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The Caw: Faith's Role On The Ravens

Posted Nov 29, 2012

John Harbaugh spoke of faith in his postgame press conference Sunday.


It’s not uncommon to see a player point to the sky after a big play, or hear them thank the Lord after a game. Remember Tebowing?

But it’s not that often that you hear faith candidly talked about in a head coach’s postgame press conference.

Following Sunday’s emotional overtime win in San Diego, Head Coach John Harbaugh referred to the team’s faith in God as a powerful tool.

The win and Harbaugh’s comments came after linebacker Ray Lewis gave a rousing pregame speech focused around hope, love and faith.

“Those are three things that bind a football team together and bind a group of people together with each other and with their creator,” Harbaugh said.

“To see it pay off like that, with that kind of success, is more of a validation of faith and trust in one another and in God. I don’t like to say it too much because I know some people don’t like to hear that, but it’s a big part of who we are as a team."

Team Chaplain Rod Hairston, a full-time team employee who is in his 14th season with the Ravens and is the founding pastor of Messiah Community Church in Owings Mills, Md., just minutes from the team’s training facility, spearheads many of the team’s faith-based programs.

The Ravens hold Bible study on Monday evenings and chapel and mass Sunday mornings 4½ hours before kickoff. Coaches and senior staff members have a Bible study on Friday mornings.

Hairston has an office frequented by players and coaches at unscheduled times. He also talks and texts with players (and even their wives, fiancés and girlfriends).

“Whenever we talk about life issues, they’re always related to their faith in Christ,” Hairston said.

“The way the relationship goes is [the player says], ‘I’m having challenges with my marriage, or with an injury, or with a family matter. What Biblical principle can you help me to understand?’”

What Hairston finds unique about the Ravens is that it starts at the top.

“We have a head coach and a general manager whose relationship with God really forms many of their approaches to coaching and leadership,” Hairston said.

“It shapes a sense of integrity about how people deal with one another, it shapes a passion for excellence, it shapes the outlook when things look like they aren’t going well.

The Ravens have a number of spiritual leaders in the locker room as well. Ray Lewis immediately comes to mind because, as Hairston said, “he’s as much a spiritual leader as he is a motivational leader.”

Watching Lewis during a chapel service is like looking into his same passionate eyes in a pregame huddle. He’s 100 percent committed.

Safety Bernard Pollard, center Matt Birk and wide receiver Anquan Boldin are all also spiritual leaders in the locker room. Pollard and Boldin co-organize a Wednesday Bible study at Hairston’s church for wives, fiancés and girlfriends.

“I think faith has a tremendous way of shaping the locker room,” Boldin said. “Definitely when you look at how guys respond to different things and how they act on and off the field.

“I think if all you have is football, you’ll go crazy. It gives you a bigger picture. At the end of the day with this game, we’ll be judged by wins and losses. But when we look at the bigger picture, we’ll be judged on how effective we were in the locker room. How many lives did we change? How many people did we influence? I see that now as opposed to earlier in my career.”

Hairston pointed to cornerback Cary Williams as one player that has particularly been affected by his faith.

Hairston said Williams came to Baltimore “kind of considered a problem player” that the Ravens wanted to give a chance because he had outstanding potential. Years ago, Williams ran into trouble with coaches in college and was upset about his lack of playing time with the Tennessee Titans.

“He’s highly emotional, that’s kind of his make-up,” Hairston said. “But when he began to grow in his faith it caused him to settle down.”

Williams talks with Hairston at least once a week, frequently reads Bible verses on his iPhone and is always among the 25 to 30 players present on Sunday for chapel service.

“It’s just one of those things where I lean heavily on my faith and I believe that God puts us through things that make us stronger, put us through situations so we can bless others,” Williams said.

“Hopefully I can get that opportunity to do those things and just continue to be a better person, a better man, a better husband and a better teammate and a better football player.”

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