- October 12, 2016
Throughout American history, a large portion of the population has professed some degree of Christian belief. It only makes sense that there would be famous Christians found in all aspects of life.
In the world of sports, there happen to be many Christian athletes on the local and national stage. We thought we should shine a light on these individuals, some more well-known than others, to let you know that there are positive role models in the world of sports.
From different roles, games, and walks of life, here are the most famous Christians in sports.
Tim Tebow - Famous Christians in Sports
Thanks to his success on the field and the era in which he played, Tim Tebow is one of the most well-known Christian athletes of all time.
A child of missionaries overseas, Tebow has spent much of his life in service. While playing at the University of Florida, he made an effort to help as many people as he could through his position. He would often travel to the Philippines to help with an orphanage started by his father’s organization.
He even started a collaborative nonprofit while a student at Florida called First and 15 (the latter being his football jersey number). This allowed him and other students at the university to raise funds for pediatric cancer centers and other worthwhile causes.
Never one to shy away from a platform to share his beliefs, Tebow has been assisting those in need and sharing the gospel whenever he’s asked about his motives. The quarterback found himself in a minor controversy when he appeared in a pair of pro-life Super Bowl ads in 2010. In the 30-second slot, his mother shared the story of Tim’s difficult birth and how doctors told her to abort him. While he wasn’t the main focus of the commercial, the athlete did make a cameo at the end.
As for his success on the field, Tebow is considered by many to be one of the best college football players of all time. He was a finalist for the Heisman trophy 3 times, winning once in 2007. As if winning the top award in the sport wasn’t enough, the quarterback also left Florida with nearly 50 college football records that he had broken.
Tebow didn’t find much success in the NFL, though he did give the Denver Broncos a playoff win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. After leaving the sport, he became a commentator with ESPN and the SEC Network. Recently, he has pursued a career in professional baseball, signing with the New York Mets.
Pete Maravich - Famous Christians in Sports
Going back in time for a moment, Maravich played basketball for LSU in the late 1960’s and played 10 years in the NBA.
At LSU, the point guard put up numbers that would be difficult to achieve in a video game, let alone an actual competition. Averaging over 40 points per game in his three years on the varsity team, Maravich was a force to be reckoned with. This feat is especially impressive when you realize that the 3-point line had not been invented yet.
While the team was never a threat on the national level, Maravich did play a role in making the team competitive. In the two years before he was able to play on the varsity squad, the team only won a combined nine games.
Pete was the third overall pick in the 1970 NBA Draft. While he was never able to be part of a championship team, his high-flying abilities made him a hot commodity to team’s needing some visual flair.
Pete “The Pistol” Maravich was one of the best players in the league in the 70’s but knee problems kept him from his true potential. The guard played in 5 All-Star Games and was known as one of the best passers and ball-handlers of all time.
When injuries forced Maravich to quit basketball, he looked for meaning in his life. Though he dabbled in a few misguided activities, he came to be a Christian years after his career ended. Unfortunately, the athlete passed away from a heart attack caused by a defect he wasn’t aware of at the time. He was only 40 years old.
A film about Maravich’s childhood, “The Pistol,” was released in the early 90’s. The home court at LSU is named after the point guard as well.
Tony Dungy - Famous Christians in Sports
Known for being a coach more than a player, Tony Dungy has been around the NFL for decades.
Although he was a quarterback in college, Dungy played on special teams and in the defensive secondary for the Pittsburgh Steelers. In 1978, he led the Steelers in interceptions as they went on to beat the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XIII.
After a brief career as a player, Dungy found new opportunities in coaching. He worked as a defensive coach for roughly 15 years, before he was given his first head coaching job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He took the team from an embarrassment to a playoff contender but was eventually fired after 6 seasons because the owners thought he didn’t have what it took to get a championship.
Dungy’s next head coaching position came a week later with the Indianapolis Colts. With star quarterback Peyton Manning’s offense running efficiently, Dungy’s defensive mind was needed to build a defense to match. A few seasons later, Tony Dungy became the first African American coach to win a Super Bowl when the Colts beat the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI.
Off the field, the head coach has long been seen as a powerful motivator and civic leader. He has been a strong advocate for mentoring programs and fatherhood initiatives. He also served on President George W. Bush’s 2007 President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation.
Dungy is currently an analyst for NBC’s “Football Night in America” and has authored three best-selling books. Between his achievements in football and his work off the field, Tony Dungy is one of the most famous Christians in sports.
Reggie White - Famous Christians in Sports
A Tennessee native, Reggie White was a defensive lineman that quarterbacks feared from an early age. Ranked the #1 recruit in his home state, White signed with the Tennessee Volunteers in 1980.
During his time as a Volunteer, White set records for sacks in a season, career sacks, and sacks in a single game. He was awarded All-American status and named as a finalist for the Lombardi Award among his other recognitions as a defensive player.
When it came time for professional ball, White signed with the Memphis Showboats. He succeeded there until the USFL collapsed two years later.
In the NFL, White played for the Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, and Carolina Panthers. He was named to 13 Pro-Bowl teams, won Defensive player of the year twice, won Super Bowl XXXI, and, if you count his time in the USFL, is the all-time sacks leader in professional football with 221.5.
White was a very outspoken Christian from his days at Tennessee until his death in 2004. He earned the nickname “The Minister of Defense” from his playing ability and the fact that he was an ordained minister.
Kurt Warner - Famous Christians in Sports
Not all professional athletes follow the traditional route that looks so easy on TV.
Kurt Warner was the quarterback at Northern Iowa in 1994 and, for a while, it looked like that might be his peak in football. Going undrafted in the NFL, Warner settled into roles as an assistant at his alma mater and a grocery store clerk.
Finally, he was given a chance with the Iowa Barnstormers, an arena football team. After two years of being named to the All-Arena team, Warner got his break into the NFL.
Playing with the St. Louis Rams from 1998 to 2003, he started his career as a 3rd-stringer but was eventually given his shot when the player in front of him was injured in a preseason game.
Warner did not let the chance pass him by. In his first three starts, the quarterback passed for three touchdowns in each game. He went on to pass for over 4,000 yards and 41 touchdowns that season. Paired with talented players like running back Marshall Faulk and receiver Isaac Bruce, the offense was nicknamed “The Greatest Show on Turf.” He eventually led the Rams to a Super Bowl win over the Tennessee Titans and earned himself the MVP title.
Years later, the Rams released Warner and he signed with the New York Giants. Shortly thereafter, they benched him for the young Eli Manning. He then signed with the Arizona Cardinals, where he would have to fight for his job again.
With the Cardinals, Warner found his way into a third Super Bowl, this time losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers. In January 2010, the quarterback announced his retirement after suffering a tough injury in a playoff game. He ended his career with two league MVPs and 4 Pro-Bowl appearances.
Warner has often credited his faith for his ability to overcome life’s obstacles and has tried to help others where he can. He and his wife have made the service of disabled individuals part of their personal mission. For his charitable efforts, Warner has been awarded with the Bart Starr Award, Muhammad Ali Sport Leadership Award, and the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, among others.
Eric Liddell - Famous Christians in Sports
Reaching far back in the history books, Eric Liddell was an Olympic runner who represented Great Britain in the 1920’s.
Similar to Tim Tebow, Liddell’s parents were missionaries in China when Eric was born. At a young age, his parents shipped him and his brother back to England for schooling. Liddell excelled at sports from the start so it wasn’t long before he was named the best athlete at his school. He was soon named the fastest runner in Scotland.
Because of his notoriety, Eric was invited to speak with a local evangelistic group and serve as the lead speaker when they went around the area to evangelize.
Liddell’s success in athletics continued at Edinburgh University where he played rugby and ran.
When it came time for the 1924 Olympics to be held in Paris, the runner was an obvious choice for the British team. Upon discovering that some of the races were held on Sunday, however, Liddell announced that he could not take part in them. This meant he was out for the 100 meters and the 4 x 400 relay.
He opted for the 400 meter and 200 meter races instead, where he won the gold and bronze medals respectively.
After the Olympic games, Liddell returned to China to serve as a missionary. Though he competed a few times here and there, he considered service to God a much higher calling than athletics.
Liddell died in 1945 in an internment camp where he was placed as a result of fighting between Japan and China. Although he had the opportunity to travel back home before capture, he decided to stay and help a small village that was desperate for assistance.
One of the runner’s famous quotes is “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.” The 1981 film, “Chariots of Fire,” chronicles Liddell’s time at the 1924 Olympics and is considered one of the best films covering famous Christians.
Joe Gibbs - Famous Christians in Sports
Last on our list is a man who has succeeded in just about every aspect of sports.
Joe Gibbs started his coaching career in the 1960’s as an offensive line coach at San Diego State. After serving in several other position roles at places like Florida State University and Arkansas, worked his way into a job in the NFL.
Looking at Gibbs’ work history, it shows a man who started near the bottom and got his way to the top through hard work and determination.
That hard work paid off in 1981 when Gibbs was given the head coaching job with the Washington Redskins. Though the team was a bit sluggish the first year, the coach led them to three Super Bowl wins in twelve seasons. Building up the offensive line to be the now-famous “Hogs,” the Redskins were able to control the line of scrimmage and run the plays they wanted.
After losing in the playoffs of 1992, Gibbs surprised the team’s owners by announcing his retirement. Wanting to spend more time with his family, the then-52-year-old had been burning the candle at both ends for too many years.
Gibbs had started his own NASCAR team before retirement, so he had more than fishing on his mind when he stepped down from the Redskins.
Though the racing team was doing fine, Gibbs caught the football bug in the early 2000’s. After Steve Spurrier was fired from the Redskins, Gibbs thought it was time to return to football.
His second time in Washington was not nearly as magical as the first, however. In four seasons, the Redskins made the playoffs twice, but they never saw the Super Bowl. Gibbs ended his last season with the team on a high note, though, winning their last four games.
The former head coach is a devout Christian, but hasn’t really advertised that part of his life until recent years. He has authored three books, the latest of which, “The Game Plan for Life,” is meant to encourage other believers as they navigate the world today.
There have simply been too many Christians throughout history to cover them all, but the names listed above are some of the most famous Christians in sports history.
Each year at the K-LOVE Fan Awards, we recognize famous Christians who are making an impact for Christ in the world of sports. In recent years, NFL tight end Benjamin Watson and baseball player Adam LaRoche have won awards for representing their faith in their respective fields.
Adam won the award for Sports Impact at the 2016 K-LOVE Fan Awards. He gained media attention when he decided to quit his major league dreams so that he could spend more time with his family. He has also helped in efforts to rescue those suffering in sex trafficking. He is one of many athletes making a difference in the world today.
While we love to celebrate the biggest achievements in Christian music each year, the faith community consists of all kinds of artists and individuals. If you would like information on how you can attend next year’s K-LOVE Fan Awards, click on the link below. Don't miss the biggest weekend in Christian music!