Co-Author, The Jersey Effect (2012)
NFL Super Bowl Champ, Colts 2007
12-year NFL punter, 10 years with Colts, 2 years with Redskins
Director of Sports and Culture Initiative at the Sagamore Institute, Indianapolis
Billboard Top 20 Christian AC singer/songwriter of The Hunter Smith Band
Graduated Notre Dame in 1999 with degrees in theology and sociology
Three Children, Josiah, Samuel, and Lydia
Hunter Smith: The Jersey Effect
CBN.com JERSEY EFFECT
Millions see them every week at their best, but if you had access to the stadiums, huddles, locker rooms, press conferences, prayer circles, and private conversations of professional football, what you found there might surprise you, both in good ways and in bad. While you might expect to see courage and boldness, you’ll likely see a lot more insecurity and anxiety than you anticipated. Off the field, many professional football players are in trouble. According to USA Today, 78 percent of all NFL players are divorced, bankrupt or unemployed two years after leaving the game. NFL players are also six times more likely to commit suicide. A more recent statistic estimates that a whopping 90 percent of players who made over 15 million a year during their careers are bankrupt.
Hunter Smith, twelve year NFL punter and Super Bowl XLI Champion, is not surprised by these statistics He says that, in childhood, standout players become the stars of their teams and often remain the stand-outs and get attention and affirmation from their role as star. Then, one day after playing a few years in the NFL, they’re dumped, and have never been challenged with what else they can do in life. Players like this are left out in the world wondering what they can do. “When athletes finish their careers, their importance is stripped away and they don’t see themselves as valuable, says Hunter. “That’s why we have the crisis we do in sports and why athletes are in the news after their careers are over. They receive attention and that makes them feel important again.” Hunter believes the heart of the epidemic is importance versus value. Athletes are raised to believe they’re important, that is, they are “needed” rather than “valued.” By their performance, athletes are conditioned to be invincible—it doesn’t last. “After the Super Bowl, many of my teammates and I felt empty,” Hunter says. “We felt important, no doubt. But there’s no value in a trophy. There’s only value at the cross.” Hunters says that while winning the biggest sporting event in the world was a great feeling, if the only purpose of wearing a jersey is to satisfy yourself, then your world becomes awfully small. “I promise you that every believer and nonbeliever on that plane flying back to Indianapolis had this thought cross his mind: ‘There has to be more than this,” Hunter says. Unfortunately, fame and fortune can hijack even the most well-intentioned players, feeding them subtle lies that football is a god. But with that mindset ultimately comes emptiness. Hunter wasn’t immune to the lies and temptations that come along with fame and fortune. “Perhaps my intentions started off well, but I increasingly became self-centered and drunk with the pleasures of this world, even as a Christian athlete,” he says.
Fortunately, Hunter knew the truth is that fulfillment comes from a relationship with God. “There was a point where I met a man who really challenged me on my life. He finally stepped in and said, ‘Do you really fear the Lord, and do you really want to give Him everything? Is He everything, or are you more in love with being a Christian, and being a Christian influence, than you are with God?’ That was the most important transition that I have had in my faith.” Hunter is a committed Christian who could have become a statistic had he not turned his life wholeheartedly back to God and found his purpose in Him. Now, Hunter and Darrin Gray of All-Pro Dad, a national fatherhood program, are seeking to help athletes, parents, and coaches gain a proper perspective on sports in the book, The Jersey Effect. They’re drawing attention to the potential harm a jersey (or any success) can cause—self-centeredness, greed, immaturity—but also to the realization of the potential power to use success for the good of society and, and most importantly, the good of Christ’s Kingdom. Hunter and Darrin take a look into the hearts and minds of athletes who have achieved Super Bowl success and examine the battles they faced. For example, while some champions have desired to reflect glory back to God by using their “jersey” and the platform God had given them to make a positive difference in the world, sometimes their great intentions were hijacked by pride, materialism, distractions, and deficiencies within their own character that were never truly understood until the ultimate success had come their way.
Hunter hopes players, coaches, and parents will learn and, in turn, teach important lessons about how to properly align their love of sports with God’s heart. He and Darrin demonstrate how to pursue the ultimate prize—a goal that has little to do with winning a championship ring and everything to do with how we can have a positive effect on those around us through the sports we love. His message is also for those not interested in the sports world. He says we all have idols other than God, things we put too much value in, such as status from a job or popularity in social circles. Hunter wants to help us put life into proper perspective.
THE MAN BEHIND THE JERSEY
Before his career in the NFL, Hunter was a multisport standout from Sherman High School and two-time Texas All State selection in football. Coming out of high school, he was highly recruited and chose the University of Notre Dame, where he played multiple positions for head coach Lou Holtz. Hunter punted every game of his four-year career and graduated in 1999 with a degree in theology and sociology.
Hunter was drafted by and played for the Indianapolis Colts for ten seasons, during which he received many honors, including being named to the NFL All-Rookie Team and three-time alternate to the Pro Bowl. The Colts franchise recorded the most wins of any team in NFL history over the span of a decade under the leadership of Tony Dungy, Hunter’s greatest sports role model, including winning Super Bowl XLI to cap off the 2006 season. Hunter signed as a free agent with the Washington Redskins in 2009, where he played for two seasons. During his tenure with Washington, he rushed for a touchdown against the New York Giants and passed for a 35-yard touchdown against the Denver Broncos, becoming the only special teams player in NFL history to both run and pass for a touchdown in the same season. He officially retired from professional football in 2011. Hunter serves as director of the Sports and Culture Initiative at the Sagamore Institute, a national think-tank based in Indianapolis.
Today, Hunter is a unique blend of performing artist and professional athlete. In addition to his history as an NFL punter, the committed Christian is also a public speaker, worship leader, pastor, Billboard top 20 Christian AC singer/songwriter of The Hunter Smith Band. Hunter captivates audiences with a powerful message that is full of humbling and humorous experiences. He is enthusiastic about exposing people to God’s truth and the world’s lies, and Hunter has carried his message on national and international stages through his gifts of speaking and singing.
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