Summer 2024

Oklahoma pastor Adam Starling creates spiritual 'safe place' for Sooner football team

When Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield and his wife, Emily, were planning their wedding for this past summer, they knew exactly who they wanted to officiate: the same man who had officiated dozens of other weddings for players from the University of Oklahoma, Baker’s alma mater. So he reached out to Adam Starling, pastor of Victory Family Church in Norman, Okla.

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“I’m standing up at Baker’s wedding, looking around and seeing Saquon (Barkley), Odell (Beckham Jr.), Bob Stoops and Lincoln Riley, and I’m going, ‘Wow this is kind of cool,’” Starling told the OU Daily. “But I never really think about it like that. I think it’s like anything else when you get to know somebody — it doesn’t seem unique anymore.”

In five years, Starling and his wife and executive pastor, Kristy, have seen their church grow from a congregation of 200 to roughly 3,800 people. A large portion of this growth has come from Victory’s commitment to investing in the students of OU. During that time, Adam has developed close relationships with some of OU’s most well-known football stars, from Ty Darlington, Trevor Knight, Samaje Perine and Kenneth Murray to the aforementioned Mayfield.

“A tremendous guy,” said Murray, OU’s starting middle linebacker, about Starling. “A guy I know I can depend on if I need to talk to anybody. Definitely one of my favorite people I’ve met since I’ve been here.”

Starling says he attracts athletes from the school by creating a safe space for them to be themselves, free from the pressure of fame and expectation.

“I know everyone wants something from them,” Starling said. “I’ve always wanted to create a safe place where I don’t want anything from them, our church family doesn’t want anything from them, we’re not trying to get autographs, we’re not trying to benefit from our relationship — we’re just a place that can kind of help make a family atmosphere and just be there for kids.”

Starling says the lesson of “be yourself” is hard for athletes, who feel the pressure to conform to their coaches’, teammates’ or fans’ expectations.

“He’s taught me so many valuable life lessons,” Murray said. “He teaches me something new every time I see him. So being able to go in there and worship and learn and not be messed with by anybody — it’s definitely something cool, and something you can’t find everywhere.”

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