The coronavirus pandemic has brought global lifestyle changes, and athletes are not immune. Personal identity, control, and security have all become scrambled in this chaotic time.
In an appearance on Delay of Game, an online video series developed by Athletes in Action to explore how sports figures are making sense of the pandemic disruption, Super Bowl-winning coach John Harbaugh explains how he has coped with the loss of sports. In 2013, Harbaugh led the Baltimore Ravens to victory in Super Bowl XLVII, and he was named 2019 NFL coach of the year. Football is very important to him.
“This is a crazy time,” admits Harbaugh. “I feel like God is trying to get each of our attentions … So many things that you are set in your ways about as a coach … and, all of a sudden, it’s all taken away.”
It has forced him to rethink his priorities.
Many players and fans draw their identity and security from sports. With so much athletic life on hold and seasons disrupted, where is a solid foundation?
The loss has brought multiple emotions, Harbaugh said.
“At first, I was in denial, [thinking] ‘we’re going to be back. We’re going to be fine. This is going to be short-lived.’ Then, you start realizing that wasn’t going to be the case.” Harbaugh continued. “Things were going to be completely different. Through prayer and by faith and by taking a deep breath, I was able to say we’ll find a different way to do it.”
Harbaugh was bolstered by St. Paul, one of Jesus’s followers, who wrote from prison, “I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty.” The coach encouraged his staff to “find a way to make the most of this personally and for our team.”
Harbaugh also noted his daughter’s adaptation. A high school senior and lacrosse player, the canceled season disappointed her. Yet, she used the downtime to work on training to prepare for college athletics.
“Our identity is not so much what we do, but how we do it and, more importantly, who we do it for,” said the coach, whose faith is foundational to his life. “The thing that gives human existence any meaning at all is the fact that we are created in God’s image and that he loves us and cares about us 100%.”
Harbaugh continued, “We are also called to bring glory to God through whatever we can. As a coach, that means a lot to me. I want to be successful … We want to win championships. I believe in a right relationship with God that brings us strength and courage.”
Harbaugh encouraged others to focus on their attitudes, again citing St. Paul: “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”
He’s especially fond of divine counsel to Joshua: “[B]e strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” The coach often shares his father’s admonition: “Attack the day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.”
Delay of Game also features Olympic gold medalist Michelle Carter, NBA player Harrison Barnes, All-American volleyball player-turned-NBA sportscaster Kristen Ledlow, and more. Perhaps, in our own COVID-19 circumstances, hearing how they are coping could be encouraging.
Rusty Wright is an author and lecturer who has spoken on six continents. His film reviews and columns have been published by newspapers across the country and used by more than 2,000 websites.