If you are like me, when you think of Colorado, what comes to mind are mountains, snow, and altitude sickness. Could that be changing? Should we now be associating Colorado with athletes who walk their Christian faith? And I am not just referring to Tim Tebow’s time wearing the orange and blue for the Denver Broncos back in 2010 and 2011. Tebow is the quarterback who became widely known for kneeling on one knee in prayer during football games.
Let’s look at a few recent examples that might make the case for the Rocky Mountain state being the new mecca for the religious athlete. I confess, I’m one of those Jesus geeks, who tends to see everything through the lens of my faith. With former Seattle Seahawks quarterback and Super Bowl champ Russell Wilson joining the Denver Broncos last year, and football coach and former player Deion Sanders leaving Jackson State to lead the University of Colorado Boulder program this year—both devout Christians—it seems like more than a coincidence.
For his part, Wilson is one of the most outspoken athletes about his faith, consistently showing how it guides him in everything that he does. On his Instagram account, Wilson says “Jesus is King.” He puts his faith on display for everyone to see—whether it’s practicing premarital celibacy with his now-wife Ciara or visiting hospitals weekly. He boldly walks his faith in a culture that doesn’t always find it virtuous. On the well-known “Pivot” podcast, moderated by former athletes, host Channing Crowder called Wilson a square. Translation: Wilson walks his faith in public and that makes him weak, not real, and not part of the culture. Wilson’s response on social media: “Stay squared up.” Well, now that square took his faith to Denver, Colorado. And,with the season he is having, he can sure use it.
Colorado wasn’t finished. Just about 30 miles down the road from Denver, the University of Colorado Boulder called in two-time Super Bowl champ, Deion Sanders, as its next head football coach this year. Sanders, nicknamed “Prime Time” during his 14-year tenure playing in the NFL, also openly proclaims his love for God. Coach Prime, as he’s now known, routinely talks about Jesus and how football is his ministry to help communities and young athletes. When Sanders told his players at Jackson State that he was leaving for Colorado, he brought up knowing God’s voice. In his introductory press conference at Boulder, his first words were, “Don’t you ever tell me what God ain’t. Don’t you ever tell me his limits.”
A few years earlier, when Sanders was asked why he was going to coach football at Jackson State, he replied, “God called me collect and I accepted the charges.” Sanders found success in three seasons at Jackson State while also bringing a great deal of attention to this Historically Black College and University (HBCU) and to HBCU athletics in general. He’s gotten some criticism as an HBCU coach “selling out” to a predominantly white university, and I can understand where that comes from. We’ll have to wait and see whether he can have the same success on the field with the Buffaloes as he did with the Tigers. More importantly to me to witness is how he uses his position to live the gospel during this next phase of his life and career.
In any case, something is happening in Colorado. As Tim McGraw sings: “Touchdown Jesus.”