New Sports Chaplain Program at Baylor University's Seminary Is Designed for Ministry to Athletes

July 14, 2011

Follow us on Twitter:@BaylorUMediaCom

A new graduate program and emphasis on sports chaplaincy will be established soon at Baylor University's George W. Truett Theological Seminary to meet a growing need for ministry not only to professional athletes but also for youth athletic leagues, church recreation programs and missions outreach.

"We're venturing into the most popular venue in the United States -- sports," said Dr. Grear Howard,director of student services at the seminary.

Chaplains have long provided a crucial ministry in prisons, the military, hospitals and hospices. But sports chaplaincy, primarily through volunteer efforts, has been evolving only since the 1950s, according to the Journal of Issues in Intercollegiate Athletics. Currently, sports chaplains must have a degree but do not need to have gone to seminary. Truett's goal is to offer a strong foundation through applied theology, as well as biblical, sport and pastoral care principles, seminary leaders said.

A unique postgraduate course in sports chaplaincy was launched in 2010 at the University of Gloucestershire in the United Kingdom. But the concept is a new one in the United States, said Dr. David Garland, dean of Truett Seminary.

Miami Dolphins Sports Chaplain Vernon Shazier, a graduate of Baylor's Truett Seminary, called Baylor's action "an awesome plan.

"Here's the challenge: Athletes have a unique world, an incredible culture, a treasure chest with keys to success in life. If we ask a player to run through a wall, he'll put on his pants and helmet and run through that wall. They learn discipline, control and hard work to excel -- whether it's on a tennis court, football field or swimming pool -- but too often that doesn't transfer into personal life or another career later in their lives.

"While pressure is more intense for professional athletes, with so many people coming after them to invest in them -- whether it's their family or a business -- success can also bring pressure on younger athletes," he said. "Society puts a crown on them and treats them like a king, and they start believing they are a king."

The university recently hired former Athletes in Action staffer Dr. John White of Cleveland, Ohio,who has served as a sports chaplain on several college campuses.

White, a top-level amateur bicyclist who competed in Europe and the United States, said that sports chaplains work in an arena that not only includes athletes, but also coaches, sponsors and the media.

"The heavy emphasis on winning at any cost takes a real toll on people who have a God-given talent for sports," he said. "There are ethical problems in sports that most ministers don't think of.

"Sometimes, sports chaplains are looked at almost as being sort of a rabbit's foot," he said. "But while you want to be a Good Samaritan, you also want to be a prophet bringing direction in a culture in which things have been mis-valued, devalued and overvalued."

The seminary also is considering offering a summer program related to sports ministry for such individuals as high school and college coaches who might or might not be seeking a degree in the field but see their careers as a opportunity for ministry, said Dr. Dennis Tucker, associate dean of Truett.

"Initial interest has been high," Tucker said. "We've had inquiries from students involved in collegiate athletics as well as from those serving in chaplaincy type positions."

Among those thrilled about the new opportunity is Ryan Garcia, 26, of Miami, an elementary school teacher who will enter Truett this fall.

"When I learned about this, I said, 'Yes! Baylor's doing it,'" said Garcia, who also is a football referee. "I'm from Spanish Harlem, and my dream is to become a sports chaplain for the New York Yankees. But that's up to God -- wherever he can use me."

White earned his Ph.D. in theological ethics from the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom. He has worked for Athletes in Action at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio; the University of Akron in Akron, Ohio; and Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio. He served as a sports chaplain at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., and has taught at Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio.

Contact: Terry Goodrich, Assistant Director of Media Communications, (254) 710-3321

Looking for more news from Baylor University?