Before I moved to Minneapolis/St. Paul area, I had been to 2 NFL games in my life. Both times I was privileged to see my favorite player at the time play. In 1997, it was Barry Sanders (who I wrote a post about a few years ag0) and the Lions, and in 2000, it was the Carolina Panthers and Tshimanga Biakabutuka in Atlanta to play the Falcons. I liked Barry because he was fun to watch and arguably one of the top 5 running backs of all time. I liked Biakabutuka because of his unique name and the fact that he was raised in Montreal and there were not a lot of Canadians in the NFL. His name is part of the reason that I am writing about him. The rest of the reason is the way God has been working in his life.
When I started this blog in 2011. I named it Living Up to My Name because my last name “Page” means “servant to the King”. As a Christian, I strive to serve the King of all Kings and live my life for Him. Biakubutuka’s name means “born again” and while that didn’t bear much significance for him during his playing career, in the days since, it has come to represent him as he has become a Christian.
Biakubutuka was born in Kinshasa, Zaire in 1974. He and 4 of his 11 siblings moved to Montreal when he was 4 years old “in search of a better life”. In Montreal, his mother worked long hours to keep the family fed while his father worked on a PhD. His mom encouraged faith in God but Biakabutuka was not interested. The article that I linked to says that Biakabutuka thought Christians used faith as a crutch.
He started playing football in high school, and excelled at Vanier College – similar to junior college – where he earned the nickname “Touchdown Tim”. From there, American schools took notice and “Touchdown Tim” chose Michigan. In his 3 seasons with the Wolverines, he rushed for over 2700 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Carolina liked what it saw from Biakabutuka and drafted him with the 8th overall pick in the 1996 draft. But he played only 4 games in his rookie season before a knee injury ended his season. The next year, it was a rib injury that caused him to miss half the season. In 1999, Biakabutuka became the third player in NFL history to score 2 TDs of 60+ yards in the same game. Then turf toe, high ankle sprain and finally a nasty, one of a kind foot injury. The last one required immediate surgery and there was a possibility that amputation may be needed if it was not dealt with quickly. He would try to comeback, getting invitations to work out with a couple of teams, but as he says “I got invited to Minnesota, Tampa and Houston – but every time I got there, team doctors wouldn’t sign off on it because they’d say, ‘We’ve never seen anything like this.’ At that point, I knew it was over.”
So what was the start of life after football? Biakabutuka, with the help of Panthers owner at the time Jerry Richardson, opened a business – a high end Jewelery story called Beya fine jewelry. He opened 2 stored in the Charlotte area, but after a couple of tough years, he shut down that business and opened 4 Bojangles restaurants in Agusta. The businessman and restauranteur thanks former Panthers owner Jerry Richardson for helping him get started with Bojangles. In his playing days, he had spent some time with the Panthers team chaplain, talking about God and faith. The article I read says “At the same time Biakabutuka began putting his business plan together, he had also immersed himself in religion. At the urging of Bunkley, the Panthers chaplain, Biakabutuka had taken halting, gradual steps toward faith during his playing days. His NFL injuries gave him a sense of vulnerability. Teammates who practiced Christianity — Mike Minter and others — provided compelling examples of how to practice faith without sacrificing strength.” He now says “Nothing in my life brings me more peace and joy than my relationship with God“. During his days in the jewelry business, he offered a line of Christian themed jewelry that he designed himself. He is now living up to his name – as a “born again” believer.
Here are my takeaways from Biakabutuka’s story:
1- Jesus is a crutch – A Christian comedian said once in a bit, that people say Christians use Jesus as a crutch, but when you are crippled, that is not a bad thing. The truth is that we are all broken people and the only way to sustain and survive in this life is to lean on the strength that God provides. If we live only in our own strength, when the struggles and hard things in life come our way, it can and does overwhelm. I gladly and freely admit that Jesus helps me in this way. I always need help and someone other than myself to lean on for strength to survive. He is the only One that is dependable.
2- Keep sharing – I love that his mother was faithful to God and shared her faith with her son. For so long, he refused to join her in her beliefs. He went on to college and his pro career, but others came into his life (including Mike Minter who I wrote about a year or two ago) and helped answer his questions of faith, guiding him to choose to follow Jesus for himself. In the end, he did just that. I am encouraged in this to always continue sharing the truth of what I believe to others, even if they reject what I believe. You never know when life circumstances will open them to consider what you and others have been sharing with them.