The latest issue of ESPN the Magazine consisted of a bunch of interviews, and it was striking how many of them expounded on length about their faith in Jesus Christ. And that doesn’t include the interviews with Jeremy Lin and R.A. Dickey, who are fairly outspoken about their faith elsewhere. Two of the interviews were particularly interesting to me. One was with Barry Zito. An excerpt:

(Zito): And then finding a faith in God at the end of 2011, at the end of all those tribulations — I think those things together put me on a path of freedom.

Your faith seems to enter into your conversation more these days. How did that come about?
I was raised so out of the box. From a spiritual side, my grandmother founded a religion [Teaching of the Inner Christ] and a teaching center in the ’60s in San Diego, and I was raised on that. That’s where a lot of the eccentric, Zen things [for which he is famous] come from. But I just needed more structure, and sometimes you have to go through difficulty and physical trials to really get broken down. In 2011, I got broken down physically as well as mentally. In August of that year, I committed my life to God. I realized I’d been relying on my own strength for so long, and man, I’d been wearing it. So this was about finding a strength outside of myself. The way I was raised, that’s a concept I never would have given any credence.

What was the impetus or the moment that precipitated it?
I had this very odd injury in April of 2011 — a lisfranc ligament tear. I came off the field after never being hurt in 11 years and said: “All right, something bigger is going on here. A message is being sent, and I’ve got to listen.” A few months later, my best friend told me an old story I really love. A shepherd will be leading his sheef, and one of the sheep will be walking astray from the pack. The shepherd will take his rod and break the sheep’s leg, and the sheep will have to rely on the shepherd to get better. But once that leg is completely healed, that sheep never leaves the side of the shepherd ever again. That’s a really beautiful metaphor. A lot of things happen to us as people, and we realize we’ve been relying on our own strength for too long.

Wow. Later, there’s an interview with Manny Pacquiao, and he goes on for a while about his newfound faith, because there’s some concern (e.g. by his trainer) that it has affected the way he fights, that he’s lost his killer instinct. Then it goes back to his politcal career, boxing, and a potential fight with Mayweather. The interview ends:

Here’s the last thing, Manny: What do you consider the greatest achievement in your life?
When I found God.

No more drinking?
No more drinking. No more gambling. No more girls. Only my wife. And my family. And no more bad words. Obey the commandments of God.

No more vices?
No more.

It’s boring being Manny Pacquiao now?
No, I’m happy.

The way they went at length about their faith, they read more like interviews in Christianity Today than ESPN. And I liked them because these 2 interviews reflected the range of human experience – success without Jesus sucks, and trial without Jesus sucks, but with Jesus, both can bring peace, and their peace (and the eagerness to share where it comes from) really comes through in their interviews. I don’t normally read ESPN for spiritual encouragement, but I got it in these interviews.

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