Newswise — A growing need for ministry to professional athletes, youth athletic leagues and church recreation groups has prompted Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary to establish a new graduate program and emphasis on sports chaplaincy.
“We’re venturing into the most popular venue in the United States — sports,” said Dr. Grear Howard, director of student services at the seminary.
Miami Dolphins Sports Chaplain Vernon Shazier called Truett’s program, expected to be launched in the spring, “an awesome plan.”
Chaplains have long worked in prisons, with the military and at hospitals and hospices, but sports chaplaincy — primarily through volunteers — 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. But Truett leaders say a strong foundation of applied theology, as well as biblical, sport and pastoral care principles, is needed.
A unique postgraduate course in sports chaplaincy was launched in 2010 at the University of Gloucestershire in the United Kingdom. But the concept of postgraduate training for sports chaplaincy is still a new one in the United States, said Dr. David Garland, dean of Truett Seminary.
“Here’s the challenge: Athletes have a unique world, an incredible culture, a treasure chest with keys to success in life,” said Dolphins Sports Chaplain Shazier. “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 — but too often that doesn’t transfer into personal life or another career later in their lives.
“Pressure is more intense for professional athletes, with so many people — whether families or businesses — coming after them to invest in them,” he said. “But success also can bring pressure on young athletes. Society puts a crown on them and treats them like kings. They start believing they are.”
Baylor has hired former Athletes in Action staffer Dr. John White of Dayton, Ohio, who has served as a sports chaplain on several college campuses, to direct the new program. White, a top-level amateur bicyclist who has competed in Europe and the United States, said 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. But while you want to be a Good Samaritan, you also want to be a prophet bringing direction.”
The seminary also is considering offering a summer program for high school and college coaches who might not seek a degree but who see their careers as a chance to minister, said Dr. Dennis Tucker, associate dean of Truett. He said interest has been high, with inquiries from student athletes to those serving as chaplains.
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, who is available for interviews, earned his Ph.D. in theological studies from the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom. He 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 also served as a sports chaplain at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Baylor University is a private Christian university and a nationally ranked research institution, classified as such with “high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The university provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 15,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest, continually operating university in Texas. Located in Waco, Texas, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 11 nationally recognized academic divisions.