Meet the Bengals’ Spiritual Signal Caller
LaMorris Crawford & Family
An average week for LaMorris Crawford is not unlike that of any other preacher. He performs chapel services, baptisms and weddings, conducts marriage counseling, Bible studies and prayer groups. It’s just that his “church” is in the locker rooms and practice fields at Paul Brown Stadium and in the homes of Cincinnati Bengals players.
Crawford has been the chaplain for the Bengals for nearly eight years. He acknowledges the biggest issue for players who want to be good Christians is often to learn how to humble themselves after being put on a pedestal most of their lives.
But Crawford says when it comes to spiritual needs, NFL players have the same issues as anyone.
“Their athletic ability makes them unique, but their issues are not,” Crawford says. “They have marriage problems, identity problems, depression and anxiety – things that every human deals with. Because of their job, their problems can be under a microscope.”
Crawford certainly brings some “street cred” to his ministry. Born into poverty on Chicago’s South Side, his mother was shot and killed when she was 17 and Crawford was still a baby. He never knew the identity of his father. Raised by his grandmother, Crawford became a star high school athlete. Overcoming some years as a troublemaker caught up in the drug scene, he became the first in his family to achieve an undergraduate degree, and later a master’s degree in organizational leadership, from Olivet Nazarene University after having a religious conversion when he was 19.
Through various connections, Crawford began counseling and leading prayer services with NFL players in Indianapolis, including holding services for visiting NFL teams. It was through those efforts that he was recommended to Athletes in Action (AIA), which has provided the Bengals with a chaplain since the early ‘70s.
Athletes in Action, founded in Xenia in 1966, has built an international organization focusing on athletes’ relationship with Christianity. Its ministry can be found in 60 countries, on 225 college campuses and in partnerships with 60 professional sports teams.
All NFL teams have some sort of chaplain, but none are paid by the teams. AIA employs Crawford and his wife, Megan, along with providing chaplains to 10 other NFL teams.
AIA believes a Christian calling can have an important impact on the ability of athletes to focus their skills. “God has gifted people with skills and talent to compete in athletics. When a person connects with their creator and connects that with what they are gifted to do, and integrates those two, it’s a really powerful thing,” says Mark Householder, AIA president. “The God of the universe begins to give purpose and context as to why sports are fun, exciting and purposeful.”
For Crawford, that message is carried out each week in numerous ways with the Bengals.
“Tuesday nights we have a couples’ study hosted at one of the players’ homes where we have anywhere from 12 to 24 couples,” Crawford says. “Wednesdays my wife does a women’s study with wives and significant others. Thursday is a team Bible study. I do a chapel service the night before every (home) game.”
Over the years, Crawford has performed weddings for six players, and Megan hosts wedding and baby showers. Crawford has also baptized quarterback Andy Dalton and his wife, Jordan, and wide receiver A.J. Green and his wife, Miranda.
The NFL has used AIA to conduct its domestic violence and substance abuse training. Crawford also says he counseled players over social justice issues inspired by Colin Kaepernick. “We had conversations and counseling with players who wanted to talk about those issues. Every organization handled it differently. We just met guys where they were at and offered any counseling that we could to walk them through it.”
Indeed, bringing Christian values to a football field, typically known for its violence and hyper-ego, would seem to be an oxymoron. After all, would the meek inherent a football field? With his muscular view of Christianity, Crawford doesn’t see a dichotomy.
“I don’t think being passionate is un-Christian. God has gifted them with athletic ability, but they don’t have to turn off that gift. They should celebrate it. They can still love their job, their God, and do it with a passion.”
Even though the Bengals have had a makeover of the coaching staff with the arrival of Zac Taylor, Crawford says he has been told to keep calling the “spiritual signals.”
“Coach Zac encouraged my wife and I to continue to do what we’ve been doing. He said he had heard good things about us.”
For more information, visit Athletes in Action at www.athletesinaction.org. LaMorris Crawford is available for religious and secular speaking appearances. Visit www.lamorriscrawford.com.