For most Yale students, Monday’s classes ended in the late afternoon. But last night, a small contingent from Athletes in Action, Yale’s sports-based faith group, received some extra teachings in spirituality from former NFL running back William Green, who was drafted by the Browns in 2002 and retired after his fifth season due to a quad injury.
Green, who shares his life experiences and Christian lessons with student audiences on college campuses nationwide, recently partnered with Yale men’s basketball alumnus Brandon Sherrod ’16 as a member of the USA Youth Outreach ministry. Both Green and Sherrod spoke during the event, which drew a crowd of around 15 students to a classroom in Linsly-Chittenden Hall.
“We wanted to really encourage the kids that are already involved in some of the campus ministries, and it’s great to have Yale Christian Fellowship, InterVarsity and Athletes in Action present here and having them represented,” Sherrod said. “We also wanted to provide those students not involved in the organizations an opportunity to come to Christ and grow in their faith, regardless of how late they are in the Yale process. Whether they are freshmen or seniors, there is always time and room to grow and turn your life around to Christ.”
After a brief introduction by Sherrod, in which the former Whiffenpoof and Yale basketball center summarized his experience with faith at Yale and his relationship with former teammate Javier Duren ’15, Green took the stage to begin his talk. Though the former running back’s impressive physique and prominent “TRAIN HARD” T-shirt initially grabbed audience members’ attention, Green’s words and stories soon took center stage.
Green discussed his tumultuous youth growing up in the projects in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Both of Green’s parents died when he was a child due to AIDS. His father dealt with drug and alcohol abuse, and his oldest brother was sentenced to 20 years in prison for shooting a woman in the face while attempting to rob a casino.
As a child, Green was also involved in church. His grandfather pastored his local church, and his uncle took over after his grandfather. Green said he relied on his faith through the tough times of the loss of his parents. All the while, Green became more dedicated to football.
“I made football my God,” Green said.
Before his mother died, Green promised her that he would outwork everyone to be successful, though he was unsure whether he could meet another condition she presented to him: absolute faith in God.
Still, Green said he focused more on football than faith, and that he now realizes the foolishness of that decision.
“When you put your hope in something false, that’s a very dangerous thing,” Green said.
After graduating from Boston College, Green was selected by the Browns with the 16th pick in the 2002 draft. As his career progressed, he said, he slowly began to realize that the money and stardom of playing in the NFL could not fill the void that he was missing in his life.
In response, Green numbed his pain with drugs, alcohol, partying and fighting. He was no longer attached to the glory of playing professional football and said he became a “completely different person.”
The running back turned back to God after one particular episode in which his wife finally asked him, “Have you ever given God a chance?” Since then, Green has made Christianity a major part of his life and, in his role at the USA Youth Outreach, promotes the organization and assists with ministry on college campuses.
Sherrod, also a member of the outreach organization, noted that his faith helped him during his years on the Yale men’s basketball team.
“It is very easy to get caught up in your performance,” Sherrod said. “And I think in a lot of ways there were certain times when I can remember coming into games and being so nervous about how I was going to play … But one thing that really gave me peace was that God still loves me regardless of how well I play and that He doesn’t care whether I score 30 points or if I score 10 points because I am still the same in His eyes. That was really reassuring to me and gave me a lot of peace, especially last year.”
The event was targeted at both Christians and non-Christians on campus.