There's something about winning that always brings out the God in people. From party girl Hollywood starlets to brazen bad boy hip hop egotists, whenever the spotlight is turned up and the microphone is cued, the lord almighty is the first person to get a shout out in almost every acceptance speech. So when my Seahawks pulled out a win last Sunday that was nothing short of miraculous, it wasn't surprising that quarterback Russell Wilson tearfully thanked his creator during an uncharacteristically emotional NFC championship interview. People always find their religion in moments of victory, even if they abandon it when the afterglow has faded and real life begins again.
The difference between the rest of the winners in the world and Wilson however is that we weren't seeing a temporary spiritual awakening or an inadvertent, dogmatic dog and pony show played up for the post game cameras. What we saw instead was a glimpse at a man who lives his life day in and day out for a god to whom he attributes all of his success. A god he doesn't remember to praise only in moments of glory but daily, out loud and in public. A god not all of us believe in, but in Russell Wilson we cannot help to see.
The term "Christian" is a hard one for some people to swallow. Self-professed Christians have done hateful, cruel things in the name of Jesus. They have waved their bibles and quoted scripture and used their faith as a tool for harm. In our fame-obsessed culture it seems as though more and more often the most notable Christians are being exposed for very un-Christ-like behavior, becoming the face of Christianity to those of us who don't subscribe to the same spiritual practices. For the longest time I was leery whenever a celebrity would profess to be a Christian. I would watch them talk about God on some talk show couch one day and see their arraignment on assault charges live on TMZ the next. I would listen as they thanked Jesus in shaky emotional voices, statuettes in hand, and then remember the hateful bigoted diatribe they drunkenly posted on their now-deleted Twitter. Call me a cynic but to me, Christianity seemed like less of a religion and more of a fashion accessory, some shiny pretty thing you could pull out if the occasion called for it but that mainly stayed on the shelf. That is, until Russell Wilson came along.
In a world where professional athletes have more star power than most members of congress and their salaries triple that of our commander and chief, Wilson has remained steadfastly humble during his short but impressive career. His social media presence isn't filled with photos of him partying on yachts or popping bottles in the roped-off VIP sections of exclusive nightclubs, hand in hand with that week's model-cum-actress, but with endless selfies with bright-eyed kids in hospital gowns. He does this without fanfare or media or hype, his countless hours of volunteerism less about good press and more about good character. While Richard Sherman's brand of intelligence can often cut deep, Wilson seems to adhere to an "if you don't have something nice to say..." philosophy, his Twitter feed a collection of gratitude and scripture with the occasional old school R&B lyric thrown in for good measure.
Russell Wilson's brand of Christianity never feels judgmental or fueled by hate. On the contrary, it is full of a joy so contagious that even if you don't follow the same religious tenets you can't help but feel the power of positivity that his faith radiates. His love for his God is private and personal while at the same time being completely revealed in the way he lives life every day. Full of a deeper purpose he pulls from a faith that he wears proudly, one he never takes off regardless of the season. He doesn't have to tell you he is a Christian for you to know that there is something higher driving every single thing he does, on the field and off. In a time where Christianity has little or nothing to do with Christ, Russell is a shining example of what walking like Jesus actually looks like.
As a lifelong Seahawks fan, when I look back on the amazing few years we have had, I am grateful someone with such strong devotion is leading our team. And as I get ready to fly to Arizona just so that I can sit outside of a stadium with thousands of other 12s who merely want to be present when we bring home our second Superbowl win, I know that the man who helped reignite the passion of an entire city hasn't changed the way I think about football so much as the way I think about faith.
After the NFC Championship game Aaron Rodgers was quoted as saying he doesn't "think God cares a whole lot about" football games, and he may or may not be right. Russell Wilson, however, cares deeply about God, and so far that has proven to be more than enough.