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Extreme faith

Sports | Christianity is changing the culture of the X Games

Issue: "The ABCs of C Street," Aug. 29, 2009

Evangelicalism hardly suffers from under-representation in professional and collegiate athletics-see Tim Tebow, Kurt Warner, Jake Peavy, and so forth. But in the more off-beat world of extreme sports, one often laced with a culture of rebellion, Christian faith has proved far less visible, if not absent altogether. That now has changed.

In 2005, freestyle motocross star Brian Deegan nearly died from an ill-executed back flip he attempted while recording his television show. The accident cost him a kidney and four pints of blood but drew him to Jesus. He started giving Bibles to other riders. Before long, fellow motocross athletes Jeremy Lusk, Ronnie Faisst, and Jeremy Stenberg were joining him for Bible studies. The crew and culture of Metal Mulisha, Deegan's group of riders known for its bad boy image, was transformed.

When Lusk lost his life this past February in a biking accident at a competition in Costa Rica, Deegan and Faisst posted an online video message to grieving fans in which they spoke of their respective journeys to faith: "My whole life was being a rebel, trying to form an image of this guy who's done a lot of sins . . . glorifying being a bad person," Deegan said. "After [the crash], I was die hard, went to the church, sought out a good church."

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Deegan said that watching his best friend Lusk die has only further solidified his commitment to follow Jesus: "It made me really see how short life can be. You don't know what's going to happen the next day."

The reality of life's fragility may help explain why numerous X Games athletes from other sports have embraced Christian faith, too. Three-time gold-medal­winning skateboarder Paul Rodriguez wears a tattoo of Jesus on his forearm and kicks off every run in competition by removing his hat and saying a prayer. Motocross rider Nate Adams, one of the first prominent evangelicals in his sport, used to catch flack for his beliefs but now is among the most popular stars on the Dew Tour, winning Athlete of the Year in 2007.

Even past stars, like 41-year-old skater Christian Hosoi, are changing their ways. Hosoi spent five years in prison for possession with intent to distribute crystal methamphetamine but became a Christian before his release in 2004. He now works as a pastor and traveling evangelist, yet he still maintains ties to his sport and competes in Legends events. In an interview with The New York Times, he reflected on how much the sport's culture has changed: "I was such a rebel against conforming to government or society because we skateboarders were so radical and we wanted to be outlaws. . . . There wasn't another option back in my day. It was either you were hard core against it all, or you're not cool and you're out."

Now, Hosoi uses his platform to preach the gospel. He is far from alone.

The games' game

By Mark Bergin

With NFL preseason underway, some 20 million Americans are diving into the annual cultural phenomenon that is fantasy football-a game that allows a fan to create a "team" using the statistics of players drawn from various real teams. According to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, fantasy leagues of all sports represent a $1.5 billion market, football generating more than half of that revenue. Entrepreneur magazine recently named fantasy sports among the hottest start-up markets for investors.

Such growth in the industry is not only sparking greater interest in professional sports but also changing the manner in which fans consume. University of Northern Colorado researcher Brendan Dwyer found that fantasy sports enthusiasts develop allegiances to individual players much more than to teams. According to University of Mississippi professor Kim Beason, participants in fantasy sports also watch games with a businesslike approach, 90 percent checking statistics online during the game and less than one out of four drinking beer.

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