I have always found Russell Wilson to be among the Good & Admirable of sports celebrities.
This website attracts a varied audience of humanoids from all points on the insanely partisan compass, so this article is going to rankle some of you.
Overt partisanship is so much easier when one can swipe a very broad brush across all of one’s hated rival…. assigning the whole buncha as dirty, low-down, no-count sumbitches “because”. A strict morality play having clear lines of Good and Evil with no allowance for any muddle in the middle. “We” being, of course, “Good”.
Being self-estranged from my alma mater, I no longer am a “we” – just a “me” – so, like the Swiss, I roam about as I please assigning Good / Evil on individuals as I see fit…. as I find’em.
So said…. here’s a lengthy piece about Russell Wilson and his on-going relationship with Fame and Celebrity in The NFL…. and how he has chosen to cope with those oh-so-fickle and prickly obstacles.
I have always found Russell Wilson to be among the Good & Admirable. This article supports my assumptions.
The Higher Power of Russell Wilson
This story appears in ESPN The Magazine’s January 4 Championship Drive Issue. Subscribe today!
AT 9 A.M. ON Sunday, Oct. 18, after a choir of serene, smiling Christians sings a few songs about Jesus’ love for all people, a man takes the stage. He’s a dead ringer for the actor Patrick Fugit, with black plastic-framed glasses and a haircut that can best be described as Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz circa 2006. We’re at City Church, a sprawling, squat structure in downtown Seattle. Donation forms in Seahawks green rest on the seats. The man’s name is Judah Smith, and City Church is his church, and he is the personal pastor for Seattle’s quarterback, Russell Wilson.
The sermon is about to start, but first Pastor Judah, who is being broadcast on-screen from the Kirkland campus, addresses what’s on the mind of his faithful, a full half of whom are wearing Seahawks jerseys — mostly Wilson’s No. 3 but a fair number of Marshawn Lynch 24s and several 12th-man 12s. In four hours, jerseyed faithful will be cheering on their 2-3 Seahawks against the undefeated Panthers. Pastor Judah reminds us that at this time last year, five games into the season after winning Super Bowl XLVIII, the Seahawks were 3-2. “Three-and-three is a good place to start to get us there,” he says, and everyone laughs and then everyone prays.
Wilson is at the Kirkland campus himself on many Sunday mornings — he doesn’t live far, just over in Bellevue, where the other Seahawks live — but never on a game day. On game days he wakes up with the rest of the Seahawks in a hotel in Bellevue. They gather Saturday evenings to talk strategy. They have chapel together at 9, and they have a curfew of 11. By Sunday morning, they’re at the breakfast table at 9. By the time Judah Smith’s service gets going today, the Seahawks already have had their breakfast and treatments and are preparing for the game.
When he is here, Wilson stands in the front row and sings with the music, following along with lyrics that flash on the screen before the congregation. He raises his hands to the heavens, and he sways. He doesn’t stand out too much, because even though he’s a quarterback with great gifts, he’s short. Wilson was drafted in 2012, 12th in the third round, part of a Seahawks class that one analyst scored a C and another an F. This was fine with Wilson. He doesn’t mind that no one saw him coming. It plays well into his narrative that he was chosen for this, that God sent the world a diminutive man at 5-foot-10, that he was sent with an undeniable cannon of an arm to make the world take notice.
His mother likes to quote Samuel 1 16:7, “It’s not the countenance of a man nor the height, but the heart.” Samuel said this when he was anointing David as king. You should not underestimate the impact the David and Goliath story has had on Wilson.
When he’s at church, maybe he thanks God for the position he’s been put in. Maybe he thinks about his father, who died before he could see his son make it to the NFL. Maybe he prays to be able to lead. Wilson has said he wants to lead the fans and be a light unto the rest of the NFL. He’s said he wants to lead his girlfriend, the R&B star Ciara, and make his relationship a celibate example for other Christians. He wants to be perfect, and that was a wonderful thing just a couple of years ago, but something changed around the time Wilson tried to fire a ball to Ricardo Lockette at the end of last season’s Super Bowl, only to have Malcolm Butler make the play of his life.
By Wilson’s third step toward the sideline after perhaps the most famous interception in the history of the game, he heard God’s voice tell him that he — that God — had sent the interception, and along with it an opportunity to lead. Wilson said this in front of a crowd at The Rock megachurch in San Diego in July, and it seemed like a rational explanation to him, maybe because, how else could you explain it? The people who know him best say this kind of response is typical of his single-mindedness and confidence, of his tendency to fix his mind on a path and never waver.
But it was with these comments about the divine interception that the story of Russell Wilson began to wear thin on those who’d been devoted to it. He was talking about God in a way that was beyond the usual quarterback pointing toward the sky. Football is full of religion, yes, but Wilson wasn’t just giving the glory to God. He was handing everything over to God. Wilson was seeing himself not as a quarterback who is religious but as a Christian sent by God to become a quarterback and a Christian example. Fans had once accepted Wilson’s overt religiosity, but now some began to widen their eyes and step backward with their hands up, like, “Whatever you say, buddy.” Loyalty wanes in the face of defeat.
In 2012, Wilson was called to Seattle, the city on a hill — a city that was longing for the kind of leadership he wanted to provide. When coach Pete Carroll arrived in 2010, the Seahawks were fresh off a combined nine wins in two miserable seasons, and the franchise had no defining superstar. Then came Wilson. In his first season, he led the Seahawks to 11 wins and a playoff bid. Then a Super Bowl win. Then a Super Bowl loss. Today fans wear No. 3 jerseys on the streets, but Wilson still seems unknowable to them. They love talking about Marshawn Lynch’s Beast Mode and Richard Sherman’s smile and outspokenness, but nothing about Wilson stands out except for his talent, work ethic and his religiosity, which are considerable but are not really brands you put on a T-shirt.
The cab driver who takes me from the church to the stadium on that Sunday in October tells me that he doesn’t know whether Wilson will show up today, meaning of course he’ll be there, but will he show up? Someone close to the Seahawks organization tells me the team has lost its heart since the Super Bowl and is having a hard time getting it back. And a millennial drinking a morning beer near the stadium asks me, “Do you know he doesn’t have sex with his girlfriend?” I assure him I do. “Do you know his girlfriend is Ciara?” he continues, pulling up a picture of her on his phone. Wilson’s persona seemed fine when the Seahawks were winning, but now fans need an explanation. God’s sending interceptions isn’t going to reassure them about the future — even though that future, in just a few weeks, will see Wilson playing the best football of his life.
In comment sections, Wilson was ridiculed (“Didn’t he learn from last year? You’re not gonna score if you get cute with it. You gotta POUND IT IN.”), and blogs capitalized with religious bigotry click-bait — “Russell Wilson Thinks He’s Jesus,” read one. “God Doesn’t Belong in Russell Wilson’s Contract Negotiations,” read another, a reaction to Wilson’s suggesting that if he didn’t get the contract he wanted in the offseason, it was simply God’s will. (He’d sign a four-year, $87.6 million deal.)
In the mainstream media, Wilson was a robot who wouldn’t answer questions authentically. He was too close with the front office, he wasn’t black enough, he was boring. Meanwhile, the Seahawks’ uncharacteristically porous offensive line wasn’t really allowing him to do his job early in the season, but like a good leader, like a good Christian, at his news conferences, as he was leading the league in getting sacked, he was taking full responsibility with a host of clichés: “I’ll do better next time.” The game of football is unpredictable, the media are fickle, but there is one thing Wilson can control: himself. Wilson is someone who endeavors to play great football so that he can continue to have a platform upon which to display his leadership and his faith. Understand this and you’re closer to getting to know Russell Wilson than you were before.
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