As far as NFL running backs are concerned, Shaun Alexander was unquestionably one of the best of his era. In eight seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, he rushed for over 9,000 yards and scored exactly 100 rushing touchdowns. Alexander was a three-time Pro Bowl selection and had a stellar 2005 season in which he was named NFL MVP and led the Seahawks to its first Super Bowl appearance.
These days, Alexander is using his influence through a podcast called “Finish The Game” and release of two books (Touchdown Alexander and The Walk) while expanding his horizons into the world of film production. Otherwise, he is keeping busy as husband to wife Valerie and father to eight (soon to be nine) children.
In this CSJ conversation with managing editor Chad Bonham, Alexander talks about his mother’s influence on his life, the highs and lows of his NFL career, why he spends so much time working with young people, and why accountability is an invaluable tool in the Christian’s life.
Chad Bonham: You’re on record as attributing a lot of your success to your mother. Tell me about her and why she had such a big impact on your life.
Shaun Alexander: My mom was just a strong woman of God. You can’t say enough about her. We lived in a two-bedroom apartment and my parents were divorced about the time I was in sixth grade. You’d walk in and you’d see her on the balcony just reading the Bible. There would be people at the house and she just be praying for them. At a young age you don’t really understand until you get married and you have kids. I’ve started to see how valuable I am to my wife and how valuable I am to my kids. My mom almost made us feel like we weren’t missing that male influence because she took on both roles so powerfully even though there had to have been times of loneliness. She’s human. I just think about her character and how strong she was and always wanting to help people. We had an anointed woman of God teach us how to be great men. Even still today, cousins and friends they still go back to our house hanging out with my mom and I’m not even in town and my brothers aren’t even in town. They still come back to see mom and it’s because she always brought that light. She always brought that authentic unwavering love that can only come from God.
Bonham: What do you recall about the excitement of your MVP season in 2005?
Alexander: It’s always good. But that’s a dangerous thing because anytime people start calling you valuable and it’s not wrapped around Jesus Christ, it’s very easy to fall in that trap of thinking, “Now I’m something” or “Now I’m somebody.” It’s honorable. I wouldn’t mind being called MVP again next year. But at the same time it really humbles me to say, “Okay God, I want to make sure that I’m Your MVP first.” A lot runs through your mind. You’re shooting commercials. You’re on top of billboards. Your book’s coming out. All of the sudden you start believing that you’re the world’s MVP. But that’s not the real goal. As exciting as it is, it also brings this soberness that when you’re put up this high it’s even easier to fall off.
Bonham: That season, of course, then concluded with Seattle making its first Super Bowl. What do you remember most about that experience?
Alexander: I honestly believe that we blew it. I think that a good team can get to the Super Bowl. I think that great teams win the Super Bowl regardless of what happens around them. We didn’t make enough plays. The referees probably didn’t have their best day. The coaches probably didn’t have their best day. And we had some players that didn’t have their best day. All of those things mean you blew it and that’s what we did.
Bonham: You mentioned earlier the soberness that comes from being put up on a pedestal. Talk about the 2007 season and how you experienced the opposite end of that spectrum.
Alexander: I broke my hand in the first game. I bruised some ribs by about the third or fourth game. I hurt my knee by the seventh or eighth game. So by the time we got to the middle of the season, I really couldn’t walk that well or breathe that well. I only had one good hand and my back was locking up. People were looking at me and say, “Man, Shaun’s running soft.” The natural instinct for any man is to try and defend who you are. But you have to remember that’s what Satan does. Satan tries to damage your integrity. You have to be tough to stand up for God in our country. You’ve got to be tough spiritually to have integrity. You’ve got to be tough to live with purity. You’ve got to be tough to love people after they’ve wronged you. Because in this country, it’s understood that it’s okay to have an enemy. It’s okay to want to fight back. But God says, “Vengeance is mine.” So then you have to decide if your belief is in the Lord or if your belief is in you feeling better and getting back at someone. Those are just issues of integrity and knowing that God is God.
Bonham: Why have you spent so much time over the years ministering to teenage boys?
Alexander: I just realized that there was a value in somebody with stability and focus imparting life into somebody else. I don’t have to change the world but it’s a powerful thing when I speak into somebody else’s life. I think that’s one of my callings. That’s a powerful thing. You can speak a lot of things into people’s lives and they will grab a hold of it.
Bonham: What approach do you take when using your platform with that group?
Alexander: I just think that in today’s society, the young people just need some really true, authentic, direct love and obedience. If a person’s missing this and they can get the answer, they would want it straight. If it’s red, give it to me that it’s red, because then they can make a true choice. But nowadays, it seems like everybody tells them it could be brown or green or yellow or red. I think for a person to turn up a fire for Christ, you’ve got to risk that they could totally say no and I think that’s how you get rid of lukewarm Christians. I think that’s how you get rid of Christians that are about to take a fall in their life. You give them the total truth just wrapped in love. As soon as you give them the truth, then you’re going to have some more Christians in this world stand up and be powerful.
Bonham: Accountability is something you talk about a lot. What does that look like for you personally?
Alexander: There is more than one person that mentors me and speaks into my life. If I have an issue, I can have five mentors that call up and they all give me different perspectives. It takes many advisers to win the war. That doesn’t mean you should ask 100 people for advice, but there’s some godly counsel that you can have around you to pour into your life and it will keep your steps straight.
Bonham: Tell me about your early history with Fellowship of Christian Athletes and how that impacted you as a young adult.
Alexander: The summer before my junior year in college was the first year I worked at an FCA camp. Before that, I didn’t know that there were other guys out there like me. So I met some kids from all over the country and we talked about integrity issues. How far is too far with drinking? How far is too far with girls? How far is too far with your language? But it never hit me that if God said, “Be holy because I’m holy,” then there is no line. There is no, “How far is too far?” So there was a switch in my thinking even though the grace of God never allowed me to go that direction. But it wasn’t until that junior year when I realized that God had called me to be like this and then I accepted the calling to be a servant. That’s when I called Him my Lord. That’s when my relationship with God went to another level.
Bonham: What have you discovered is the key to living all of this out on a daily basis?
Alexander: You have to know who you are in Christ. You have to know what God has called you to do. Then you have to do that with everything in you. The spirit of excellence causes you to affect people when you don’t even know that they’re watching. It’s not about putting on your Sunday best, but it’s about walking in that spirit of excellence. When people see that, they think, “Oh, this Jesus must be the real deal.”
(Photos: Courtesy of Shaun Alexander; Pro Bowl photo by Jeff Chiu/AP)