EDITOR'S NOTE: Also see BP story about Denver church planter who played for the NFL's Broncos.
NEWARK, N.J. (BP) -- Whether chasing down NFL players during Super Bowl week for a quote, talking to a gymnasium full of students or posting pictures of his latest adventures on Facebook, it is evident that Roman Gabriel III is passionate about three things: Jesus Christ, family and football.
Gabriel is a radio host, motivational speaker, evangelist and son of NFL quarterback Roman Gabriel Jr., who played for the Los Angeles Rams (1962-72) and Philadelphia Eagles (1973-1977). During Super Bowl week, the younger Gabriel has been right at home for the last 20 years talking to athletes, coaches and various media celebrities about their faith and values.
Gabriel, president of Sold Out Ministries, and other Christian media professionals put microphones in front of many NFL players and sports personalities on Super Bowl media day and throughout the week leading up to the game.
"This platform gives them a worldwide opportunity to speak the truth to people who would never walk in a church," said Gabriel, a member of Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Boone, N.C.
Super Bowl media day is an annual event that Gabriel lovingly refers to as a "circus" -- with NFL players, coaches and reporters converging in one location to talk about the big game. Media day and the rest of the week's interviews provide much of Gabriel's material for the year.
Once the final snap is taken during the Super Bowl and Gabriel's post-game interviews are complete, he heads back to his home in North Carolina to begin sifting through countless hours of footage and audio for various media outlets.
Gabriel's Sports Talk radio program on American Family Radio can be heard in 200 cities nationally and streams live at afr.net. Another of Gabriel's venues is the Biblical Recorder, newsjournal for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, where his sports Q&A runs in print and on the BR's website (brnow.org).
Gabriel also has spoken to thousands of middle and high school students, challenging them to live alcohol- and drug-free.
Before he was interviewing athletes and speaking in schools, Gabriel played quarterback for the University of New Mexico. He also had a brief stint in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders and in the now-defunct USFL (United States Football League). A neck injury ended his football career.
"When people ask me [if I] miss football, I [say] no," Gabriel said. "The last time I played football was 1983, but ... I love what the platform has given me to talk to kids, to talk to people about Christ, to share my faith because I played a game."
Gabriel is just one of many Christian media professionals who see the NFL and athletics as an effective ministry tool.
Mike Barber of Mike Barber Ministries gathers media alongside Gabriel during Super Bowl week for his prison ministry and website Pro-claim.TV.
"It's the biggest platform in America," Barber said. "It reaches more homes. It gets the attention of the youth like no other event ... when ... one in six of our youth today will be locked up. What a great opportunity ... for a true genuine word to be heard loud and clear." Barber has been involved in prison ministry for 25 years, after playing tight end with the Houston Oilers, Los Angeles Rams and Denver Broncos (1976-1985).
Gabriel, who works with Barber on various Super Bowl-related projects, said, "He and I were doing this when nobody else was.... He's helped me a lot."
Gabriel recalled "the earlier years" -- long before Tebowmania when the media's attention swirled around former Denver Broncos quarterback and outspoken Christian Tim Tebow. Gabriel referred to some of the older Christian players as "guys that spoke out about their faith long before it was popular" -- including Reggie White, Kurt Warner, Roger Staubach and Bart Starr. Each year Starr honors a player who has shown character and leadership on and off the field. The recipient of this year's Bart Starr Award (named earlier today, Jan. 31, during the Super Bowl Breakfast) is Aaron Rogers, quarterback for the Green Bay Packers.
The message of these and other players reaches people who otherwise wouldn't have anything to do with the Christian faith, Gabriel said. "A great deal of Americans are never going to walk in a church and hear that," he said. "In this country that's what it's all about. People look up to fame and fortune.
"... They look up to Hollywood and they want to be a star," he said. "So my deal is ... if we've gotta put people out there, let's put the right ones in front of these kids -- the ones that truly live a life that pleases God first."
Shawn Hendricks is managing editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress
), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress
) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp