Being a public figure can be a challenging role for an athlete to play. Their job is to excel in their sport, but often fame, fortune and celebrity come along when they are successful in doing that job. Their lives, statements, and actions both on and off the field of competition often seem to be under constant scrutiny and subject to the judgment of fans and non-fans alike.
Athletes in the public eye receive a lot of publicity for their behavior, both good and bad. Off the field exploits can kill a career and positive accomplishments can often go unnoticed.
It can be extra challenging for devout Christian athletes. They are constantly looked at to be role models and their behavior is often criticized by non-believers who question their motives and believers who want their expectations to be filled.
Below are 7 athletes who you may or may not have known are devout Christians. Each one of them utilizes their public platform in some way to advance the Kingdom. They are ordinary individuals in extraordinary circumstances who not only talk the talk, but definitely walk the walk.
1. Russell Wilson – Football
In high school, Russell excelled in football, basketball, as well as baseball. He attended North Carolina State and for several years attempted to make a career in baseball. When that didn’t work out he went to the University of Wisconsin where, as a quarterback, he led the Badgers to an 11-3 record and the 2012 Rose Bowl.
He was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in 2012, and has since led the Seahawks to two Super Bowl appearances. He made headlines last year when he and his girlfriend, pop singer Ciara, announced publicly that they would be saving themselves physically for marriage.
2. Mark Richt – Football
Mark Richt has one of the winningest careers in college football. He graduated from the University of Miami in 1982 where he spent most of his college career playing backup QB.
He has subsequently coached for Florida State, East Carolina, the University of Georgia, and his alma mater Miami.
Richt has been a vocal public figure for Christianity serving on mission trips, adopting children, and selling his multi-million dollar home so that his family can give more to charity.
In 2016, he and his wife announced the start of The U Network, which will help retired athletes find work after their playing days are over.
3. Bubba Watson – Golf
Watson won the Masters Tournament in both 2012 and 2014 and is today ranked as the 8th best golfer in the world.
An unapologetic Christian his entire public life, Watson uses his Twitter account to share Bible verses and other inspirational messages. He seeks to use his public platform to be a positive voice in the world of sports. He has even appeared on a couple of Christian rap songs from Andy Mineo and KB.
4. Allyson Felix – Track
Olympic sprinter Felix is the daughter of an ordained minister and seminary professor. She credits all of her sports success to the blessings God has given her as a runner.
Her Olympic career started with winning the silver medal in the 200 meters at the 2004 games in Athens, Greece. She was only 18 at the time.
Today, the runner has medaled nine times, earning two gold medals and a silver in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. She has the rare distinction of having medaled in four different Olympic Games.
5. Gabby Douglas – Gymnastics
Gymnast Douglas was a part of both the Fierce Five (2012 London) and the Final Five (2016 Rio de Janeiro) teams.
Douglas’ story has been adapted into a TV movie and her family was given a reality show. She also wrote a book about her experiences and her faith.
Today, at only 20 years old, Douglas has won three gold Olympic medals. In an interview she said, “God has given me this amazing God-given talent and I’m going to go out and give Him the glory.”
6. Simone Manuel — Swimming
Simone Manuel made history at the 2016 Olympic Games by becoming the first African American woman to win a gold medal in an individual swimming event.
“All I can say is all glory to God. It’s definitely been a long journey these last four years…and I’m just so blessed to have a gold medal.”
The swimmer won two gold medals with first-place finishes in the 100 meter and 4×100 meter medley races.
Manuel often uses her public platform to share her Christian beliefs through posts on social media and during interviews.
7. Laurie Hernandez — Gymnastics
16-year-old Hernandez was also a member of the Final Five Olympics gymnastic team and was the first American-born Hispanic to make the event’s team in more than 30 years. She won a gold and silver medal at the 2016 Games.
Hernandez joins her teammates Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, and Madison Kocian in tweeting faith messages on their Twitter accounts.