Tim Brown: Standing Strong in your Faith
Recently, Game Plan for Life had the opportunity to speak with Tim Brown, a former wide receiver with Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders. Brown grew up going to church with his mother in Dallas, TX. After playing football in high school, Brown continued his career as a receiver at the University of Notre Dame. While at Notre Dame, Brown made the College Football All-America team twice and became the first wide receiver to earn a Heisman Trophy. After graduating from Notre Dame, the Los Angeles Raiders selected Brown as the 6th pick for the 1988 NFL Draft. He was voted to the Pro Bowl nine times during his professional career. Brown played with the Raiders for 16 years and went on to play with the Buccaneers one year before he retired. He became eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
During our conversation with Brown, he shared about his life growing up, the struggles that he faced with his Christian walk throughout college and his career, stories from his time with the Raiders, and some advice for those who desire to serve the Lord but are facing challenges similar to his own.
Question: What was your Christian walk like starting out at an early age?
Tim Brown: I was born and raised in church. My mom was always in church. My dad wasn’t really a part, but he always encouraged us to go. We weren’t going to stay home and chill with dad. He wasn’t going for it. Whether he didn’t want us around because of the noise, or because he really wanted us to go to church, he made us go. When I say I grew up in church, that is what I mean. We were there every Wednesday, Friday, and all day Sunday. I grew up Pentecostal and Church of Christ, and they believed that Sunday is “The Lord’s Day.” When they say all day, they mean all day. That was my life.
Even though I had all of that good teaching, it doesn’t mean that I was living the way I was suppose to live. At the University of Notre Dame and my early years at the Raiders, I was ashamed of how I was living. I remember one day, I think I was 23 or 24 years old, I looked at myself in the mirror, and I couldn’t stand the person that I was looking at. I knew that I wasn’t doing what God wanted me to do. It may have taken me another couple of years after that experience, but I know for those next couple of years I could never look at myself in the mirror. I never turned the light on when I went into the bathroom. I always did what I needed to do in the dark, because I didn’t want to look at that guy in the mirror. I knew that guy wasn’t doing the right things.
I was around 27 or 28 when I finally said it was time for me to live right. I had been given all of the teachings. I knew what I needed to do. It was just a matter of making those tough decisions. When you are in the middle of your career, things are going great, and you are not married and in California, well, I will not go any further with that conversation. You know what I mean. I think the temptations were getting to the point that they weren’t temptations anymore. I realized exactly what they were. They were sins. Understand this, the old saints in our church use to say that you couldn’t play sports and be saved. Not that I heard that a lot growing up, but I heard it enough. I can remember talking to my pastor, and he didn’t believe it. He said not to worry about it, and to do what God wanted me to do and that would be enough. That’s what I did. Like we say in our church, I have been running for God ever since.
Q: You mentioned that your pastor helped you get to where you are today. We can’t get through life on our own. Would you please share about some other key figures in your life that were instrumental to your success?
Brown: I was very fortunate in high school to be able to attend a couple of FCA meetings, where Tom Landry was presiding and speaking. It was incredible to be in his presence. Carey Casey, who used to be the president of FCA and is now president of Fathers.com, is a gentleman that I have known since my high school days. He has always been a blessing to me. He was in town the other weekend and took me to coffee just to say that he loved me and that God loved me.
When it really comes down to it, I think because of who I was (and I use that loosely), my pastor could have potentially changed. I was probably making more money than everyone in our little 100-125 member church combined. If he would have changed and not spoke truthfully, then I would not be here today. When I was at the vulnerable age, I was looking for someone to tell me that the things that I was doing were ok. If he had told me that it was ok, then I would have run with that. The fact of the matter is that he stood firm on the word and told me that if I was not doing by the Book, then I would not be right. It is because of him that when I set out, I was on the right track.
Q: How would you encourage men who find themselves wandering away from God to stay strong in their faith?
Brown: You have to be around likeminded folks. If you are around people who are the opposite of what you are trying to be, then it is going to be very difficult for those people to understand your struggle and support you.
It was amazing what was happening in my life at that time when I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do. God was literally removing the folks out of my life that I thought were “my boys.” All of a sudden this guy would get traded and another guy retired. It was amazing. God was just taking the excuses out of my life. God knew that I wanted to live right, but if I had stayed around those folks who were not likeminded, there is a good possibility that I would have stayed there longer than I did.
Q: Could you share a time where you had to stand for right even though the temptation might have carried you another way, a time when you had to say that I am a man of faith?
Brown: Well, the NFL locker room is a test. You walk into an NFL locker room and the first word that comes to your mouth is not going to be godly. There are going to be a whole lot of things that come to your mind, because there are a lot of things happening. Initially, guys didn’t believe me. They said that I was the same brother that they were, but I just kept living.
Eventually what happened, and that this happened in the Oakland Raider’s locker room makes the story even more incredible, was that when I walked in the locker room, the music would be turned down. If there was improper conversation, the guys would say to “hold tight” and would let me pass through before they continued their conversation. On Mondays and Thursdays, which were the days that I lifted weights, everyone knew there would be godly music playing, because that was all that I listened to. I didn’t have a problem with anybody in there who wanted to listen to other music. They knew that if they wanted to listen to other music, they could bring their headphones. After a while, a while being two full NFL seasons, the guys realized that this wasn’t something that I was playing around with. It was my life, and it was what I wanted to do. The guys were starting to support me instead of question what I was doing.
Q: Let’s go back to being an Oakland Raider for a moment. You had some good years and some off years. But there is some mystique that comes with being a Raider. How did you separate being a man of God first and also an Oakland Raider?
Brown: Everyone said when I got to the Raiders that I was a misfit. Coming from Notre Dame, everyone assumed that I would not fit in there. Even though my first couple of years I was not living the way that I wanted to live, people knew that I was different. I didn’t drink. I didn’t smoke. If I cursed, it was only on the football field when I was really mad at somebody. I was never really put in a position where I had to make a choice. My dad used to tell my mom that I may act like her off the field, but on the field I acted like him. There was a certain switch you had to turn on when you got on the field. I never was put in a tough position by the Raiders where I had to do certain things to fit in.
Q: How would you encourage men who are undergoing peer pressure by those around them?
Brown: You have to recognize who the devil is. The devil doesn’t always come with a big mask on and horns on top of his head. Sometimes the devil is 5 foot 7 inches and 135 pounds with long pretty hair just the way you want it. Sometimes the devil comes in the form of your good friends.
What I have been good at throughout my saved life is being able to recognize who the devil is and put that person in that category. You have to understand that it is what it is. I don’t go around calling people devils. What I do is if I am having a conversation with someone, and they are trying to take me down a certain road, then I am very quick to say that I know who I am dealing with. If I am on an airplane, and a lady comes up to me, sees my wedding ring and hears me talking about God, and she is still pressing me to have lunch when we land, then I know who I am dealing with.
I think most of the time, what we want to do is to be cordial and friendly with everyone and not call people for who they really are. That is how we end up getting in these situations. We try to see the good in everybody. I am not saying there is not good, but when somebody presents themselves to you in a devilish way, then you have to accept what that is. I understand that doesn’t happen early in your spiritual life. It happens when you are not a babe anymore. That is when you know you are becoming mature, when you can be cordial to folks and understand that you are talking to the enemy at the same time.
In the NFL locker room and all the situations that I have been in throughout my life, that was the most important thing. When I got saved and sanctified, the gift that I asked God for was the spirit of discernment. I needed to know who was around me and why. I believe that God has given me that. I don’t go around judging folks. That is not what this is about. When I sense that something is not right, I don’t question it and just move on.
Q: What are some ways that God is currently working through your life?
Brown: They say you have to go through the fire, before you come out gold. I have some things that I am working on now and trying to get done. It is going to be incredible for literally millions of folks. I am going through the ringer just trying to get the simplest things done. I got the major part done, but the simple part is really taking longer than we could have dreamt. There are challenges in my family. There are challenges with my kids.
There are plenty of challenges around and plenty of reasons to keep us on our knees praying and fasting. It is like my pastor said, if the devil is not attacking your family, then your family must doing something wrong. He must already have your family where he wants you, if he doesn’t need to attack you anymore. The better you try to do, the more the enemy is going to discourage you.
Q: Your faith clearly goes before anything else, and you are a man who leads by actions. With all the accolades that you have received, as a Heisman Trophy winner, being named an All-American, going to Pro Bowls, is the Hall of Fame something that you have aspired to achieve? When you do get a vote into the Hall of Fame, would this be the top that you looked to achieve as an NFL player?
Brown: When I came into the league, my agent asked me what I wanted to achieve. I knew two things. I knew I was very gifted to return punts and kickoffs. I also knew that the NFL sometimes would turn players into specialized players where you play on first down or second down or as the slot guy. I knew with my skills that it was a possibility that it could happen to me. I told my agent that I wanted to be the best punt and kick returner in the game, or if I had the opportunity to play on every down, then I wanted to be a Hall of Fame caliber player. Now was that a brash 21 year old player talking? Looking back on it now, I am certain that it was.
Honestly, I lost my father last year and Chester McGlockton who was my best friend in the league. The last 19 years of his life, we didn’t go a week without talking to each other. If we were in the same state we found a way to get together. He came down for my father’s funeral in May, and he was gone in November. Losing those two guys is going to lessen the joy that I have when the Hall of Fame calls me. At the same time, to get that call would be an incredible thing. That solidifies you forever. Forever means forever. When you are long gone, people will still have to mention you when they talk about receivers who were in the Hall of Fame.
From that standpoint it is a huge deal. It is hard to stay positive every time they pass over your name. I can see why Harry Carson said to just take his name off. It is a very difficult thing to go through year after year, but I am looking forward to it happening one day. I hope I have folks around me who really care about me and went through my career with me to help celebrate it.
Q: How important is making an impact especially looking at the big picture?
Brown: When I was about 32 years old and on a Hall of Fame run, I thought my career was being extended because I was going to be in the Hall of Fame. What hit me was that I realized I wasn’t here to make the Hall of Fame. I was there, because I needed to show those young men that you can play the game at a high level and have faith. Initially, I was let down because it wasn’t about the Hall of Fame. Instead, I began to think about the impact that I was going to have on other men.
I am not trying to say I lived a perfect life. Sometimes you can walk into a room without saying anything and offend people. That is not what I am trying to say. The men in the locker room the last 10 years that I was there never heard me curse, never saw me drinking or doing anything crazy. When the men talk about me now, they are either going to have to lie about me and make up something, or they are going to have to tell people the truth that I tried my best to live right.
When Junior Seau died, I told people that he had lost his purpose. His purpose was not to be a football player. His purpose was not to raise money for all of his charities. His purpose was to serve God and show people how to live for God. That is your purpose even in the midst of all the stuff that you may be going through. I think that it is so important for people to understand that no matter what platform we are given our single purpose on this earth is to serve God. Whether you influence one person or a million people, that is what you have to do. You have to show people that this is what you are supposed to be doing with your life. You are supposed to be serving God.