From CSJ Reports –
It was an incredibly busy and exciting year throughout the sports world. So in this first of five articles, we take a look at five of the top 25 Christian sports stories of 2016 as ranked from #25 down to #21:
25. Dennis Byrd’s Tragic Death Sparks Inspirational Memories, Memorials
In recent years, former NFL defensive lineman Dennis Byrd had faded somewhat from the national sports scene. But he was still making a significant impact on athletes and coaches throughout his home state of Oklahoma nonetheless.
Sadly, tragedy struck on October 15 when Byrd, age 50, was killed in a head-on collision in Claremore. After shock faded into reality, sports fans were reminded of Byrd’s inspirational story of courage, perseverance, and faith. Byrd played four nears in the NFL with the New York Jets before breaking his neck in a freak accident on the field in 1992 that left him paralyzed.
Although doctors said he would never walk again, Byrd proved them wrong and took his first steps less than a year after the incident. In 1993, the autobiography Rise and Walk was released and inspired a made-for-TV movie. In 2004, Byrd was inducted into the University of Tulsa Athletic Hall of Fame. Then in 2012, the Jets retired Byrd’s #90 jersey.
“We are all devastated by the untimely loss of Dennis Byrd,” New York Jets owner Woody Johnson said in a statement. “Soft-spoken and strong-willed, the inspiration he provided to all not only by his play on the field but from the way he overcame life’s obstacles was remarkable by any measure.”
24. Michael McDowell Wins First Career NASCAR Race, Makes Strides In Cup Series
It was a long time coming for Michael McDowell—nine years to be precise. After laboring in multiple series for no less than 10 different teams, McDowell finally won his first NASCAR race at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Driving for Richard Childress Racing, it was his only appearance in the XFINITY Series, but an eventful one nonetheless as he held off Brendan Gaughan for the momentous victory.
McDowell spent the bulk of his season in the Cup Series driving the #95 car for Leavine Family Racing. While he didn’t make it to Victory Lane, McDowell did have a career year with 10 top-20 finishes (including top-10 finishes at Daytona and Homestead) and an overall 30th place in the final driver standings.
But for McDowell, his number one goal continues to be using the platform as a NASCAR driver to share God’s love with others.
“(A few years ago), my prayer was really ‘God, I don’t know if you want me to be in racing or not, but whatever I do, it’s going to be with the mindset of living out my faith and being outspoken about it,” he said. “This sport is crazy. There are so many ups and downs. If your faith is determined by your circumstances, it’s never going to work.”
23. Jrue Holiday skips early NBA games to support wife Lauren’s fight against cancer
New Orleans point guard Jrue Holiday started the 2016-17 NBA season in an unusual place—away from the basketball court. When his wife and former U.S. National Women’s Soccer Team star player Lauren Holiday was diagnosed with an operable benign brain tumor, he stepped away from the game for several weeks to look after her and their newborn child.
In late September, the couple welcomed their daughter into the world. Shortly after, Lauren Holiday had successful surgery to remove the tumor. Jrue Holiday returned to the team on November 18th and didn’t miss a beat. He scored 21 points and tallied seven assists and two rebounds as the Pelicans defeated the Portland Trailblazers in a 113-101 home court victory.
“My wife has helped me with a lot of things,” Holiday said. “She’s also got me to like a lot of different things like sushi. I never would have tried that if it weren’t for her. We also went to Hillsong (Church) in New York. It was awesome to experience that with her. It’s fun to experience new things with the person you love.”
22. Bernhard Langer Claims Another Champions Tour Schwab Cup
If there were an entry in the dictionary for “ageless wonder,” there’s a pretty good chance a photo of Bernhard Langer would be used as an illustration. Langer, age 59, continued to dominate the PGA’s Champions Tour with four tournament wins and third consecutive Schwab Cup (given to the year-end points leader) and fourth overall.
Langer now has 102 career professional wins over a 43-year career including two Masters championships (1985, 1993), three PGA Championships (1987, 1993, 1995), and seven Champions Tour majors.
From the moment he first stepped onto a golf course, Langer has wanted to model integrity for others, but that desire intensified a few days after his first Masters title.
“I’ve always wanted to be trustworthy and honest,” Langer said. “I grew up that way. When I accepted Christ, I was 26 years old and became a believer…It became even more important.”
21. Les Steckel Resigns As FCA President, Shane Williamson Named Successor
After 12 years at the helm, Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) President Les Steckel resigned from the position and officially stepped away at December’s end. Steckel was the organization’s seventh president and oversaw tremendous growth since taking over in 2005.
According to FCA’s press release, “FCA staff nearly doubled from 727 to 1,432 while FCA Huddles—small groups of coaches and athletes who come together to pray and study God’s Word—more than tripled, from 5,500 to 17,376.” FCA camps and camp attendance also more than quadrupled under Steckel’s leadership.
Executive Director of Field Ministry Shane Williamson takes over for Steckel as FCA’s eighth president. He previously served as Vice President of Field Ministry for the Carolinas (2011-14), Multi-Area Director for Metro Atlanta (2005-11), and Area Director for Upstate South Carolina (2002-05).
“I wouldn’t have traded my years at FCA for any other position in the world,” Steckel said. “The passion of the vision and mission of this ministry is the same passion that is in my heart when we see coaches and athletes rise up to their God-given talent to truly impact all who are drawn to FCA.”
(Photos: The University of Tulsa Athletic Department; Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images; Tony the Tiger; Bernhard Langer; Fellowship of Christian Athletes)