In 2005, Shaun Alexander was the king of football. As a running back for the Seattle Seahawks, Alexander scored 28 touchdowns during the regular season—a National Football League record. His offensive exploits earned him the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award and landed him a $62 million contract extension.
He was also known as an outspoken Christian who had worked through some attitude issues and troubled relationships with teammates earlier in his career.
With a historic season under his belt and a newly inked contract in hand, the Kentucky native was on top of the sports world. It seemed as if nothing could go wrong.
But then it did.
In the third game of the 2006 season, Alexander broke his left foot and was sidelined for six games. After returning from the disabled list, he was unable to harness his record-breaking magic. The 2007 season brought much of the same. Alexander suffered a broken left wrist in the Seahawks season opener. In week nine, he sprained both his knee and ankle.
After two consecutive seasons of battling injuries and underperforming, the Seahawks cut Alexander prior to the start of the 2008 season. He signed as a free agent with the Washington Redskins but after five uninspiring games, the Redskins cut him as well. At the early age of 31, Alexander walked away from the game.
Alexander now believes that the 2006-2008 football seasons were God’s way of humbling him, he told me, and he considers the way his career ended a blessing.
“People are scared of being humbled, but I think that it is God’s way of saving us,” Alexander said. “The most dangerous part of your life is whenever you’re at the highest. Anytime you’re good at anything, it’s easy to make an idol of it.”
Nine years removed from his MVP season, Alexander has gone from poster boy of America’s most popular sport to stay-at-home dad of seven. He still lives in the Washington, D.C., area, where he moved for his stint with the Redskins. He has mostly avoided media attention, does not work as a television football analyst (a common path for retired NFL stars), and isn’t even officially affiliated with any team.
“People will say I fell from grace and I’m like, ‘Really?’ My love with Jesus is stronger than ever and my idols have been torn down,” Alexander said.
His early retirement gave him the opportunity to strengthen his marriage with his wife, Valerie, and foster relationships with his seven children. “People would say, ‘Well, you’re a good dad for a football player,’” Alexander said. “But I wanted to be a great dad, and I wanted to be a great husband.”
His dedication to family is due in large part to the absence of his own father. Curtis Alexander Jr. fathered nine kids with four different women. By the time Alexander was a teenager, Curtis had removed himself from the picture. “I know that I’m going to do something to teach the world what a family looks like,” Alexander said.
In Seattle, Alexander and a teammate, Heath Evans, began mentoring young athletes at a nearby Christian college, Northwest University. They led Bible studies and tried to create a fellowship focused on living intentionally for Jesus. Brian McCormack, then on the basketball team, told me Alexander was a powerful Christian influence: “His eternal impact off the field is far more profound than anything he did on the field.”
Alexander still takes opportunities to talk about Jesus. At a recent chapel message at Patrick Henry College in northern Virginia, Alexander urged students to consider every day four questions Jesus asks: “Do you know me? Do you seek me? Do you love me? Do you obey me?”
He’s not sure what exactly he’ll be doing next, but he’s not worried: “God always tells me that he brings fresh manna, so I try not to repeat anything because I feel like it’s old wineskin.”