HILLSBOROUGH: NY Giants players talk football and faith

By Gene Robbins, Special Writer

Pro football players Prince Amukamara and Wes Richburg used a rare Saturday night off in mid-season to come to Hillsborough to talk about their lives and their Christian faith.
At an event sponsored by Crossroads Community Church in the middle school, about 300 people enjoyed a buffet dinner and peppered the New York Giants players for an hour with questions that ranged from a little girl’s “what is your favorite color” to how Mr. Amukamara, the defensive back, felt about going up against quarterback Andrew Luck of the Colts in the next game.
The church delighted the crowd with the long program by having a drawing for photos and footballs the players signed and photographing 145 guests — almost three times as many as originally projected — with the players.
Fans queued up for a long time to make sure they would get a photo. First in line was Carl Danielsen, 7, whose grandmother, Donna Waite, arrived three hours early to hold the spot.
“Any time I have the opportunity to share my faith, I’m always up for it,” Mr. Amukamara said.
In some ways, he saw it as practice, he said before the event, because he thought he might want to go into the ministry.
During the Q&A, he said he wanted to be an actor or a pastor. New York Giants Chaplain George McGovern, who accompanied the players and acted as facilitator for the discussion, quipped that some people didn’t see much difference in the two.
Mr. Richburg said a couple of times during the evening that he knew that he as a sports figure had “a rare platform to set an example for kids.”
“When I was a kid, I would have loved to come to event like this,” he said. “To me, it’s a chance to pay it back and leave a positive influence on a kid.”
The dinner was the first of two weekend outreach events for the church. Saturday night’s softer sell was followed the next morning at church services in the high school auditorium when the congregation heard a personal and sometimes emotional testimony from another sports industry figure.
David Howard, who was an executive with the New York Mets for 21 years and managed sports operations at Madison Square Garden for a year until this spring, told of the influence of Christ in his life.
“I think people wonder how God is relevant today,” Pastor Harry Skeele said Saturday night. “They ask, ‘How does faith in Christ make a difference today?’”
This weekend’s events had two focuses, he said. The dinner was directed at the public and young athletes in particular, he said. The next day was a business manager. Both talked about how Jesus Christ made a huge impact in their lives, he said.
On a normal Saturday night in season, Giants players would be gathered in a hotel to bond and prepare without distractions for the game the next day. This week, coming off a bye, the Giants had a home Monday night game against the Colts.
Mr. Richburg, a rookie offensive lineman with five pre- and seven regular-season games under his belt, said his body appreciated the bye week. He was involved in physicality resembling “a car accident on every play,” he said. His fingers hurt a lot, he said.
Mr. Amukamara, who celebrated his first wedding anniversary during the week, grew up in Arizona as a multi-sport star, was an All-American player at the University of Nebraska and a first-round draft pick in 2011. He was a rookie defensive back on the Super Bowl-winning team in the 2011 season.
In the night’s program, he was quoted as saying “the feeling of winning the Super Bowl went away pretty quickly. I don’t think about it much unless people remind me . . . but to be a Christian, that’s the daily thing, and that’s what I think about the most.”
Mr. Richburg, sporting a cap with a cattle brand on the front and a cross on the temple, said he realized how fortunate life has turned out for him. He grew up on a west Texas farm where his family raised 500 cows. On the same day he signed a letter of intent to play Division I football at Colorado State, he won a championship ribbon for his grand champion pig at a farm expo.
One woman asked him about cow tipping, Mr. Richburg said he had never done it.
“I guess I just had too much respect for my cows,” he said.
Mr. Amukamara told the crowd he doesn’t eat fast food, soda or coffee — and has found his sleep to be completely changed. But in high school, the enticement of Krispy Kreme doughnuts did help bring him to Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings, he said.
The connection took him to a summer camp where he learned more about Christ and how he died for our sins, he said.
One man asked if they disputed their personal rankings on the Madden video game. Mr. Amukamara said he didn’t play the game for that reason. Mr. Richburg said he was “tickled just to be on the game.”
“The opinion of the world is not important,” Mr. Richburg said. “I try to focus on what God thinks of me.”
Accepting Christ as a youth, Mr. Richburg said he knew he wasn’t the best athlete and was “a normal guy who got lucky,” but wanted to be used as a platform for his religion. He said he wanted to known in a positive way, as being very approachable.
Mr. Amukamara said he was wanted to be known for integrity, “a guy who did things the right way.”
He said he learned in sports that everyone helps each other and everyone makes sacrifices. As a teen, he said, his concentration in sports took much of his free time and kept him from doing things his friends would do.
Sunday morning, business executive Howard occasionally teared up as he remembered the sacrifices of his divorced single mother bringing up four children.
“It was an amazing thing how God healed her and gave her power and courage,” he said. “All of my hard work was done with the view to honoring my mother.”
He said he has learned God has a plan and purpose for everyone. From his legal background, he said he knew the definition of a gift had three parts, and the parallel to religion was vibrantly apparent.
One part of the definition is intent, and that is apparent in John 3:16, he said. The second part was delivery, seen in God sending his son to die on the cross. But a gift isn’t legally complete until it’s received, he said.
“All we have to do is acknowledge the Lord and his son and ask for forgiveness,” he said.
He said he has learned over the years that if anyone lacks wisdom, ask and God will give it generously, he said.
Even when fired from jobs, he said he knew it was all a part of God’s plan.
He said he had adopted Proverbs 3:5-6 as his life verse: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” 