Summer 2024

Bart Millard's high school football injury led him to musical career with MercyMe

On Friday March 16, “I CAN ONLY IMAGINE” hits theaters.

The movie tells the story of Bart Millard’s strained relationship with his abusive father growing up in the football loving state of Texas.

Bart and his band MercyMe have been together since 1994 and gone on to release 13 consecutive top 5 singles on the Billboard Christian Songs chart and has won 8 Dove Awards to go along with numerous Grammy nominations.

But for Millard, before there was music, there was football.

Growing up in Greenville, Texas, the Millard family was all about football.

“My dad and my older brother were both football players,” Bart said to The Fish,” so naturally, that’s what I wanted to do as well. But I broke both my ankles in a high school football game and that ended my career.”

An exceptional athlete in his own youth, Bart’s dad Arthur excelled at college football as an All-American at Southern Methodist University and dreamed of playing in the pros. But having kids at an early age forced him to drop out of college and take a job in construction to support his family. On the job one day, he got hit by a diesel truck, a collision that put him in a coma for eight weeks. Arthur Millard woke up a different person, a man who couldn’t regulate his anger.

That anger led to a very abusive childhood for Bart and his brother and is depicted in the film.

With Bart’s football career over, he began to consider what might be next.

“Our football practices took place during the school day, sort of a substitute for Phys. Ed.  So since I couldn’t dress out for practice,” Millard said, “I had to move into another elective class, and choir was the only thing open at that point in the semester. I reluctantly joined the choir and as it turned out, I had a great choir teacher and also had a very encouraging music minister at my church, who both prodded me to get more involved, do solos and so forth.”

And the rest they say is musical history. Bart started perfecting his craft, met a few friends, formed the band MercyMe in 1994 and 24 years later, the band is still going strong.

In 2001, they released the song “I Can Only Imagine” and remains their biggest single in the band’s 24 year history. It gained significant airplay on Christian radio formats before crossing over to mainstream radio formats such as adult contemporary and Top 40 in late 2003 and into 2004.  The song peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary.  In 2002, “I Can Only Imagine” earned the Dove Awards for ‘Pop/Contemporary Recorded Song of the Year’ and ‘Song of the Year. The song has been certified 2x platinum RIAA for sales of over two million digital downloads, and is the first Christian single to reach that milestone.

Today, Millard is a successful musician who’s life will be depicted on the big screen in the upcoming film and has also written his tell-all memoir, “I Can Only Imagine: A Memoir”, which was released on February 13, 2018.

I CAN ONLY IMAGINE releases in theaters Friday March 16, 2018. It stars Dennis Quaid as Bart Millard’s father Arthur and J. Michael Finley as Bart himself, Cloris Leachman as Miller’s grandmother and country singer Trace Adkins as Millard’s manager. For tickets, visit

NEW PODCAST: Robby Shaffer, MercyMe
– 2017 NFL predictions from Christian musicians