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SPRING TRAINING: A sportscaster’s epiphany

EDITORS’ NOTE: BP Sports columnist Tim Ellsworth recently visited Florida to do a series of stories on spring training as baseball players get ready to begin a new season.

VERO BEACH, Fla. (BP)–An October night in 1997 was the low point in Gary Miller’s life.

Working for ESPN as a host for “Baseball Tonight,” Miller was arrested at a Cleveland nightclub and subsequently pleaded no contest to charges of disorderly conduct. He still insists that most of the charges against him were erroneous.

But the damage was done, and the incident was a great embarrassment to Miller. Stories appeared in the USA Today and in his hometown Chicago Tribune. Negative publicity abounded.

Now, however, Miller realizes the importance of that episode in shaping the rest of his life.

“It was actually the best thing that ever happened to me, because that was a real turning point in my faith,” Miller said.

Miller is a different man today. He lives in Los Angeles, where he co-hosts a daily radio sports talk show, anchors a nightly sportscast and hosts the Los Angeles Dodgers pre-game show for KCAL. He is married and attends church regularly. And he tries to live his life in broadcasting in a way that demonstrates his faith in the one who changed his life.

“I think it’s been an evolution of the depth of the faith and the practice thereof, and how I conduct my life,” Miller said about his spiritual journey during an interview before a Dodgers’ spring training game.

That journey began as a freshman in high school. Raised as a regular church attender, Miller identifies his freshman year as when he was “born again.”

But Miller soon strayed from the Lord and entered what he described as the “party phase” of his life at Southern Illinois University and throughout the first part of his career.

That party phase culminated in his arrest for disorderly conduct. As Miller read the police reports and the news stories, most of which began “Gary Miller, 40 …” he reached an epiphany. He was 40 years old and, yet, he saw himself often acting like a frat boy.

“That’s not who I want to be,” Miller thought to himself. “That’s not who I want people to read about.”

He decided to make some changes. He moved to Southern California in 1999 and met his wife, who is a Christian. He also returned to his faith in the Lord.

“It’s the absolute fulcrum of our marriage,” Miller said about his relationship with Jesus Christ. “Everything grows from there.”

There are some overt ways in which Miller expresses his faith in Christ. For example, he hosted a DVD produced by Athletes in Action called “Reversing the Curse,” in which some members of the 2004 Boston Red Sox talk about their historic season and about their Christian faith. (The DVD is available at www.reversingthecurse.org.)

Other times, however, especially in his profession, Miller demonstrates his faith in more subtle ways. For example, sports talk radio hosts often objectify women and talk about “who’s hot-looking,” Miller said. He doesn’t go near such topics on his show.

He also tries to hold athletes and others in sports to a standard of behavior. Terrell Owens, for example, is one athlete who Miller says is all about celebrating himself.

“I don’t feel like we call them enough on lifestyle and what they represent,” Miller said. “We celebrate the thug aspect.”

That’s a drastic change from what Miller remembers broadcasting used to be.

“I’m old enough that I grew up in an era where there were only three channels,” he said. “It was a big deal to be on TV, and there was a big responsibility to live your life a certain way and to dress and talk and represent a certain thing. Now, it’s almost like the more deviant and outrageous the behavior, the more celebrated and popular and rich the people are.”

Miller said he sometimes struggles with his profession, because he often doesn’t like what it represents. He’d like to see people in the news take more responsibility for their actions, but few in the media demand that they do so.

Miller will, however, continue to do his job in a way that he thinks honors the Lord and in a way that shows others the drastic change that Christ has made in his life.

“Sometimes I feel like a voice in the wilderness,” he said.

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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