On November 5, 2011, former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was arrested on 40 counts relating to sexual abuse of eight young boys. The alleged sexual abuse scandal led to the firing of Penn State’s football coach and president.
Tim McGill, the Athletes In Action director at Penn State, worked with the football team during the crisis. The day after Penn State lost to Nebraska at home, I interviewed him about the week leading up to the football game. “Our players and coaches were shocked and stunned by the news about the sexual abuse that took place at Penn State. We heard the report the week before the Nebraska game and everyone was in disbelief. One player told me that he didn’t know how to feel or what he should say or do. The atmosphere around the team was very somber as they tried to process the news and the loss of their legendary coach.”
Fellowship of Christian Athlete’s Nebraska State Director Chris Bubak sent a prayer request from Nebraska Running Back’s Coach Ron Brown to other FCA staff earlier in the week. In the message, he wrote, “We won’t know why, but I’m absolutely convinced that God set this up – the coming out of this horrible story, the firing of Coach Paterno and others, the game against Nebraska etc for His purposes. And at the center of that purpose is the gospel. The gospel is the only message that has the authority, the power, the meaning, the truth to speak into and triumph over this awful account of man’s depravity!”
Jimmy Page who serves with the FCA as a vice president for the Mid-Atlantic region, read Bubak’s email and informed him of his efforts to contact McGill about the possibility of Nebraska and Penn State praying together before the football game. McGill thought that it would be appropriate for the teams to meet prior to the kick off so he contacted Nebraska assistant coach Ron Brown. Brown at one time had served as the FCA State Director in Nebraska and writes a column in the FCA magazine, “Sharing the Victory.” He often prays after Nebraska football games and McGill thought it would be appropriate for him to pray for the teams and community as a way of showing solidarity and support for the victims.
At midfield before the game, both teams embraced and took a knee in prayer led by Ron Brown:
“Every one of these young men that was called to this platform today – Lord, we know, we know we don’t have control of all of the events that took place this week but we do know that you are bigger than it all. And we give you the glory that you are going to protect this stadium today and this town and these university sponsors and these students, that you would give great sense to all of them, Lord. Remove the foolishness and that your common sense will reign and shine. Well, God, there are a lot of little boys around the country today watching this game and they’re trying to figure out what the definition of manhood is all about. Father, this is it right here. I pray that this game will be a training ground for what manhood looks like. That we would compete with fierce intensity. With the honors, the gifts, and the talents that you have given us. And may we be reminded, Lord, that as it says in your word in John 1:14 that Jesus is full of grace, and truth. May the truth be known. May justice be known. Would you protect the victims. Would you give grace and forgiveness for the lives of all of those. Now give us a great game, a game that honors you, and in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.”
The day after the game, I interviewed Coach Brown. “Once I had a sense that there might be a prayer before the game, I began to pray and ask the Lord to give me insight and wisdom. I believe the Lord is sovereign and nothing that was going to happen during or before that game was out of His control. The Lord chose these two teams and this day to bring glory and honor to His name.
“I wanted to pray for the safety of the players during the game and the entire campus. As I prayed for the victims of the sex-crimes, I also wanted to pray for all the young men who were watching the game that they might better understand what it means to be a man. I wanted them to see both teams honoring the Lord with their gifts and talents. Most importantly, I wanted everyone to know that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sin. That Jesus even died for the horrible sin of child abuse. Jesus is full of both grace and truth and this was important to communicate in the prayer. The truth will be known about crimes committed but there is also the truth about Jesus Christ that he is God and that there is grace and forgiveness for those who turn from their sin and place their trust and faith in him. All of us need forgiveness. Everyone is a sinner and needs to hear the good news that Jesus Christ came to earth to save us.”
This past week, there was a lot of bad news surrounding the Penn State scandal. Ron Brown and Tim McGill reminded me that what was meant for evil, God can use for good. Both men referenced Genesis 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” This was Joseph’s wise answer to his brothers who wanted to harm him but God used the circumstances to carry out his promises. This classic statement has gone down in history as the teaching that God is sovereign over the affairs of men.
The bad news is that all of us are sinners in need of a savior. But the good news is that God provided a way of salvation so you would not need to face God’s wrath. Do you know the good news? Jesus has come, told us about God, taken our punishment, conquered death, and shown us that he can save us from the grave. Pray that God would reveal Himself to you and repent of your sins and believe on Jesus Christ for your salvation.
1. What stood out to you in the blog?
2. Have you seen the prayer before the game on TV or youtube? What did you think?
3. What do you think is the most important lesson from this story? Why?
4. How do you explain the good news or gospel to others?
5. Watch “The Gospel in 6 Minutes.” You can download the video here or watch it online. Does John Piper’s explanation of the Gospel make sense to you? Why or why not?
You can watch and hear the Coach Ron Brown’s prayer before the football game here. You can watch his post game interview about the prayer here. Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead’s interview about the prayer is here. Here is a link to an article by the Omaha-Hearld: A Reason for Being, and for Playing.
Gordon Thiessen has served on staff with the Nebraska FCA since 1986. Currently, he is the Director or Training and Resources for the Nebraska FCA. He has a weekly podcast and blog, Sports In Focus. You can subscribe to the podcast at itunes and the blog here. He has also founded Cross Training Publishing (www.crosstrainingpublishing.com). He has written Team Studies on Character and edited The Athletes Topical Bible. He is married to Terri and has four grown children. You can find out more information about the Nebraska FCA at www.nebraskafca.org.
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