I grew up riding BMX and that meant spending a few days each summer watching the X Games. Once when the X Games were in San Diego County, I crashed grinding a handrail at a high school near the competition, fractured my skull and had to be medevacced — but that’s a story for another day.
It’s also a bit more common when discussing extreme sports — or as they call them now, “action sports.” What’s not so common was also the most interesting article I read this weekend about the X Games.
As a Christian child of BMX, I’ve long been aware of the challenges of holy living in a community considered to have a party culture. (Think “Lords of Dogtown“.) But I was surprised to see The New York Times pick up on this.
The story opens with the conversion experience of Brian Deegan and his tattooed band of moto-x miscreants known as the Metal Mulisha:
After a near-fatal crash in 2005 while attempting a back flip during filming for a television show, he lost a kidney and four pints of blood, and found religion. When a surgeon told him he might not survive, Deegan, 34, who has won more freestyle motocross medals at the X Games than any other rider, made a pact with God.
If he lived, he would mend his ways. When he finally pulled through, he sought a pastor, began reading the Bible and “gave his life to Christ,” he said.
Soon his fellow freestyle riders Jeremy Lusk, Ronnie Faisst and Jeremy Stenberg, who is known as Twitch, began attending Bible study with Deegan.
“All the heavy hitters of the Mulisha are born-again Christians,” Deegan said. “I started tripping. ‘What are the fans going to think?’ I started getting nervous.”
Ah, the intersection of religion and public image, popularity and piety — an intriguing lede. I would have been nice to have seen some comparisons to the conversions of other hard-living celebrities: Johnny Cash, George W. Bush, Stephen Baldwin.
That’s not gonna happen. But at least there’s more:
It is difficult to chart when attitudes toward religion began shifting in action sports. But several years ago, ESPN representatives began receiving credential requests for members of the clergy to accompany athletes at the X Games, and they have continued to issue them.
The case of Nate Adams is instructive, too. As a Christian, Adams was part pariah during the early days of freestyle motocross.
“We tried to pick him apart,” Deegan said. “But you had to respect him. He always ripped on a dirt bike. And now Nate Adams is one of our best friends.”
Adams won the Moto X Freestyle bronze Saturday and Twitch took the silver; one of the jumps was named in memory of Lusk, who died from brain trauma in February after crashing while during competition. In other words, these guys might have been antiestablishment, but in motocross, they are the establishment.
And they’re all Christians? How did it take so long for this to become a story worth covering?
Matt Higgins article, which is generally very good, also contains this really odd paragraph:
Jereme Rogers, 24, a skateboarder who has competed in the X Games and proclaimed his faith in tattoos, is an exception. He was arrested in May after preaching naked from his apartment rooftop in Redondo Beach, Calif. Rogers apologized, and he retired the next month.
This seems to me a mingling of Rollen Stewart, AKA Rainbow Man, and the Ben Folds lyrics about a friend who dropped acid at a party, climbed up into a tree and gave his life to Jesus. I don’t too much stock should be put into Rogers’ rooftop sermon.
Furthermore, Rogers only distracts from the bigger story, and to an extent obscures the fact that we never really see what it means for the Metal Mulisha or other action sports athletes to be religious — whether they are overt or more private about it, which seems to be the case for most.
One such case would be Paul Rodriguez, who won his third gold medal in the skateboard street event Saturday. Rodriguez, who doesn’t typically talk about his religious beliefs, told reporter Matt Higgins that he “took more grief for signing an endorsement deal with Nike” than for being a Christian.
Dude, that is so extreme.
A logo for Brian Deegan’s Metal Mulisha