The True Confessions of Neon Deion

He was a remarkable athlete at Florida State, an even more remarkable athlete as a pro footballer who played for five different teams, helping most of them win championships, and this weekend he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.   What you may not know about ‘Prime Time’ is that he is and has been a devout Christian.   So it was no surprise when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame this week in Canton Ohio that he gave all honor and glory to the Lord Jesus Christ.  And then he thanked about 100 or so people that helped him climb the mountain of football success.  And then he began to talk about his Momma, and he made a confession.

Growing up poor is no picnic.  In fact sometimes it is quite literally, no picnic— you don’t have enough to eat.   It’s no picnic when you are being supported by a Mom who, to make ends meet, has to be a cleaning lady in a hospital.

Deion told the story of how one of his fellow footballers  (when he was young, and before he played college ball) had seen his Momma the cleaning lady, and recognized who she was.  The thing is that Deion at the time was on an All Star team full of rich white kids, and two African Americans.  And it was one of those rich kids who decided it was o.k. to taunt Deion about his blue collar Momma and her job.

Deion confessed before all who would listen this weekend that when that happened, he was, initially ashamed.  Ashamed that his mother had to do that so he could play football.  Ashamed of growing up poor.  And he made a promise when he was still a teen on that occasion,  that he would not tire, would not quit, would not stop, until his mother didn’t have to do that any more.    At one juncture Deion told the audience,  “if your dream in life includes nobody but yourself, that’s a pretty poor and selfish and limited dream”.   Amen to that.

Deion’s dream was setting his Momma free, and providing for her, and he certainly achieved that.   And once he finished his speech (which Shannon Sharpe said was the best Hall speech he ever heard), in typical ‘stylin’ fashion, he said he liked the bust of him but something was missing— and so he tied his trademark do-rag, head handkerchief around the head of the bust, to the wild applause of the crowd.

Deion Sanders was an electrifying football player and a pretty darn good baseball player as well.  Far better than Michael Jordan (though not quite as good perhaps as Bo Jackson at baseball).    But he is an even more impressive father and husband and Christian man, and is not afraid to say so in public.   Good for him.

As his Momma sat in the audience and cried, we all learned something from the confession about what had motivated Deion day in, and day out, to succeed.  His dream was big enough that it not only included others, it meant he would live his life for someone other than himself.   In a world full of narcissistic athletes,  this was like a breath of fresh air.   Breath it in.    I look forward to meeting Primetime in  Kingdom time in the Hall of Faith.

BELOW: Highlights from Deion Sanders’ Hall of Fame induction speech:

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  • Graham Veale

    I’m often amazed at how charismatic, articulate and self-aware American athletes are. I’m also amazed at how many serious Christians there are in American teams. For every Tiger Woods, you find a man like this!

    If you “google” videos of Wayne Rooney or David Beckham you’ll notice a remarkable difference in personal presence and vocabulary.

    Is this because athletic success is tied to college sponsorships in America? Does the Church make a difference? Why is it that America has so many remarkable role models for young men to look up to? As someone who tries to motivate disengaged teenagers, who quite often only have unreconstructed larger louts and philanderers as sports role models, I would love a good answer.


  • Ben Witherington

    Graham a lot of it has to do with the fact that perhaps 45% of all top athletes in America are African Americans who grew up in the South where the African American Church is very strong. I think it is true as well that because college is the gateway to various professional sports in America, and organizations such as InterVarsity, Campus Crusade and the like are strong on large secular University campuses.


  • Jon Altman

    What about the sons(and daughters) of hospital housekeepers who are NOT preternaturally gifted athletes? The Biblical Gospel has a word of hope for them. Does the American “Gospel of Success”?

  • Graham Veale

    Don’t misunderstand me Jon. I’m not suggesting that a good reason to believe the Bible, or the Gospel, is that it improves athletic performance!

    I’m approaching this as a teacher who want positive role models for young men. I know that America has bad sporting role models, but it also has men like Deion Sanders. A good sporting role model can inspire an athletic clutz like me. I’m looking for heroes who can convince youngsters not to give up on their education, and who can persuade them that practice and perseverence will always produce improvement. I can’t find many role models like that in the UK – even Darren Clarke and Rory Mac celebrated their triumphs with an excess of alcohol (although both acknowledged that they could never behave like this prior to a tournament).

    Young men tend to believe that talent is innate, and therefore give up when the going gets tough. They assume that this indicates a lack of talent. Here we have an athlete who begins by acknowledging his failures, and stating that getting thrown off a team (unfairly, it seems!) was one of the best things that happened to him. And he has a personal presence and charisma that some politicians would kill for! He is not defined by his sporting success. We need more of that in the UK, quite frankly.