LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Patrick Goodman’s mission field is 50 yards long with padded walls and fake grass.
Goodman, a 6-foot-2, 285-pound Southern Baptist Theological Seminary student, plays football for the Louisville Fire in the professional Arena Football2 League (AF2) — an indoor league known for its fast-paced, 8-on-8, offense-oriented pigskin pandemonium.
But for Goodman, tackling and blocking for the Fire is more than just a chance to compete in a game he loves. Goodman has returned to the gridiron after almost giving it up principally to glorify the God he loves.
“That’s the real reason why I’m playing,” said Goodman, a master of divinity student from Elizabethtown, Ky., who began school last fall.
Referring to his “Astroturf mission field,” Goodman maintains the football world of AF2 has fields ripe for gospel harvest. Though some of his teammates and opponents are Christians, most are not.
“I’m definitely not preaching to the choir,” Goodman said of the evangelistic atmosphere of AF2.
The Fire debuted as an AF2 team in April. As Goodman has interacted with his fellow players, he has begun to see the many opportunities for Christian witness in the league.
“So when I’m on the road trip to Wichita, and I’m studying Greek at midnight, they’ll ask, ‘What do you do?'” Goodman recounted. “There’s my opportunity to share. … I get about a five- to six-minute window where I’m able to share what’s going on in my studies and also what’s going on in my personal life.”
In a world where locker room talk and temptations could corrupt, Goodman just tries to be a light for the Fire.
“I like to try and build trust with these guys and show that my faith and what I’m hoping to do is genuine,” Goodman said.
A year ago, though, Goodman thought his football career had flamed out. After four years as the center for Western Kentucky University’s team, Goodman had dreams of playing in the National Football League.
Then came NFL draft day. For college football players, it is the biggest event of the year. For Goodman, it was a day of disappointment. He had sent out tapes and letters to every NFL team — all to no avail. He was not selected.
“I was kind of bummed to be honest,” Goodman said. “Up until the NFL draft, I thought that’s what my ministry calling would be — to go and be a Christian light in the NFL. …
“Once the draft passed, I said, ‘Football is done. That part of my life is done.’ I had a wonderful time. I didn’t have any huge regrets. … I’d really almost given up on playing ever again.”
But God had other plans. Since Goodman’s senior year at Western Kentucky, God had begun placing a call in Goodman for full-time ministry.
“Our pastor at the time made mention that maybe I should look into going to seminary because I was reading every book on his shelf,” Goodman said.
Last fall, he and his wife, Janet, responded to that call by moving to Louisville. Last December, Goodman’s sister informed him of the tryouts for the expansion Fire. Louisville had just formed as one of 28 AF2 teams. The league itself only began in March 2000 as a minor-league affiliate of the Arena Football League.
Though Goodman was taking classes and working 35 hours a week, the opportunity to protect quarterbacks again was too good to pass up.
“I thought football was done, and then this happens,” Goodman said.
He impressed the coaches and made the team. Goodman starts on offense, defense and special teams. The league, which is set up for high scores and fan involvement, is a little alien to Goodman, who is familiar with the open-air stadiums and natural grass of the college gridiron.
“This league is completely different,” he said. “Think of it this way. You’re playing football on Astroturf in a hockey rink.”
Though the team has lost more games than it’s won, Goodman knows that there are other measures for success. And, while his return to the game has proved tiring, it has also been rewarding.
“It is a huge test trying to juggle work and school and football at the same time,” Goodman said.
Does he still dream of playing at a higher level?
“It would be nice, but I would have to give up seminary,” Goodman said. “I would have to give up what I’m getting now and the discipleship I’m getting now.”
When asked which is tougher, seminary tests or the turf burns and tackling of AF2, Goodman deliberated. But, with the job uncertainty of arena ball, the latter finally won his vote. At any point in the 16-game season, players can suddenly be cut from the team.
“You never have any job security. … I could play [Saturday] and lose my job Sunday,” Goodman said.
Whether he is cut or whether he plays for several years, Goodman is thankful for the ministry opportunity. Plus, football yields many lessons for future ministry, he said. Goodman and his wife are considering career missions in the Middle East.
“I think football really is a good preparation for being on a mission field where there aren’t a lot of believers,” Goodman said, describing both as “where the rubber meets the road” kinds of ministries.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: PATRICK GOODMAN. See more sports news at BPSports, www.bpsports.net.