith story is printed in a 2006 Sports Illustrated cover story, where Lewis was referred to as "God's Linebacker:"
"Every game day, just before another 60 minutes' worth of hype and violence, Lewis will dip his fingers in consecrated oil, seek out a half dozen of his fellow defenders and trace a cross on each of their foreheads. And he doesn't limit his touch to teammates. "You are blessed," Lewis told San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman on the phone the night before the two teams met in October. "Limit yourself with how many women you see. And strap up!" It's a constant refrain to any young player who crosses his path. "You know how foolish I was?" Lewis says. "One thing Ray's going to tell you: Don't you sleep with no woman without a condom."
According to Barna Research Group, two thirds of Americans think professional athletes have more influence than pastors, but Lewis' candid conversation style and controversial advice (above) contribute to most conservative Christians' weariness of referring to him as a "moral role model." As Christianity Today's Editor in Chief wrote in a commentary piece last week, "when Christians become prominent in athletics, we are tempted to turn them into role models. We want them . . . to be models of morality . . . but . . . even Christian athletes, in the end, make for poor moral role models."
Colin Kaepernick's tattoos contribute to some Christians' hesitancy to declare him a "moral role model." The 49er's quarterback's arms and back are covered in ink with Bible verses with religious implications:
"The verse is, ‘You arm me with strength for battle. You make my adversaries bow at my feet,'" Kaepernick dished to E! Magazine. "Basically, it's saying the Lord is giving me all the tools to be successful, I just have to go out and do my part to uphold that."
His parents helped him pick out the tattoos, and, according to his mother, "They are about asking God to help kick somebody’s butt.”
While Tim Tebow has his signature bow in the end zone after successful plays, Kaepernick can be found kissing his biceps in tribute to his tattoo artist, and Lewis may even be found dropping to his knees in prayer on the sidelines. While tattoos and public prayers don't necessarily make someone "moral," I can't help but admire Kaepernick's Bible-based ink (38 percent of Millennials have a tattoo, and I'm one of them - maybe that's part of it), and Lewis' fiery public proclamations of the goodness of the Lord.
What do YOU think? Do Christians put professional athletes on a pedestal?
Also, be sure to be praying for the women and men who are victims of human trafficking this weekend in New Orleans.