Sports Spectrum Magazine Summer 2021

NFL Hall of Famer Curtis Martin talks about facing pain with hope in Christ

Former NFL running back Curtis Martin played through pain at various times throughout his 11-year career with the New England Patriots and New York Jets. By the end, he had earned five trips to the Pro Bowl and a golden jacket from the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

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In light of the recent death of George Floyd while in police custody and the protests it has sparked, Martin said that when people can see the opportunity for blessings through pain, they find the strength to endure. As a guest on a recent podcast episode of “A Bit of Optimism with Simon Sinek,” Martin reflected on Floyd’s death and what it means for the black community and all of America.

Martin told Sinek that calling the police is often a last resort for black people in the United States for fear of making a bad situation worse. As he recounted stories of growing up with an abusive father and surrounded by violence in his neighborhood, he said he would often choose to suffer rather than to turn to law enforcement.

“We live with that fear on top of the distrust on top of the visions of injustice that we’ve witnessed in our own communities all the time,” Martin said.

Floyd’s death opened old wounds for black people and perhaps gave white people a perspective they’d never seen before.

“White America got a glimpse of what Black America literally lives with all of our lives,” Martin said.

In the face of nationwide turmoil and outrage, Martin believes there are new possibilities for strong leadership and true change.

“Hidden behind our biggest challenges are some of our biggest blessings and biggest opportunities,” Martin said, adding, “I think that if we could learn how to use this pain and frustration, or whatever it may be, and pull something positive out of it on an individual level, I think it translates into a community level eventually.”

Martin shared a story from his days as an NFL running back to drive home the point. He dislocated his shoulder during a game against the Giants, but instead of heading to the locker room, he asked to have his arm taped to his side so he could return to action. After nearly every play, Martin fought through immense pain to get back to the huddle. He finished the game and he finished the season, one of the best seasons of his career.

Martin sees a parallel in the story of Jesus on the cross.

“I remember reading this Bible verse one day and it talked about Jesus. And it said, ‘because of the glory that was set before Him, Christ endured the cross’ (paraphrase of Hebrews 12:2). And what it’s saying is that Jesus had His eyes on the way that Him dying on that cross was going to help so many people and inspire so many people,” Martin said.

Jesus faced unimaginable pain, but what held Him on the cross was the joy of what was to come.

“Because of that vision of what was on the other side of the cross, that helped Jesus endure the cross. I believe that we all have our own personal cross in life, but instead of enduring that cross, we try to avoid it, and in avoiding that, we also avoid that blessing. … If we can keep our eyes somewhat focused on the greater good that will come out of the pain, I think it gives us the motivation to endure,” Martin said.

Martin became a Christian at the age of 20 after listening to a pastor, and he recalled his first encounter with God during his Hall of Fame enshrinement in 2012.

“My mother never raised me telling me about God or anything. But I said I’ve got to go to the nearest church and tell this God, ‘God, thank You, because I know I’m not faster than a bullet. I’m not Superman. But somehow I seem to have had more than nine lives.’

“So I looked up and talked to God like He was one of my boys in the street. I said, ‘Listen, man, I don’t know nothing about You or this Jesus cat that everybody talks about, but I’m going to make a deal with You. I heard about people making deals with the devil, but I don’t want to do that. I’m going to make a deal with You. If You let me live past 21, dude, I promise that I’ll just try to do my best and try to live right and try to do whatever You want me to do. I know You’re a smart person, if You’re God.'”

Martin did manage to escape his meager upbringing and played college football for Pitt before heading to the 1995 NFL Draft. After being selected by the Patriots in the third round, he headed for the Jets after three seasons. Martin retired in 2006. He said he wore his iconic No. 28 because of the 28th chapter in the book of Deuteronomy, which talks about “Blessings for Obedience.”

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