Curtis Eichelberger, a sports reporter for Bloomberg News spent several years researching his new book by interviewing current and former NFL players, their families, chaplains, and even a few coaches. The topic? Not their training regiments, their signing stories, or even their best/worst game. Eichelberger investigated the strong and needed, but often overlooked faith component to the NFL.
Ask almost any pre-teen boy what they would like to be, and a pro-football player will be among the most popular answers. What they see in their mind is the glory of a Sunday afternoon touchdown or the pure power of a well aimed tackle. They do not see the years of physical abuse to one's body, tough training schedules, and frequent disappointments. They also do not see the hundreds of good players, who are, well just not quite good enough.
Ask any high school kid, and well, unfortunately most adults, about the life of a NFL player, and they will weave images of young men awash in wealth, women, and fame. They may mention a tough training schedule and possible injuries, but they won't know or understand the reality of most NFL players. Eischelberger paints a picture of careers dotted with uncertainity, frequent trades, and
a final release, often just a couple years after that first glorious "signing bonus." Often these players have never truly focused on anything except football since they were 9 or 10 years old. For years, they have been the center of attention within their families, their high schools, their colleges, and then their fans. After the NFL comes unstructured days, fading fame, wounded bodies, and often finanical and relationship woes. Too often poor choices made during playing days explode into major disasters played out beyond the notice of former fans.
Behind the scenes of many NFL teams are team chaplains, team Bible study groups, and even groups for the wives and girlfriends. Chaplains and coaches alike say that teams with a core of "faith guys" (those who profess their faith and strive to live it) find that those members become the glue that
holds teams together. Chaplains find ways to help players set life priorities in a correct order: Faith, family, and football. Within the book, players give personal testament to finding a purpose beyond their fame, surviving temptation, getting on sound financial setting, and giving back to their communities.
Like most in Wisconsin, I am a Packer fan, but I don't really keep track of other teams and players, so some of the players in this book were unknown to me. I am somewhat familiar with team chaplains because a man who grew up in our community was an asst chaplain for the Green Bay Packers back in the 1990's when Mike Holmgren coached. One time Steve brought a couple Packers to our small community for an evening program. Sponsored by a church, the program was held at our high school gym. Both the players and their wives painted pictures quite similar to those described in Eichelberger's book. I am not sure if the Packers have a chaplain program anymore, but I know that Steve later went to the west coast. I believe he followed Holmgren to Seattle.
I received a copy of this book from BookSneeze for review purposes. All opinions are my own.