Throughout his 11-year NHL career, Brian Rafalski was known as one of the toughest U.S.-born defensive players in the league. That reputation earned him significant playing time on Team USA at three Olympics including silver medal performances at the 2002 and 2010 Winter Games.
But later that same year as his final Olympic appearance, Rafalski faced a spiritual crisis and was forced to make a decision about where he stood with God. Since that moment, he has become actively involved with FCA Hockey and has committed himself to sharing his testimony with others.
In this CSJ conversation, Rafalski talks with managing editor Chad Bonham about a topic he has become passionate about in recent years—integrity:
Chad Bonham: How do you define “integrity?”
Brian Rafalski: The way I would describe integrity would be this: “The steadfastness of ones character to always do what is truthful, honest, and righteous under any circumstance.”
Bonham: Where are some places that you’ve learned about integrity?
Rafalski: Well, being a big fan of Glenn Beck; I’ve been inspired by his personal story of how his alcohol abuse led to family destruction and just all around moral destitution and his reformation. His emphasis on being a person of integrity really inspired me to take a long hard look at myself. In the process of reading books recommended by him, like The Real George Washington and The Real Benjamin Franklin, I saw how men of integrity led their lives and strove to be a man God could use.
Bonham: What have you learned about integrity from the Bible?
Rafalski: The Bible, in regards to integrity, gives me the impression that the Lord uses people with varying degrees of integrity to fulfill his plans. For example, in the Old Testament, Noah was a man of integrity and righteousness. God knew he could count on Noah under all the ridicule and the long years of construction to complete the task He asked of him. An example of someone God used who had very low integrity would be Paul. Here was a man who hunted down and murdered new Christians. God turned Paul into a man of integrity who would spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ while the Roman Empire was torturing, abusing, and killing Christians all throughout the Roman Empire.
Bonham: Are there any Bible verses in particular that have helped you in this area?
Rafalski: One of my favorite verses on integrity is Proverbs 10:9: He who walks in integrity walks securely, but he who perverts his ways will be found out.” I was someone who throughout my career perverted my ways and not until October of 2010 did I return to following Christ. This passage really hits close to my heart and the truth that it tells. After confessing my sins not only to Jesus but also to my family, I able to start rebuilding my integrity. I fully realize it doesn’t happen over night, but it was a steady day-at-a-time walk to restoring my integrity. There are stumbles along the way but the Holy Spirit points them out. With the Spirit’s help, and under the grace of my Lord, I repent and work to correct those mistakes.
Another good one is Proverbs 29:10: “Blood Thirsty men hate a man of integrity and seek to kill the upright.” This verse to me sounds like a warning and a blessing. There will always be people who try to make men of integrity fall in their walk because the light from a man of integrity fully exposes the darkness. It forces men to look at themselves and to justify their own actions. In this way, we as Christians are told to be the light unto the world—not as to judge others but to love them and to be examples of Christ’s work in us.
Bonham: What can we learn about integrity through the life of Jesus Christ?
Rafalski: The best example of integrity in Christ’s life, to me, comes from Jesus’ knowledge that He knew He was going to die on the cross and carry the burden of all our sins. Yet, He followed God’s plan for Him on this earth. He stayed true to His path. When He was resurrected three days later, He fulfilled the prophecies and He saved all those that believe in Him.
Bonham: How has the principle of integrity applied to your life as a professional athlete?
Rafalski: As an athlete, integrity matters. Sports are a competition to see who is the best on any given day. If we as athletes lack integrity, can we truthfully know who won? Did someone cheat, lie, or take steroids to win? When we do something that lacks integrity to the game, we are, in essence, stealing from the other players who are doing it the right way. Last time I checked “Thou shalt not steal” is still in the Bible. We should honor those that beat us in competition and be humble in victory.
Bonham: How does integrity apply to the other areas of your life?
Rafalski: Becoming a man of integrity has been a real challenge in my life. When you get used to lying it becomes easier. Coming back to Christ has made me aware of the changes my life needed to become a man of character. The biggest has been telling the truth no matter how much it hurts. By doing this, I am now able to go to sleep every night not worrying whether my lies will be figured out and how to keep them going. Don’t get me wrong. There was much pain and suffering airing all my dirty laundry. Over time the truth has allowed me to start rebuilding the relationships that matter most to me. The grace of God is truly amazing and powerful. For anyone in need, God is waiting for you to turn your burdens over to Him. He is always faithful and loving and will carry you through any storm.
Bonham: What is your encouragement to other athletes and coaches?
Rafalski: My encouragement to other players and coaches is simply this: Integrity starts to build the moment we own our past and commit to the path that Jesus walked. The truth shall set you free. Be a person that commits to being someone that people can rely on for the truth. Be a person free of judgment towards others. Know where you stand in your own life and especially with God. If you need answers on how to handle situations, pray to the Lord and he will fulfill His promise. It may not always be what we like, but the Lord will take care of us.
(Photos: NHL Images; FutureNJGov; Dan4thNicholas)