Faith & football — to the max

troy with son 2Regular readers may have noticed at some of your GetReligionistas are big sports fans, which includes the National Football League in several cases. This continues to be the case even though young master Daniel Pulliam is inactive, while serving as editor of a law review.

Regular readers may also know that we are big fans of intelligent question-and-answer interviews, especially when this format allows a skilled journalist to let intelligent and colorful people stretch out and tell their own stories and describe their own beliefs in their own words.

Regular readers may also know that I am a convert to Orthodox Christianity and, it goes without saying, I am interested in the views of other Orthofolks.

However, just about the last thing I would expect to see in public media is a long and highly intelligent interview with an NFL superstar, commenting on the role of his Orthodox faith in his life as a parent, husband, churchman and athlete. Can you imagine the odds against that?

So, click here and check out Gina Mazza’s conversation with — you guessed it — the mane man in Pittsburgh, which would be Troy Polamalu, the star safety for the Steelers. I don’t quite know where to start with the interesting material in this one (Can you say, “Mount Athos?”), but let’s start with this part of the introduction:

Fatherhood is new in Polamalu’s life since the birth of his son, Paisios, named after a beloved contemporary Greek Orthodox monastic, Elder Paisios, on Oct. 31, 2008. Has daddy-dom been life-changing? Will he encourage his son to play professional sports? How’s that beautiful new mom doing?

And last but not least: Faith. In order to properly meet Polamalu where he lives, this is the requisite, the grounding force that gives meaning to everything he does, every play he makes. Polamalu’s evident gratitude to the one who made him is marbled throughout our talk — from his training regime to his travels to Mount Athos, a monastic site in Greece, a place he calls “heaven on earth.”

So this interview includes some very unusual questions, in the context of sports. How about, “Would you want your son to be a priest?” But, you see, that isn’t the biggest question.

Here’s a major chunk of the interview:

What is your greatest wish for your child?

Without a question, my greatest wish would be for him to understand the spiritual struggle and to be a pious Orthodox Christian. That’s what I want for myself, as well. Sometimes parents want their children to be what they never were. And that’s one thing that I am gracious for Paisios to have: that he’s able to grow up in the Orthodox church around monastics and priests that I was never able to experience as a kid — to grasp that, not take it for granted and really culture that. …

How would you define the spiritual struggle you referred to earlier?

It’s the struggle of good and evil, and with that comes the struggle with greed, jealousy, materialism, sexual morality, pride, all these types of struggles that we face every day, in every second of the day.

Your faith continues to evolve. In the past few years, you formally
converted to Greek Orthodox. Where do you worship?

My wife and I go often to a Greek Orthodox monastery in Saxonburg [Nativity of the Theotokos], a monastery in Arizona, and several parishes in Pittsburgh. We like the monastery because it’s most serene there and we can talk to the monastics. To see their daily struggles really fascinates me.

What intrigues you about the monastic life?

For me, faith is to be simple in this way. If anybody believes in God and believes in the Holy Bible, how can you be in any grey area? I’m talking about myself here, how can “I” think one way and do another way? To me, Christianity is very black and white. Either you take it serious or you don’t take it serious at all. The monks’ example to me is that they take salvation seriously in every facet of their lives. This is a model for me as a Christian and for my family on how to live our lives.

Read on. This has to be one of the most off-the-wall (in a good way) interviews of the year. Enjoy.

Photo: From the website.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • danr

    While rare, perhaps public media’s scant coverage of Orthodoxy merely represents their proportion of the US population (.8 percent?).

    Then again, coverage of TEC and Mormonism is way out of whack with their population – but GR has reasonable theories on that. You Orthofolks just aren’t sexy and political enough.

    The WP also has this recent feature on Rita Wilson: “Her Big Fat Greek Orthodoxy: The actress and producer talks about sharing her Christian beliefs in Hollywood and how her faith shapes her work.”

  • Ray McCalla

    A question on nomenclature that affects journalistic precision: What should journalists call someone who switches from one kind of Christianity (e.g., Protestantism) to another (e.g., Orthodoxy)? Is “convert” the right term, since that indicates a complete change from one religion to another?

    I guess this all depends on your convictions about whether Protestants and Orthofolks are both Christians. I just remember having a conversation with a Roman Catholic who, although he had a fairly low opinion of Protestantism as a movement, insisted that “convert”/”conversion” was not precise.

  • John

    Troy Polamalu is correct about this too!

    As they did in the earliest times, the Orthodox Churches can help guide the West into deeper spirituality. Pope John Paul II said in 1995 in ORIENTALE LUMEN, “In the East, monasticism was not seen merely as a separate condition, proper to a precise category of Christians, but rather as a reference point for all the baptized, according to the gifts offered to each by the Lord; it was presented as a symbolic synthesis of Christianity.”

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  • Michele

    Roman Catholics use the word ‘convert’ for one who moves from ‘unbelief’ to ‘belief’. Others change denominations.

  • Mary


    I left protestantism for Orthodoxy, and I call myself a convert – not because I think I wasn’t a Christian before but simply because Orthodoxy requires such a change in life that it feels like a conversion.

  • George Bithos

    As a cradle Orthodox, I too am unhappy with the term “convert.” I prefer to refer to my many friends who have been received into the Church as people who have embraced Orthodoxy! Thank you..

  • Julia

    My born-Methodist mother always said she was a convert to Catholicism in the 1940s. She thought of it as a very big change in beliefs and practice. Technically, a baptized person is received into the Catholic Church, but it would be awkward calling someone a receptee.

    This is the first time I have ever heard that convert and conversion have negative connotations. I guess the terms have collected negative vibes for some reason. Words do change over time.

    It’s interesting to watch how the word du jour for children with slow or developmental deficits will change when it has been co-opted as an insult word. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with “slow”, “retarded”, “disabled”, or the medical terms of “idiot”, “moron” and “imbecile” but they came to be seen as demeaning after becoming insult terms on the playground.

    Maybe the same thing happened to “convert” and “conversion”.

  • Ray McCalla


    I’m not saying that “convert” or “conversion” are negative terms. I’m just suggesting, especially in the journalistic context here (after all, that’s what GR is all about), that we should be precise. As noted by you and others above, “embracing,” “switching denominations,” or “being received” into another church are probably more appropriate than “conversion.” Conversion, for me, is for someone who switches from, say, Islam to Christianity (of one stripe or another). But I also recognize that many Orthodox leaders believe that switching from Protestantism to Orthodoxy is indeed a new religion.

  • Ray McCalla

    Oops, I guess someone who switches from Islam to Christianity might be called, at least in some places on earth, an apostate. So I guess it all depends on your viewpoint?

  • Julia

    Some of this probably has to do with whether your Faith believes in an invisible Christian Church of all believers or a visible Church. Moving from one Protestant denomination to another is not as big a jump as from Protestant to Mormon or Catholic or Orthodox. And not as huge a difference in what happens in church on Sunday. Maybe switching from one liturgical church to another is not as big a switch.

    I had a choir director once who resented the term “convert.” She erroneously tried to get us to pronounce Latin like Julius Caesar because she had studied Latin in school. She didn’t understand that Church Latin is from a later era closer to when it morphed into Italian -e.g. soft “g”. She thought we were being dismissive of her because she was a “convert” and she wouldn’t listen when we tried to explain otherwise.

  • BV

    Jaroslav Pelikan didn’t like the term “convert/conversion” either. He said he “discovered the continuity that had been there all along”. In other words, it was more a realization than a compulsion.