The Christian athlete

Cal Yordt – Guest Writer

Contributed Photo

This weekend, the Dordt University football team will square off against Grand View in their first ever postseason appearance in program history. Their road to this milestone playoff berth was paved by the “Defender Way”.

In the mid-August heat of summer, Dordt University Football Head Coach Joel Penner gathered his team on the football field. They convened in the outdoor setting due to COVID-19 guidelines. But even in the open space, Penner needed no microphone. He spoke with a booming purpose about the “Defender Way”.

“I once heard a coach at a Christian college say that he will not recruit Christian football players because they are soft.” Penner said. “COME PLAY DORDT! Come get hit by Josh Mrazek or JoJo, then watch us kneel after the game and join in prayer together!” 

For Penner, there is no correlation between weakness and playing in Christ’s light. 

“Our ‘why’ is to honor our creator. Their ‘why’ is to see how much they light up a big hunk of metal.” Penner said. “We as a team know that to honor God in the game of football is to play it the way he intended. To us, that means to compete fiercely and work as hard as we can. If we do those things, then that hunk of metal will take care of itself.”

There are four pillars that make up the Defender football program: honor God, build men, compete fiercely, and have kingdom impact. The first of these is the most important and Dordt does it unlike any other program, according to the team. Other schools may say a prayer at the beginning of practice and then forget about honoring God in the rest of their time together. In contrast, Dordt reminds their players to play hard as they can because God intended the game of football to be well-fought. 

The biggest misconception about the Christian football player, referenced by Penner in his speech, is that they are softer than non-believers. According to the Defender Way, this is not true. With football, Christian men can release their toughness on the field in a way that is not detrimental to society. And, while non-believers may engage in some “extracurriculars” after the whistle, Christian players find strength in playing between the whistles. 

“Winning isn’t everything. But if you win you naturally have a bigger platform to spread your message, and over the past couple years, that’s what has happened at Dordt.” Aaron Mingo, the offensive coordinator said.

Mingo also referenced 2 Timothy 1:7 as a scripture passage that defines the Christian athlete well: “For the power of God does not make us timid, but gives power, love and self-discipline.” 

The strength of the Christian athlete reaches beyond the playing field. From the locker room to how one uses their platform in the community, the Christian athlete understands their obligation to help others. While others may turn a blind eye to the world, the Christian athlete receives the strength from God to engage in the hard, cultural conversations because they know the positive effect of this dialogue. 

This past summer, the football team wanted to address what it meant to love others Christianly. This need came in the middle of racial tensions in America surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement. 

As a whole, the team wanted to fill this cultural moment with the strength of love and how such strength can save others from anger that turns to violence. They dove into their faith as fellow believers. Through their reflection and discussion, they put together a video titled “Into the Fire” that discussed how Christians should interact and engage with discussions on race.

Through football, Dordt and the Defender Way provide an avenue for students to express their faith. 

“Even though I went to a Christian high school, Dordt helped me realize that God is in everything we do in life, and for some people sports are their life,” said Ethan Thomas, a sophomore wideout. 

The Christian athlete is not soft, not even close. They know a different kind of strength, a strength in the Lord. 

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