It’s been a tumultuous year in the National Football League. The league has been dominated by stories of players kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police brutality toward blacks and racial inequality in the nation, incidents of domestic violence and numerous suspensions of players involving various drug infractions.
In addition, the owners have been squabbling with commissioner Roger Goodell and fans are increasingly tired of all the negativity. Positive stories have been rare. One overlooked example involves the Philadelphia Eagles.
The 2017 Eagles are a definite Super Bowl contender running away with the division. They are led by a young quarterback named Carson Wentz. He is a second-year quarterback out of North Dakota State University.
In 2016, Wentz broke numerous NFL and Eagles records for a rookie. He’s already being compared to future Hall of Famer Tom Brady.
What is not being mentioned is Wentz’ deep spiritual roots. In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, he told the reporter, “If you love your job, you love your wife, and you love what you do, you’re going to talk about it. Well, I love Jesus.”
And Wentz is not alone. The Eagles have a strong group of men involved in a heavy-duty Bible study that goes beyond kneeling in the end zone or pointing to heaven when you score a touchdown.
According to author Josh Cooley, the Eagles’ Bible study is far different than Bible studies or chapels found on other NFL teams. In Cooley’s words, “What distinguishes the Eagles’ group is the players’ uncompromising pursuit of Biblical truth, deep theology, genuine accountability and gospel-fueled charity. They’re not interested in status-quo spirituality.”
Cooley should know. He has spent time with a number of Eagles’ players and is currently writing a book about the intersection of faith and sports.
Wentz is probably the highest profile player of this group, and maybe the most sought after, even down to his looks. With his helmet off, he is a dead ringer for England’s Prince Harry. But the group’s leader may be veteran quarterback Nick Foles.
In 2013, Foles was a star in his own right. After the Eagles had a terrible season in 2013 when they went 4-12, Foles led the Eagles to a 10-6 record in 2013 and a spot in the playoffs. His best game may have come against the Oakland Raiders, where he threw for an NFL record seven touchdowns.
However, Foles’ spiritual leadership showed in 2012 when he arrived in the Eagles. According to Cooley, “Things really took off when Foles arrived as a rookie and worked with teammates to get more buy-in.”
In 2015, Foles was traded to the St. Louis Rams and later played for the Kansas City Chiefs. This year, though, he returned to the Eagles as a backup quarterback, and the Bible study is as strong as ever. Among other players involved are tight end Zach Ertz, safety Chris Maragos, and another tight end, Trey Burton. According to Cooley’s article, Bible study is paramount among these players. Carson Wentz says, “If you are not rooted in God’s Word, this world will eat you up.”
Maragos counts Romans 8 as his favorite, and Nick Foles lives by 2 Corinthians 12:9. Around the time Foles was traded to St. Louis, his wife was diagnosed with some serious health issues which tested their faith. According to Cooley, “Foles was buoyed by Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:9: “But he said to me, my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
No one is saying the Eagles will win the Super Bowl because of this. But their togetherness has to contribute to team unity. Another member of this close knit group was wide receiver Jordan Mathews. Mathews was traded to the Buffalo Bills before the season began and according to Cooley, it hit the team hard. Matthews and Wentz had traveled to Haiti on a relief mission.
It is great to know that behind the scenes, in the NFL and in other sports, God is at work. Though these players aren’t perfect, their time as players is being directed by spiritual leaders who understand the true meaning of life, and can be example of fans young and old who want to cheer for a true winner.
And their strength doesn’t just come from time in the training room or on the practice field, but from God’s Word. Zach Ertz was quoted this way in Bible Study magazine.
“I need to be in the living word. No matter what season I’m going through in life, it allows me to learn what grace we have all received and what Jesus Christ did for all of us.”
Columbus’ Tom Rust is founder of the national “Face To Face” sports ministry, a local radio sports broadcaster, a member of the Indiana Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame, and pastor of Sardinia Baptist Church. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.