Couple Keeps NFL Team Grounded in Faith
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While NFL broadcasts finish and fans exit stadiums, a game-ending huddle gathers at mid-field, where the same opponents that just played, kneel together to pray.
George Gregory: “A prayer from the chaplain, win or lose, let’s bow our knee to give thanks to our Father. They realize those opportunities can go away with one blow. Gratitude is a part of everyday life in the NFL.”
George Gregory and his wife Tondra, co-chaplain the Los Angeles Chargers’ players, coaches, wives and girlfriends, arriving in 2017 at the request of previously hired head coach, Anthony Lynn.
George Gregory: “We are on a mission from God, right. Whether we are church planting in New York City, or whether we are helping professional athletes and coaches, or whether we’re helping everyday couples."
Tondra Gregory: “To have successful relationships and marriages! That’s what we’re passionate about! That’s what we do – everyday!”
Question: “What’s the most common need from both players and coaches?”
George Gregory: “Really, to be valued and heard. They’re under the spotlight heavily! To be heard, and valued, and loved and not evaluated based off wins or losses – I find, man, that it’s endearing just to ask him, ‘How are you doing today?'”
The marriage and relationship coaches speak with pastoral conviction, leading the team’s chapel service, bible studies, and small groups to help bring strength down to the organization’s soul!
Question: “As a marriage coach it makes sense, doesn’t it, you’re aligned with an NFL team?”
Tondra Gregory: “The similarities I feel are - unconditional love and acceptance, the natural reflection of our relationship with God. To be able to give that and to receive what we all want to experience. We’re made for that! We were created for that! Know what your game plan is as a couple. That you’re unified. You’re running the same plays at the same time to minimize those miscommunications or those conflicts.”
George Gregory: “You got players from different backgrounds, you got different communication style. There’s gonna be conflict on the team and marriage has all those ingredients. The formation of a team – and the marriage – let’s us know that we’re not enemies, brought together in unity and solidarity. We are called to live together as one - in Christ.”
Question: “These are high-achievers. They have what a lot of people want. It’s lived on a short, accelerated timeline …”
George Gregory: “These men are always asked for things. It’s an unbelievable amount of stress that comes. The consequences, sometimes if they’re walking by themselves can crush them. But to have people walking with you on your journey, to show them I don’t want anything! I’m here to add to you, not to take away from you. They can smell a phony, they’re gonna call you out on it until they know how much you care. Spending time in relationship, you get to know these guys and when they trust you, they can let you in when I can share answers, when I can talk about purpose way beyond football.”
Question: “Loneliness more prevalent than we may think?”
George Gregory: “Yeah, I think Tom, that loneliness is a big part. And you want to come off like the tough guy or the perfect player of the perfect coach. You don’t want to tell your imperfections. Let ‘em know that’s why you’re on a team. You’re not alone. So when you have your darkest moments, God is with you, your teammates are with you, your coaches are with you!”
Leslie Frazier, former NFL Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator: “When you see George and Tondra, when they’re ministering to the players, their significant other, and that’s unique! They get a chance to see a model of Christ-like relationship from a biblical standpoint. Pressures to win at the NFL level - this is stressful! To share with me from God’s perspective on what you’re facing. I’ve seen it time and time again, Tom, where our chaplain, his role has helped our team win, because of the trust our players had in our chaplain.”
Arthur Hightower is in his 19th season as the Chargers’ Senior Director of Player Engagement, who oversees the player’s well being.
Question: “How does that translate literally to what we see on a Sunday?”
Arthur Hightower: “You’re talking about heart and soul when you’re going out to be able to perform – when your home is right, your work is right! Running aimlessly? No! You don’t have that! You’re able to keep your eye on the prize and it allows faith to overcome.”
Question: “Do these wives and girlfriends risk being overshadowed?”
Tondra Gregory: “Most definitely! Football is the main priority. These ladies make a lot of sacrifices to their own careers. Uh, medical students, Yale law school, doctors, professional athletes themselves, top-level collegiate athletes. They are elite in their own right. It’s something that those couples have to do together and be in agreement about.”
Question: “Tondra, what’s the most common challenge that you have to process with them?”
Tondra Gregory: “I think the search for that significance! Having some permanence of their identity and their worth. They have sort of a nomadic life. You’re relocating and it’s hard to dig in roots. Community is very important because it’s very isolating. It’s hard to find that safe place where you can really talk about what your challenges are, to grow and share things, and have fun because that’s the thing that keeps your relationship thriving. You have to fight for that!”
Question: “The identify turns to a jersey number. How significant is the wrestle that goes on with distancing themself from a false self?”
George Gregory: “We’re not our profession. Football is a stop on your journey. It’s not your ultimate purpose. If they’re believers, we tell them: ‘you’re not just a football player. You’re a man of God!' Or if it’s a wife, ‘you’re a woman of God.' And so your true identify is who God made you to be, more than a number, made to do something, and we think that something is to say ‘yes’ to faith in Jesus Christ.”
Question: “What do you think is most misunderstood about Jesus?”
George Gregory: “That He’s out to get us! That’s very far from the truth. You see, the God that I know through Christ, He’s all forgiving. He’s so gracious for every downfall that we have, for every way we need to be redeemed. Christ came to die for your mess-ups that we may have life with Him forever and ever.”
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