MIAMI (BP)–Newly elected NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith spent most of the week of Super Bowl XLIV making the rounds with the players and the media, talking about his new league-wide responsibilities and the possibilities for labor unrest.
But when it came time for Friday night’s 11th Annual Super Bowl Gospel Celebration, he was among the thousands who crowded into the downtown James L. Knight Center for an evening of inspiration as well as proclamation of their faith in Jesus Christ.
“This agrees with my spirit,” Smith said. “We’re not talking about work or problems or anything tonight, we’re talking about faith. Being the executive director of the NFLPA is what I do, it’s not who I am.”
Among the players who gave their testimonies were Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, New York Jets wide receiver/returner Brad Smith and recently retired New England Patriots defensive lineman Don Davis, with 2006 Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward announcing some of the singing groups.
“With all the glitz and the glamour of South Beach this week, people think they give up their fun when they have faith,” Davis said. “But we know Jesus wants you to have fun, but do it the right way.”
The resounding three-hour concert featured the 40-member NFL Players Choir with some of football’s best players singing their praises to God. “I just want to give praise to God and stay in my lane,” said choir member Michael Gaines, a Cleveland Browns tight end.
New York Giants defensive end Jerome McDougle, in his seventh year of attending the gospel celebration, said he is always amazed by the number of Christians who want to voice their love for the Lord. “We are singing with some of the best in the business, and we have some of the best in our business here,” McDougle said. “It’s awesome to sing and worship together.”
Smith, a Washington, D.C., lawyer, who assumed the helm of the players association last year, said the gathering of players along with gospel recording artists BeBe and CeCe Winans, Donnie McClurkin and others underscores the value of players being responsible men on and off the field, especially in the light of two players’ recent deaths.
“In the last year, we’ve seen the tragic deaths of Steve McNair and Chris Henry, which shows the stark reality of life outside the field,” Smith said.
Smith, who was vocal and passionate in a Thursday press conference about the need for a new NFL players’ labor agreement, said some of his speaking skill comes from his long family tradition.
“I come from three generations of Baptist preachers and sometimes it comes out when I speak,” he said. “My grandfather was the pastor of Hope Chapel Baptist Church in Virginia, my father and my two uncles pastored Baptist churches in Danville, Va. I was the only one that left the fold.”
Reshard Langford, a first-year free safety with the Kansas City Chiefs, said he first heard about the concert from his agent, then found out by talking to other players that this was the faith-filled hot spot for the Friday preceding the Super Bowl.
“I know how I got here and I know who to praise, that’s why I want to be here,” Langford said.
He said he was especially excited about singing in his first players’ choir, having attended singing practices on Thursday and Friday. “I know I’m not one of the best singers,” he admitted, “so they keep me in the back.”
Pro Bowl fullback Leonard Weaver of the Philadelphia Eagles called Friday night’s gospel gathering “a blast and a blessing” and said it hopefully shows to the outside world that Christians have the most to celebrate.
“We understand sacrifice and giving up things of the world. Everything we do is to praise God and this is one of them,” Weaver said.
Former Dallas Cowboys and Denver Bronco defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban added, “There is nothing wrong with having a good time as long as we always spread His Word.”
Art Stricklin is a sports correspondent for Baptist Press.