So, you want an athlete not just spouting off?
NFL tight end Benjamin Watson goes beyond the conventional wisdom
By Andrew Branch July 25, 2015
Marriage and race crises haven’t been lost on athletes, but the online world of sound-bite activism was one-sided. Christian athletes largely kept their two cents in their private circles, away from media. ESPN, alternatively, collected the cheers and rainbows of LGBT-affirming teams, athletes, and celebrants who identify as LGBT.
New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson doesn’t go for sound bites, though. No matter the issue. His November journal as Ferguson burned brought an international spotlight, “liked” on Facebook more than 860,000 times. Embracing the attention, his blog migrated from more abstract spiritual topics drawn from football to a raw advocacy for racial reconciliation, starting with the church. “[It’s] pride that’s in each and every one of us to make us think that we’re better than somebody,” he told WORLD.
The church alone models what a foundation in the imago Dei means, he says, which extends beyond race. Watson put aside allusions to marriage with an 1,100-word manifesto after the Supreme Court ruling. Sharp words like “attempting to normalize illegitimate behavior by law does not make it acceptable” were alongside self-repentance, compassion, and his broad brush that touched numerous sins. Perhaps accordingly, his words have gone unscrutinized by secular voices.
The root of both issues is a loss of absolute truth, he says. That “all men are created equal” isn’t an American invention, and neither is marriage. “If you don’t have any absolute truth, then truth is dependent on the people who make it up,” he told me.
Watson applies disdain for relativism more to race in his writings than marriage and same-sex attraction. His Ferguson quip that racism is “a SIN problem” not a “SKIN problem” was not just a cliché. In either issue facing athlete and average Joe alike, the gospel “is ultimately what can change people’s hearts.”
He acknowledged it’s not always easy to balance truth with compassion. “I’m not condemning anyone. That’s not my role,” he told me. “My role is to simply share truth, and that’s what I’m doing.” And if that angers some in the marriage debate, “that’s a risk that I’m willing to take.”
With soon-to-be five children—and, at 34, looming NFL retirement—Watson faces an uncertain future, perhaps in broadcasting or in using his finance major to help athletes with their finances.
But he’ll continue to speak, crediting his parents, who fostered discussions of current events with their children. It can be easy to throw up one’s hands, he said, particularly as cities burn with racial animosity toward the police. But “Christ says he has overcome the world,” he told me, “and that gives us hope.”