It’s almost football season, but even if you’re not a fan, this guy might be your new favorite player — but not for the reasons you’d expect.
Scarcely a week goes by that the NFL doesn’t make more news for what’s going on off the field than on it. Just in the past few weeks, we learned the 49ers released former Pro Bowl defensive end Aldon Smith after his third arrest for driving under the influence.
And then we found out that the Jets’ quarterback Geno Smith will miss 6-10 weeks with a fractured jaw after being sucker-punched by a teammate.
NBA legend Charles Barkley once came under fire for a commercial in which he said, “I’m not a role model . . . Just because I can dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.”
Well, given the contemporary professional sports climate, he would simply be stating the obvious today. But there are exceptions. There are athletes who our kids would do well to emulate.
One of them—Ryan Broyles, a receiver for the Detroit Lions. Drafted in the second round in 2012, he signed a contract worth nearly $3.7 million, including a $1.1 million signing bonus. But unlike many other players, Broyles didn’t splurge on a new car or a fancy home. He still owns the 2005 Trailblazer he drove in college. And though he and his wife recently bought a new home, they bought far less home than they could have afforded.
I know this, because as ESPN reported, Broyles and his wife “have lived on $60,000 a year, ‘give or take,’ throughout his career.” And, he told ESPN, he knew that NFL players and athletes in general tend to go bankrupt after their playing days are over. That story has been fully told in the ESPN Films documentary appropriately titled “Broke.”
Not to be another broke ex-jock though, he came up with a budget to live on and decided that everything else would go into savings and investments. “I studied as much as I could,” he told ESPN and “talked to people wealthier than me, smarter than me.”
And what’s more, he’s working with “VISA and the NFL on promoting a Financial Football video game in classrooms to help teach financial security and planning.”
Broyles wasn’t always this responsible. Although he grew up in a Christian home that taught him right from wrong, by his own admission he didn’t really know God. Instead he took the blessings he enjoyed for granted. In fact, as a college freshman, he was arrested for stealing gas from a gas station.
But the arrest and its consequences got Broyles to thinking about all the things he took for granted in his life. And then a trip to Haiti fully transformed his ideas about God into a relationship with God.
As Broyles told the Oklahoma News, he went to Haiti with two dozen other Oklahoma University athletes who volunteered to work with Mission of Hope, a group dedicated to “meeting the physical and spiritual needs of the Haitian population.”
During that trip, Broyles “witnessed poverty unlike anything he’d ever seen.” Everywhere he looked, he saw “people with nothing—nothing but their faith.” And yet they were joyful. As he told the News, “I was jealous . . . I wanted to be like that.” Yes, you heard that right. He was jealous.
Upon his return from Haiti, he told his then-girlfriend and now wife, Mary Beth, that there “was no turning back” to the way he was. Part of this meant being aware that football gave him an opportunity and responsibility to set an example for others.
While his NFL career hasn’t gone as well as he would have liked, he’s doing just fine in the example department. Chuck Colson would say that Ryan and Mary Beth are examples of one of the rarest and most counter-cultural virtues: the ability to delay gratification. And his character is the reason that one Washington Post commenter called Broyles his “new favorite wide receiver.”
And I’ll add another label for him—role model.
— by John Stonestreet
Stonestreet is the Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and is heard on Breakpoint. Copyright© 2015 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries.