Christians in the NFL – lessons learned from James Laurinaitis – St. Louis Rams

This is the 15th installment in my blog series on Christians in pro football.  Today, we’ll check out the story of St. Louis Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis. 

The Rams are a team that has been struggling for a few years, but have a good core of up-and-coming players that are looking to change the direction of the Rams.  I have been watching Laurinaitis’ career with some added interest.  He is a local Minnesota product.  He played high school ball just a few miles from where I live.  He was well scouted for his hockey skills, but went undrafted because it was widely assumed that he would play football.  I didn’t live here during his high school years, but his name still comes up frequently around high school tournament time in the Twin Cities.
Laurinaitis was a super star in college and turned down the NFL draft after his junior year and returned to Ohio State for his senior year.  He would have been a top 10 pick by most estimations – which would mean a big contract, lots of guaranteed money and the prestige which comes with being a high draft pick (and the pressure cooker of attention that it would bring).  But after returning for his senior year – a good year statistically, he fell in the draft to the second round – 35th overall.  It is great to be drafted, but he was disappointed that he didn’t go earlier.  As you can read in this article from the, you can read about how he now sees the disappointment as an opportunity to allow God to teach him something. 

He and Malcolm Jenkins (currently of the New Orleans Saints) were invited back by their Alma Mater, Ohio State University, through Campus Crusade, to share their story and explain to the audience that football is not what their life is all about.  Check out Laurinaitis’ testimony from the event below. 

Here are some lessons that I have taken from his story and the articles that I read about Laurinaitis:

1- All of us have insecurities – we questions our abilities and can often fall victim to self-doubt.  Laurinaitis talks about worrying whether he had prepared well enough, and was he ready to do all that was expected of him?  The enemy loves to fill our mind with doubt and lies telling us that we are not good enough and that we will fail.  Here is the thin line that we need to walk.  We cannot buy into his lies, but yet, we also need to have a complete dependency on Him.  Because, truthfully, we cannot do it on our own.  He quotes Paul’s second letter to Corinthians where he talks about “in my weakness, I am made strong.”  The lies will always come at us, but if we are trusting in Jesus, we can be assured that we are good enough –  Good enough that Jesus came to die for us. 

2- In spite of that, though, despite our shortcomings and failures, we still think that we can accomplish things in our own strength. We have our ideas of what success looks like, we have our plans for the best case scenario, but if we rely on our own strength, what happens when we fail.  Who do we turn to when life gets hard.  What if our plan never works out? “My grace is enough” says the Lord.  That is such truth.  God is the complete promise that is given to us.  The grace that he offers that gives worth to our life and reconciles us to Him is all we need. The rest doesn’t really matter.  His amazing grace that he offers is all that really is important.

3- God’s ways are better than ours, even if the don’t make sense to us –
Laurinaitis fell to 35th in the draft – Top 10 to second round.  Initially, he talks about disappointment and discussing with God why it happened.  But after some reflection time, he decides that it is for the best and that there are some lessons in it for him.  We see how important it is to trust God.  God cares more about our hearts and tuning it to his plan then he is meeting success in the world’s eyes.  Not that 35th overall is unsuccessful, but it was farther than he expected.  But we can’t miss what he said about his decision to return to college for one more year.  He said  “I felt that God was telling me, ‘You have more to do at Ohio State,'”.  God loves us and pursues us relentlessly.  He will go to any lengths to reach the lost.  If we are dedicated to carrying out his mission and his purpose, he will guide us through some decisions that may not make sense to others.  I don’t know what God had for Laurinaitis to do at Ohio State, but I know that if God was leading him to return, it was the right choice to make.