Turning Down the NFL

These two men understand that true success isn't measured in dollars, or by man's opinion.
by Victor Lee

It's prime time in the NFL, and Rich Williams and Jason Burks could be right in the middle of it. Good money, high name recognition, plenty of fuel for the ego.

But both said "no." In a culture that elevates athletes beyond reason and defines success in part by high profile and money, it may seem odd that someone would say "no" to the opportunity to play. But God's idea of success isn't the same as man's, and as Christians these men didn't have to succeed on the basis of what man says.

When the NFL began showing interest, Williams, who played his college ball at Division I-AA Gardner-Webb, did the obligatory workouts, traveling at team expense to various cities.

"One day I said to the Lord, "This is a great opportunity, so if You want me to have the desire to fulfill it, give it to me.' Then it dawned on me, 'What if the Lord does not want me to play?

"I told Him, "If this is not what you want me to do, I won't do it.'"

And he didn't.

"The only reason the decision was hard was that so many people around me were telling me what a great opportunity it was." Williams projected to be drafted in the mid-rounds, told the teams not to bother drafting him.

People often mention the money Williams likely passed up. The aspiring teacher and strength coach doesn't measure success in dollars. "I'd rather help a million people than to have a million dollars in the bank," he says. "Money was never a big deal for me, and if I ever let it become that way, I'll feel like I sold my soul to the devil. The world offers false peace. I don't have to have an NFL career and a lot of money; that's not what true success is."

Burks thought similarly after the 1999 season. A two-time second-team All-ACC offensive guard at Georgia Tech, he wanted no more of football.

"At that level of college football and in professional football, the game becomes more of a god," he said. "It demands so much time it becomes an idol. Being a man of God, I could not let myself go to the point of letting football be that idol, be that God; that would be forsaking my God.

"Another factor is that I was tired of being judged everything you do, everything you are, is judged by another person. You're not ever big enough, fast enough, or strong enough. I only have one true Judge, and I was tired of being judged by a man, by the worldly standards."

Is Burks content? "Yes. Every once in a while I might wonder 'what if.' But I have no problems with my decision. Money is great, but money is not the answer to all problems."

The point behind all this is not that it's better not to play or to play it's that there is a choice, that man's "obvious" isn't always God's "obvious." Sometimes it's good to see that there is a different way.

Taken from Sports Spectrum, a Christian sports magazine. Used by permission. For subscription information call 1-800-283-8333

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