Christian Community Within Sports Keeps Athletes from the ‘Pride’ of Isolation
Believers on 2017 Philadelphia Eagles Team Knew God Had Designed Them for More, Joshua Cooley Writes in New Book ‘The Biggest Win’
PHILADELPHIA—Best-selling Christian author Randy Alcorn had never experienced anything like it.
Alcorn was witness to amazing Christian community within professional sports when he was invited to lead an extra Bible study for the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles team. It was late in the season, and the Eagles were facing the Seattle Seahawks that night in a primetime NFC matchup.
Alcorn was expecting a handful of guys, but was stunned when 15 players and coaches filled a hotel room, including head coach Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich. Even in a frenzy-filled day, the group exuded a collective hunger for scriptural truth.
Author and premier sports writer Joshua Cooley recounts Randy Alcorn’s story in his new book, “The Biggest Win: Pro Football Players Tackle Faith.”
“For 45 minutes, Alcorn spoke from Scripture on the future resurrection of believers and the new heavens and new earth,” Cooley wrote. “He marveled at the group’s attentiveness and interest. This was spiritually solid food, and they were gobbling it up with the appetite of eager seminary students. After Alcorn finished, most of the group lingered for another half-hour, asking questions and gladly receiving two or three of his books. ‘To have 15 guys in that room early on a Sunday morning was unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the NFL.’
“What Alcorn experienced that day is the beauty of Christian community within sports,” Cooley continued. “God’s Word clearly calls all committed followers of Jesus to fellowship, gathering frequently around the teaching of Scripture to grow in sanctification, biblical knowledge, Christian unity and missional outreach. The Christians on the 2017 Eagles team didn’t let their hectic NFL lives become a hindrance to this biblical mandate. Instead, they excelled at creating community. The spiritual bonds they forged go far beyond general locker room camaraderie or matching jerseys—they were gospel-centered relationships built on Christ. The players worked hard at fellowship; but ultimately, they marveled at the clear signs of God’s grace.”
An ever-present danger, Cooley added in the book, is subtle, silent, slowly destructive, and it lurks in the shadows of every human heart—isolation.
“From the very beginning, God knew we needed companionship to reach our full potential,” Cooley said. “Call it the ‘island syndrome.’ Sometimes, purposefully or not, we maroon ourselves on an emotional and spiritual island. Observation planes fly overhead looking for signs of life, but we don’t send up flares. Even when cruise liners pass in the distance, we opt to stay put in our lonely, makeshift bamboo hut. It’s an issue of pride.”
Carson Wentz told Cooley in “The Biggest Win” that he also experienced “island syndrome.” The reviews were mixed for Wentz’s rookie NFL season in 2016. He had led the Eagles to a surprising 3-0 start, but the team lost nine of its remaining 13 games and missed the playoffs. Fans were left unsatisfied, and by January, Wentz was exhausted both physically and emotionally, isolating himself at home in South Jersey.
“I didn’t want to do anything mentally,” Wentz told Cooley. “I didn’t want to think.” He opened the Scriptures often, like always, “but my heart wasn’t in it.” Slowly and insidiously, he began wondering why he had to read the Bible and pray so much, especially when all his accountability partners were gone once the season ended. “Those couple of weeks weren’t fruitful by any means,” Wentz said. “Just being accountable in fellowship groups can really help avoid that.”
This example, Cooley said, is evidence that God created us for something greater.
“He made us relational beings and calls us to live in faith-building fellowship with one another. Sports can be a wonderful part of that process.”
Released July 30 by New Growth Press, “The Biggest Win” shares the faith stories of six Super Bowl champions of the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles team—Zach Ertz, Nick Foles, Jordan Hicks, Chris Maragos, Carson Wentz and Trey Burton, who signed with the Chicago Bears in the offseason. Through the ups and downs of football, Cooley shows how these high-profile athletes remain committed to God’s Word, genuine Christian discipleship and sharing their faith. View the video trailer for “The Biggest Win” here.
A percentage of the book sales from “The Biggest Win” goes to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the international sports ministry with a vision to see the world transformed by Jesus Christ through the influence of coaches and athletes.
Cooley is also the co-author for Foles’ new book, “Believe It,” which became a New York Times best-seller in its first week. Cooley’s other works include “The One Year Devotions with Jesus,” “Heroes of the Bible Devotional” and “The One Year Sports Devotions for Kids.”
New Growth Press publishes gospel-centered, Bible-based materials that provide churches, families, and individuals with resources for personal and spiritual growth and change. NGP also publishes books, minibooks, small group and Gospel Story for Kids resources that provide churches, families and individuals with gospel-driven publications for all ages.