In an NFL season filled with controversy and division, one team is finding a truly unifying common ground, led by their star quarterback.
Carson Wentz, the 24-year-old quarterback in his second season with the Philadelphia Eagles has made no bones about who he is ultimately playing for. He has a tattoo on the underside of his right wrist that encapsulates his life motto – AO1.
It stands for Audience of One and speaks of his desire to do all he does to honor Jesus Christ. It is also the name of the foundation he and his brother, Zach, launched to serve underprivileged youth living abroad, offer outdoor opportunities to the physically challenged and provide service dogs to Philadelphia youth.
Carson grew up attending church and thinking that going through the Christian motions was enough.
"I'd pray, I'd go to church, I'd do this and that, and I'm like that's great, I'm a good person, I did the right thing and so I'm going to be saved naturally. That's what I thought," he admits. "That's the lie that the devil wants you to believe."
In his opinion, too many people view heaven as something to earn your way into through actions and deeds, and, as a result, they put their relationship with God and Jesus on the back burner.
Carson was shaken from his complacency by fellow quarterback Dante Perez, during a North Dakota football practice in his freshman year, when Dante asked him if he'd ever read the Bible.
The result of their discussions was that Carson started to get serious about his Christianity, attending weekly Bible studies and getting involved in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. In his senior year he had the tattoo done.
Carson explains how his thinking changed, "Ephesians 2:8-10 says 'For it is by Grace that you have been saved through faith — and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.' So, when I learned about this grace my view of Christianity was really just flipped on its head, because you see, Christianity is the only religion in the world that you can't earn Heaven, you can't earn an afterlife, you can't earn reincarnation or whatever.
"Christianity says it's done; Jesus already did it. He took it all for you [took all the punishment for your sins on the cross] and this is what Paul is saying here in Ephesians," he added. "See we're not saved by our actions but our actions come out of our faith."
“I can’t earn
my way to
nobody can”He admits that it is something he constantly needs to keep in perspective.
"I think it's a daily thing. I know for me, we get caught up in doing good, doing good, doing good. That it's a daily thing for me to just remind myself that without Jesus in it, I can't do it," he said. "I can't earn my way to Heaven and nobody can."
As he tweeted last June: "You can't earn grace. It's free. It's the greatest gift there's ever been & will be. Accept it. Jesus is waiting for you & loves you #AO1"
Although, as such a high-profile person Carson realizes he could cop opposition for his bold faith stance, he is not about to keep silent.
"I always tell people, for example, if you love your job, you love your wife, you love what you do, you're going to talk about it. Well, I love Jesus. That's what I love, so I'm going to talk about it."
And he is not the only one of the Eagles putting it out there. Wide receiver Marcus Johnson posted a photo on Twitter of himself being baptized [immersed in water as a public show of his commitment to Jesus] in a hotel pool in October, surrounded by his teammates.
"First time being Baptized! Corporate Worship is a beautiful thing!!" Johnson wrote in a tweet that accompanies the photo. "Cleansed & Reborn in JESUS name!"
Tight end Trey Burton is apparently the team's unofficial pastor and he baptized four other players that night as well, while all 15 members of the Eagles stood around the pool and prayed.
ESPN revealed in 2016 how the team's players "find common ground through spiritual devotion".
"Every Monday night we have a couple's Bible study. We have a Thursday night team Bible study," Carson shares. "And Saturday nights, we actually get together the night before the game and just kind of pray and talk through the Word [Bible] and what guys have been reading, what they're struggling with, and just kind of keep it real with each other. To have that here in an NFL [chapel] facility like this, it's really special.
"I think we're always challenging each other not to lose sight of the bigger picture," Carson elaborates. "Wins, losses, highs, lows, everything that comes with this game, it's so easy to take your mind and your eyes off the ultimate prize, and that's living for the Lord."
He said men often don't open up about deep issues like marriage problems, family stuff or personal struggles but "when you're able to talk about it amongst your brothers, it helps you grow. And when you realize that you can apply Biblical principles to it, it helps us all grow".
Carson makes it clear that his goal is never to force his faith on others but to show kindness and respect.
"I'm going to be genuine, I'm going to be authentic with believers, non-believers—it doesn't matter. I am going to love on them. I'm going to treat them all the same. I'm going to respect them," he said. "At the same time, as the leader of the football team, I am going to lead everybody the same... I think guys are willing to talk when you don't have this self-righteous attitude... when you have that mutual respect, it just makes it a healthier environment."
That supportive environment seems to be working on the field too, as the Philadelphia Eagles are having a great season and were sitting on top of the division standings with 10 wins to 2 losses at the time of writing.•