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Running the right race

By Dallas Cogle

Darrell Green’s impact on the National Football League as a rookie in 1983 was almost immediate, which is fitting for the man who became known as the World’s Fastest Athlete in 1991. He returned a punt 61 yards the first time he touched an NFL football during a preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons, giving Washington Redskins fans a glimpse of what was to come. Then during his regular-season debut on Monday Night Football, Green seemed to come out of nowhere as he chased down and tackled Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett who had broken from the pack 70 yards earlier and was end zone bound.

Such playmaking has become Green’s hallmark during his 19-year career with the Redskins. He has more than 50 interceptions and has earned numerous NFL and team records at cornerback. No doubt, his impressive career totals and longevity make him a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. But statistics, records and recognition only tell half of his story. What really makes Green one of the greatest players to suit up in the NFL is his faith and integrity. Look no further than his actions during a ceremonial pre-game coin flip a few seasons ago as proof.

"I called heads, and the ref thought I called tails. [The ref] was giving us the ball, because it was tails," the 41-year-old Green recalls. "But I told him I called heads." The guys on his team looked at him like he was crazy. Green wasn’t fazed; he’d done the right thing.

That brand of spiritual integrity has driven Green’s steps since he committed his life to Christ during his sophomore year at Texas A&I in 1981 after his good friend and athletic trainer Doug Taft invited him repeatedly to several Bible studies.

"Those Bible studies were really my first experience worshiping and hearing the truth of Jesus," he admits. "The Word in those Bible studies brought about what the Scripture says is conviction. I got on my knees in my dorm and asked God to forgive me like the unbelievers in Acts 2."

After doing so, Green began leading a new life. When the Redskins drafted him in 1983 as the 28th pick of the first round, his walk with God intensified under the leadership of his pastor, Brett Fuller, who is also the chaplain of the Redskins.

"My public life has been a reflection of me being a disciple, which causes me to serve in my church as an elder, witness on the team and lead Bible studies," Green states. "I think my NFL career has given me somewhat of a stage to preach the gospel."

Green says life and one’s relationship with Christ are not a sprint; rather, they are an endurance race. "As a disciple, your whole life is transformed," he says. "It’s always being transformed until the day you die."

Because Green has never lived his transformed life in obscurity, whether he was enjoying the taste of victory in Super Bowls XXII and XXVI or dealing with 1989’s season-ending injury during week seven, the seven-time Pro Bowler has constantly seized opportunities to let his light shine.

"There’s no way I can separate my relationship with the Lord from my longevity and success," Green says, noting that God impressed upon him to remain in Washington, D.C., to play with the Redskins for his entire career. "God made provisions for me to stay and have the favor here as well as to keep me safe and get me to extend my talents into my 40s."

He indicates that obedience to God’s will has led to God’s blessings.

"I never cheated on my wife," says Green, who has three children, Jerrell, Jared and Joi with his wife, Jewell. "I don’t drink, I don’t smoke and I go home to my family every night. But people expect me in my business and my environment to be a drinker, carouser, have a chick on the side and not be responsible with my money."

By living according to God’s Word, Green’s lifestyle has served as his biggest testimony, on and off the field, and adds credence to the message of everlasting hope he shares on an ongoing basis.

"More than anything, your Christian life is spoken nonverbally," he says. "People should see the light of Christ in you by your behavior and your character. But I’m also verbal. I preach the gospel almost every day to somebody everywhere I go, whether I’m in a cab, walking down the street, on a plane or in the locker room. You have to preach the gospel, but I think most of all you have to live it."

In 1988 Green founded the Darrell Green Youth Life Foundation to create opportunities for children living in insecure environments. The mission of DGYLF is accomplished through community-based and values-driven learning centers, which operate in urban, suburban and rural neighborhoods across the country.

The Darrell Green Youth Life Learning Center is the centerpiece of the foundation. Established in 1993 as the charter learning facility in northeast Washington, D.C., the center operates after school and offers summer programs. At the centers hundreds of children and young people have been groomed into leaders with a cogent education, technical training and moral standards.

Seeing people embrace Christ is Green’s greatest thrill.

"What has been most exciting to me during my playing days is meeting guys, once they leave the league, that have come back and said, ‘Darrell, I’m living for Jesus,’ " says Green, who plans to cultivate his foundation and spearhead its continued growth during his retirement. "They didn’t get right while they were [in the NFL], but we planted a seed."

Having turned his Hall-of-Fame career in the NFL into a faith-planting endeavor, Green will continue to do the same in the lives of young people through his foundation. Though the fields he ministers on will change, Green’s mission to reach others with the love and hope of Jesus Christ remains the same.

Dallas Cogle is a freelance writer from LaPlata, Md.

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