A New Purpose: The NFL’s Shawn Harper
By Jesse Carey
CBN.com - On the football field Shawn Harper was a fierce opponent. His career saw him matching up against some of the league's best players while blocking for two All-Pro running backs. But after an injury sidelined him early in his career, Shawn made a life-changing decision to follow God.
We recently spoke to Shawn who discussed his childhood filled with adversity, his career in the NFL and how his faith in Christ has led him to become a leading motivational speaker and life coach.
You’ve seen a lot of success in your career on and off the field, but tell me about growing up, facing the challenges you did.
When a lot of students were being promoted to second and third grade, I had failed the first grade. By the time I was in fifth grade, I was documented with four learning disabilities. I got involved with a lot of deviant behavior. I got kicked out of two schools. I left high school with a 1.62 cumulative GPA.
I’m one of six kids, and my father was gone around the age of four.
I barely started in high school football—no accolades; no all-conference; no honorable mention. I stuttered my entire life.
So I went on to a junior college in Mason City, Iowa. The first year I never played, and I almost just came home. In fact, my bags were packed.
I ended up coming back for my second year, and I made all-region and was in the hall of fame. I went on to Indiana University. And then came draft day in the NFL—I was the third pick in the fourth round.
What changed? What marked the turning point for your football career and later your faith?
My second year in junior college, after being convinced to come back to school, I lived in Mason City for the entire summer. I began to really assert and to apply myself. I would take all of the words of, you know, “You’re a loser,” “You’re a failure” “No one wants you”, and I began this quest to prove the world wrong. I began to practice all day. Just using the anger and people’s negative words, I began to hit it. And that second year, things just exploded. And it went all the way through Indiana University until my second year with the Rams, and that’s when I got injured. It was one of those God saving injuries—had I not been injured I probably would have been dead, because I was involved in a lot of things, things I can’t even mention.
When I was injured, I wasn’t humbled; I was broken. And I realized that everything I thought I did, God was doing for me. He brought me up; He raised me up to this point, but He knew that if I went any further, I would basically consume myself—I was extremely egoistical, arrogant—a very prideful individual.
When I got that injury, and I sat out the entire year, I realized that God’s hand was on me and not only that was on me, but that He was orchestrating my entire life. I had to sit back for once and allow Him to do the driving.
Was it a pretty automatic change in your lifestyle?
After about three days of limping around in a cast—yeah, it was! My mom took me church everyday of the week growing up. But it was a head knowledge; it wasn’t a heart knowledge. There wasn’t that relationship.
But after being injured, laying in that bed, my life began to replay itself. At every turn I saw God’s hand. And I said, “You know what daddy, I definitely repent. I’m sorry. Forgive me.” That was the turning point.
How did your teammates react?
They were extremely supportive. One thing about an NFL football player that’s been around for a few years, is that they have a lot of respect for faith. Because these guys are making half-a-million, 2 million, 3 million dollars a year—they know that happiness is not in money. They already know, because these guys have everything. They’re like, “I know what it’s like to lie awake at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning. You have something that I don’t have—you have peace. I don’t have peace.” So they have a huge amount of respect for Christian athletes.
Now you serve as a life coach and a motivational speaker. What made you want to go in that direction?
Playing in the National Football League, I was blessed with that platform. I didn’t choose it; it actually chose me. I believe that is what the Lord wanted me to do. Coupled with the fact that I see so many people living under and beneath their God-given potential—God has called them to be giants, and they’re living like ants, which was one of my struggles. Even though I played professional football, it took me years to deal with the low self-esteem and self-hatred issues. And I asked myself, “How many other people are out there living like this who are living underneath their God-given potential?” I prayed, “Lord, I’m making myself available that you may use me.”
Since becoming a life coach, you were featured on an episode of MTV’s Made, helping a down and out high school student to become Prom King. What are some challenges you see facing young people today?
There’s more pressure today on young people than ever before. There’s so much pressure on these young kids to conform, to look a certain way, to act a certain way. They’re comparing themselves to airbrushed models. And just being who God created you to be is so hard when you have a worldview of evolution instead of creationism. Encouraging these kids to walk in their true identity is tough because God has called the identity; He didn’t call the image. That can be a challenge because we are in an image-driven society unlike practically any other time in history. So that’s tough, but we're working, we’re pushing at it, and we’re plowing through.
What advice do you have for teens that are dealing with low self-image issues?
To realized that in some instances that you are not disabled, but you are uniquely enabled. You have been called for a particular plan and a particular purpose. You have a calling for a particular season and a particular reason. Embrace who you are; you’re a unique individual. The quest for you is to hook up with your God-given assignment, and live it to its fullest. There you’ll find success and happiness.
Editor's note: For more information on Shawn Harper or to arrange a personal appearance please contact:
William Bruce Agency
Also, visit Shawn Harper’s website: www.shawnspeaks.com
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