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"Sports" Continued...

Issue: "Follow the Greenback Road," Jan. 25, 1997

Minister of defense

Reggie White of the Super Bowl-bound Green Bay Packers has sacked more quarterbacks than anyone in the history of professional football. Some say what he has accomplished during his 12 years in the NFL makes him the greatest defensive end of all time. He is also an ordained Baptist minister whose faith goes far beyond the playing field. In the off-season, Mr. White serves as associate pastor of the Inner City Church of Knoxville, Tenn., an interracial congregation of about 400 members. He is active at Bayside Christian Fellowship in Green Bay, where he occasionally preaches. When he takes the pulpit in one of the black churches in nearby Milwaukee, fans crowd in to meet a football legend, but after hearing one of his forceful evangelistic sermons, many of them end up meeting Christ. Vocal about Jesus, Mr. White also stresses to young people the importance of responsibility, discipline, sexual purity, and respect for authority. Much of his superstar salary goes to support his Inner City Development Corporation to encourage blacks to start small businesses as a way out of poverty and to address the decline of urban neighborhoods. He helped organize the Community Development Bank in Knoxville to give loans to applicants of character who had been turned down by other institutions, putting up $1 million as startup money. Mr. White's signing as a free agent from Philadelphia was a key factor in the turnaround of the Packers from also-rans to Super Bowl contenders. &quotSince I've been here a whole lot of things have changed," he says. &quotThe atmosphere, the attitude, not only of the players but of the fans." His impact on his teammates--the decline in profanity, the after-game prayer circles with members of both teams, his personal spiritual counseling of a number of troubled players--has been dramatic in a profession notorious for the moral failings of many of its members. His fans in Wisconsin have also been receptive to his open faith. &quotGod sent me here," Mr. White says, &quotbecause he knew how the people around this state have reacted to his word." Mr. White's church in Knoxville was firebombed just over a year ago. Though the supposed rash of church-burnings appears to have been exaggerated, there is little doubt, given the racist graffitti sprayed on the surviving walls, that the Inner City Church was burned by someone who opposed its ministry of racial reconciliation. Packer fans spontaneously contributed the money to rebuild it. After the Packers defeated the Carolina Panthers to get in the Super Bowl for the first time in 30 years, Mr. White--who despite his brilliant career had never won a championship in high school, college, or the NFL--spoke about Jesus. &quotThis will give me a wider audience to preach to," he said in the after-game press conference. &quotIt's somewhat sad, but people tend to listen to you when you do what we do .... One person is important .... I may not be able to reach that person if I don't have a chance to go to the Super Bowl. I might have an impact on a thousand people, but I may reach farther than that and have an impact on that one person who may reach more people than I ever imagined."

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