By Anja Rosales
Q&A: Combining faith with sports.
Wes Yeary is the athletic chaplain at Baylor. Yeary’s connection with Baylor dates back to 1983 when he played for the Bears under Grant Teaff as a defensive back. He has been working with student-athletes at Baylor with an emphasis on spiritual growth and support since he joined the staff in 2008. Yeary is head of Baylor’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Recently, the men’s Baylor basketball team about players on the team getting to know how to play for Christ as Christian athletes. Yeary answered questions on what it means to implement faith with sport.
Q: How do you define the combination of faith and sports?
A: “I don’t see it as much as mixing faith and sports, but our faith permeates every facet of our lives. Sport is just another area for me to practice and live out my faith. By the way I respond to circumstances, by the way I relate to people and by the way I use the talents and abilities.”
Q: Do you notice a difference with athletes when they mix sports and faith?
A: “Yes. I think the peace that comes from knowing that God is there with you at all times whether you’re on the field of competition or off. I think the confidence of knowing that he has given you those abilities and that they can be used for his glory helps motivate and inspire that athlete to play with all their heart. I feel like when a guy is in a right relationship with the Lord, it frees him to be able to play without having to carry a lot of other baggage on the field with him, and I think whom better to seek than the one who created you to be able to maximize your abilities.”
Q: How has the mentality of combining these two concepts changed within Baylor Athletics?
A: “Over the past six years here at Baylor, I’ve seen a phenomenal growth in the spiritual walk of the athletes that are here, and I’ve seen an atmosphere developed here where athletes who come in want to grow in their faith have a fertile ground to do so, but also an atmosphere of encouragement for those who don’t have a faith background. The way teammates are attracted to seeing the way others live, it becomes attractive to them and they want to know more on why they believe what they believe and why they play the way they do.”
Q: What is a Christian athlete?
A: “We find our identity in Christ and worth in him, and that’s who I am first. But I also have been given unique passions and abilities and talents that I am able to use in different arenas whether it’s in sports or business or in others areas of life. I’m not defined by what I do but by who I am in him. If our whole identity is wrapped up in what I do, then one play can change who I am.”
Q: Are Christian athletes not as tough because they are playing for God and are afraid to hurt their opponents?
A: “A Christian athlete should be one of the toughest hardest working and competitive athletes on the field who plays within the rules but plays with a passion and motivation that goes beyond him. He plays for a greater cause and Id like to think that others see the way they compete would say they would want them on their team.”
Q: Do you think athletes should use their platform of influence to share their faith?
A: “I think whether you’re an athlete or not, you’re always going to share with others the things that you care about the most, whether that be with teammates or with a public audience there are going to be opportunities for you to share with others what’s on your heart to try to encourage or influence them. Many athletes have used their platform to share the impact that Jesus Christ has had on their lives because of the difference they believe he can make in their lives as well.”
Q: Do you think God cares which team wins?
A: “I don’t think God is concerned with the outcomes of the games, but rather the individual that plays the game. I do believe he can teach us and grow us through both wins and losses, and think that some of my greatest times in growth and learning have actually come through losses. But I don’t think that because one team has more believers or praise, that God favors them more. But I do think that an athlete fully committed to him is often free to be at their very best when they compete. It doesn’t mean that he is better than his opponent, but I do think it maximizes the abilities he or she has been given.”
Q: Because Christian athletes may find growth in losing, does that make them okay with a loss?
A: “I know I don’t like to lose. One of my favorite scriptures is from 1 Corinthians 9:24 where Paul compares our life to a race, and says that we are to run to win and instead of going through the motions, that we are to discipline ourselves to be our best. I think a Christian athlete should compete with all his or her heart whether ahead or behind. He or she seeks to maximize their abilities and strive for perfection but realize that a trophy isn’t going to bring ultimate fulfillment to their lives. But there is something beautiful about a team coming together and every individual being at their best and achieving a goal together. I think that can bring glory to God and can bring great enjoyment to those who participate, but I do think a trophy by itself is still going to leave you a little empty apart from knowing that he created you and what he has created you for.”
Q: What goes through your mind when a player loses their temper during competition?
A: “Christians aren’t perfect. They are just sinners that have been forgiven and saved by God’s grace. It doesn’t mean they won’t mess up or blow it. When Christian athletes take a public stand for their faith, more eyes are on them looking for them to fall, to see if they are real in what they say. When they do fall, it doesn’t mean that their faith isn’t real, but instead, they can be an example by admitting their wrong and humbly trying to grow and learn from their mistake. Often their response can be a witness to others as they keep seeking God even after stumbling.”