By Paul M. Banks
In Monroe Ohio, about halfway between Cincinnati and Dayton, there’s an enormous Jesus statue in front of a church bordering Interstate 75. It rivals the famous “Christ the Redeemer” statue on Corcavado mountain overlooking Rio De Janiero in size. It’s indicative of Ohio’s place as the buckle of the Bible Belt. The Creationist “museum” (or whatever it is) is also located on the same highway exit as Cincinnati’s main airport. And Ohio’s biggest and best college football team, THE Ohio State University Buckeyes, have their share of Christy individuals, including preseason All-American safety Kurt Coleman.
Coleman, 5’11” 190 with 4.4 speed, is on the 2009 Lott Trophy watch list and a member of the FCA, Football Chaplain’s Association. He’s also active in public speaking and outreach with Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Athletes in Action, an Evangelical based group. “If I’m free, I’ll go speak to a church. It’s a great experience to grow as a person, to help share experience with others and help other people out,” Coleman said at Big Ten Media Day.
Some of the biggest and best Buckeyes on this year’s team –as well as last year’s squad- are extremely Christian, which is part of a much publicized trend in college football. The sport’s most high profile player, Tim Tebow, is essentially Billy Graham with a penchant for running the spread-option. Tebow is NEVER criticized by anyone in the mainstream media, (see the “Rome is Burning” episode when Jim Rome slurped him for two whole minutes in describing Tim Tebow’s cool response to a very inappropriately sexual question at SEC Media Day) and subsequently, the media has made more stories about Jesus in football.
This is nothing new of course, as College Football is at its most popular in the South (the proverbial Bible Belt) and many of the premier players emerge from poverty-stricken areas, where church is often the community’s primary focal point. If Jesus were alive today, I don’t think he’d be in favor of much of what goes on in the collegiate athletic cesspool, so the infusion of faith and worship can be a welcome departure from under-the-table payoffs and prostitution slush funds.
Coleman told me what he talks about in churches. “A lot of it is how I came to faith, testimonials. For anybody who’s come to faith, the first they’ve said ‘this is what I need in my life at this time.’ I share that and I share tidbits in how you can keep growing in your faith.” Hope and prayer has been a big part of Coleman’s life, especially when his hero and confidant, his father came down with a rare form of male breast cancer. It was trying, but Coleman’s father pulled through just fine; now cancer-free after a treatment that involved little to no side effects. And this fall Kurt will play his final season with more mental resiliency. Last season he was third on the team in tackles despite missing two games from injury. In the NFL, he projects as a top 20 corner prospect, (his height will force him to move over from safety) and a 5-6th round draft pick.