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Keith Strudler: Russell Wilson And God

Perhaps Huey Lewis was right. Maybe it is hip to be square.

It’s probably unfair to deem Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson as square, not with one Super Bowl ring and another nearly so at the age of 26, not with a huge new contract coming his way in the next year or so, not as the young marketable face of the NFL as older generations of quarterbacks, like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, enter their twilight. That’s not square, for sure.

But, Russell Wilson did make a fairly “unquarterback” like statement the other day when he announced that he and his girlfriend, the mega pop star Ciara, will be celibate throughout their courtship. I don’t know the state of their intimacy prior to the announcement, but for now, it’s seems they’ll do what I ask my 5 year old to do when he gets angry with someone at school. That is, hands on your own body.

What’s more interesting is how Wilson came to this revelation. According to him, and there’s certainly no way to affirm its veracity, God spoke to him and asked him to refrain. He said that God had a higher calling for the couple to do something special and that God anointed them both.

In case you’re wondering, apparently God also told Wilson his interception that lost the Seahawks last year’s Super Bowl was not a mistake but a test, a chance for the world to see how Wilson would respond. Yes, according to Russell Wilson, that interception was not a misread – it was a message. And Wilson, and again this is unconfirmed, is thus an apostle.

There’s a lot to digest here. But let’s start with the headline. Russell Wilson is by no means the first athlete to proclaim his celibacy through Godly inspiration. In fact, he’s not even the only quarterback in the league right now, as Philadelphia Eagle Tim Tebow wears his religion and celibacy on his eye black in the way of biblical verse. And Tebow’s been advocating celibacy since puberty, something we can’t say about Russell Wilson. Both of these preacher men were simply children when former NBA forward AC Green created his patented “no booty zone” – and those are clearly his words, not mine – when he proclaimed and defended his celibacy in the 1980’s as part of the Los Angeles “Showtime” Lakers, a team that was as famous for its sexual escapades as its multiple league championships. Former Milwaukee Buck Michael Redd and New York Giant Prince Amukamara were both celibate until marriage, and BYU athletics essentially builds team policy around this concept. So while Russell Wilson commands the headlines right now, he’s by no means a pioneer. And to be honest, he’s like the guy who shows up at the gym for the first time on New Year’s Day. A little more walk and a little less talk would be fine.

But there’s a larger narrative at play around Wilson’s announcement, which oozed with the self-importance that often results from unending long-term adoration. Russell Wilson has made two judgement calls – well, really more than that, but two we’ll deal with here. First, he’s made the assumption, and wants us to believe that God holds star athletes in particularly high regard, messengers of high faith. At no point did Russell Wilson find it odd or even surprising that he, a star NFL quarterback playing for league titles, would be the Lord’s obvious partner. That’s how important sport is in Wilson’s mind, a place where higher calling is a natural result of bigger, faster, and stronger. The faulty logic here goes far and wide, including why God would want his most esteemed emissaries to suffer so many concussions? And why not priests, or missionaries, or other servants who’ve sacrificed worldly possessions to serve others? Why instead some guy who’s about to be responsible for higher ticket prices for common fans in Seattle? It’s a mystery, right?

Second, and just as confusing, is how Russell Wilson has managed to compartmentalize his life and history into a narrative of messianic proportion. When Russell Wilson threw that interception to lose that Super Bowl, apparently that wasn’t him – it was God, working through him. And when Russell Wilson hadn’t been celibate all these years leading to today, that was then, and this – this however many days it’s been – that’s his reality, his lesson to us common folk about how life should be led. Never mind his sexual history, that interception, that man behind the curtain.

It must be nice to have the ability to never look back, to live completely in the moment, a moment that for Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson involves deep conversation with God. Perhaps that’s the marquis of great athletes. Never think about the past mistake, it’s only about the right now. I don’t know if that makes Wilson hip, square, or Godly. But he’s certainly, and uniquely self-assured.

Keith Strudler is the director of the Marist College Center for Sports Communication and an associate professor of communication. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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