Long snapper for the Seattle Seahawks, Clint Gresham, spoke with The Gospel Herald about his faith and how it has affected his perspective as a player in the National Football League (NFL). The five-year Seahawks veteran came to Christ when he was in college, and his relationship with the Lord has made a profound impact on his career.
Gresham grew up in South Texas, where he says going to church is somewhat the cultural norm - "I'm thankful for that, because I grew up believing in God and believing that Jesus loves me. But I didn't really understand what that relationship was supposed to look like. I thought that God was pretty distant, and not really that interested in me. I knew that [Jesus] had died on the cross for my sins, but I didn't know what that meant," he says.
The summer before his freshman year in college, the Lord worked through a believing family member's prayers to heal Gresham's back injury. Needless to say, he was astounded by the power of God. "It freaked me out. I wasn't ready for it, I was very comfortable in my religious [routine] - going to church when I felt bad enough, when I felt like I needed to go," Gresham says - "It really offended my mind, I had never seen anything like that before." After what he describes was a slow process of learning about the Lord from Christian family and friends, he came to trust in Jesus for his salvation.
In college, Gresham felt that God was leading him to be single for a while, and had considerable growth while attending a month-long discipleship program. He moved in with a family who loved the Lord, and was amazed by their lifestyle and devotion to Him. "They were all involved in church, and I had never seen community like that before. I had never seen parenting like that before, I had never seen people love God like that before," he says.
As part of the discipleship program, Gresham went to church twice a week, read the Bible and journaled consistently, attended classes, met certain prayer and evangelism requirements, and did Scripture memorization. "You were only allowed to watch or listen to two hours of secular media a week. You were removed from every single influence of the world you could possibly have, and were just flooded with the word of God. After a month, I was a totally different person," he testifies. The program had made a radical difference in Gresham's life, and this would help him greatly as he entered his professional football career.
Q. Whether you win or lose, playing in the Super Bowl is an extraordinary accomplishment and draws a lot of attention. Does a heartbreaking loss like this year's game do anything to help shape your faith or help you put things in better perspective when it comes to seeing the bigger picture of God's plan for your life?
A. I never got to a place where I was like, "How could You let this happen to us?" I know that some guys felt like that, for sure. After the game, it was just...it was like we were robbed. I've never felt so helpless in my life. Your whole life, you see this on TV, and you're right there. The miraculous season that we had - nobody goes to the Super Bowl back-to-back, the last time that happened was ten years ago. To start out three and three, the odds of making it to the playoffs were something like ten percent, and for us to turn our season around the way that we did was pretty incredible. I celebrate that, because we really caught hold of something midway through the season about playing for each other and playing for something greater than yourself. So in that sense, it was really a cool thing for us to even get back to the Super Bowl, but to lose the way that we did was really hard. It affected different guys differently - some guys were really, really emotional, some guys were really angry - and understandably, it was a hard moment.
Q. How do the pressures and intensity of playing on a very competitive team and playing in the Super Bowl affect you as a person? Does it push you or build you in some way?
A. Finding my identity in Christ has probably been the most important lesson that I've learned in the last five years - just how critical it is to realize that my value comes from what Jesus has done for me. There's nothing in myself that makes me this awesome, wonderful person - it's what Jesus has done for me. The second that I start thinking, "I play football, therefore I'm important" - that is such a slippery, scary slope ... within two years, ex-NFL players are [often] bankrupt, divorced, strung-out on some type of substance ... [we're told] 'You're important because this is what you do,' then all of sudden you can't do that anymore. This idol that you've worshipped your whole life is now crumbling, and it's an identity crisis.
It's hard, because it's very seductive in the sense that it's really easy to feel valuable because of what you do. I've won a Super Bowl, and I've gone to two Super Bowls, and so I try to stay as guarded as I can to not allow my mind to drift to those places, because it's a total trap. Some of the most miserable guys I know are [other football players], and it's really sad because [we are] in this hyper-crazy world that is not reality. Anything that the world could offer is available to you, and I see guys who are miserable because of it.
Q. At the end of the game when your defense was supposed to take the field for the last time as New England was to run out the clock, it looked like some scuffling took place and possibly poor sportsmanship. As a competitor and follower of Christ how do you keep your emotions intact when you want to win so badly and you've put so much effort out there?
A. That's one of those things that you don't realize how difficult it is unless you're put in that position. I didn't see what happened [on that play] ... Your whole life, this is what you're working for, and it's snatched from you in the last minute. That's really hard. You try and keep a straight head, but we play an emotional game, and it is a violent game. So, in the moment, it is difficult to say, "Selah. Know the presence of God. I am so at peace and calm right now." That's not the world that we live in. You want to be a good sport, and you want to honor the Lord in everything that you do, and not do that - but I also understand the feeling of frustration. It's really difficult.
Q. With all of the offseason moves and acquisitions, free agency and draft, how do you stay focused as an athlete, knowing that any time a player can be traded or contracts can be restructured? Do you keep up with stuff happening internally with the Seahawks organization, or do you try and block it out?
A. You ignore it. I had a guy my rookie year tell me, "You don't work for the Seahawks. You work for the NFL, and they've got 32 different locations." At any minute, you could be on a flight, it's crazy - that's just the way it is. You've got to trust the Lord and trust that He's going to place you where He wants you to be. It's cliché, and it really is that simple. Not to say that it's easy ... especially because I'm in an industry where my skills are really not transferrable. I can't go and do marketing or something and feel like anything that I've done for the last five years has helped me learn in that field. Yeah, [you need to] trust in the Lord.
Q. What does your off season consist of? Do you have a fitness schedule and personal trainer, or do you give yourself time to vacation and relax?
A. Because our season went so late, I wasn't able to vacation after the season. I'm saving up for my honeymoon, so a week after the Super Bowl, I was training again. It was kind of a bummer because everybody else got five weeks off that we didn't get, but it was a good problem to have. I'm training out in Salt Lake City at the gym that trained the guys from the movie "300," so it's awesome and kicking my butt.
Q. Congratulations on your recent engagement! How do you envision your marriage staying spiritually grounded as a professional football player?
A. I think recognizing where I came from and looking at the mistakes that I see other people make and not being afraid to be vulnerable, and surrounding myself with accountability and community [will help]. When I first started walking with the Lord, I didn't understand community. Nobody talked to me about accountability. It wasn't until I moved to Seattle that I really started to understand that you've got to have people in your life that you can share your stuff with. I have insecurities and I have doubts and I have fears and things that I deal with that I need to be able to bring up to people and have them pray for me. So, I think realizing that my marriage is not an island - and we are very plugged in with a lot of people. We have mentors that speak into our lives. We understand that this is not some contract, but this is a covenant that we are entering into. We're going to be together until the day that one of us dies. I think having a healthy understanding of what marriage is - that this is a blood covenant, and there's no turning back. I'm going to choose this person every day for the rest of my life. [Having that understanding helps] keep your head on straight when the world around you is crazy.
Q. Finally, do you have any personal goals as an NFL player that you would like to achieve next season?
A. I think just being the best teammate that I can be, and really helping the guys around me be great. As a believer, to lead is to serve. God has put me in this particular situation where I'm around a bunch of guys in the NFL, and I just want to help the people around me become great. If I can do that in any way, that's a pretty awesome thing for me.