Wearing your faith on your sleeve right next to your team number might surprise sports fans when it comes to professional athletes and coaches.
Especially today, when many sports stars' personal lives and antics are splashed across front pages around the world. From their legal and professional troubles — domestic violence, steroid use, or gambling — to their over-the-top consumerist lifestyles complete with high-priced luxury vehicles and plenty of bling, the public is privy to every detail.
Because of that, we often don't hear about those athletes that make religion their focus. Many of America's top professional sports figures rank God as No. 1 in their lives, and they're not afraid to show their dedication and religious beliefs both on and off the field.
Here, Newsmax has assembled a list of the top 50 athletes and coaches who have deep religious faiths and live out their religions as the major light of their lives.
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1. Tim Tebow
— The Heisman Trophy winner who went on to quarterback for the Denver Broncos, New York Jets, and New England Patriots made it a practice to kneel in prayer before games, so much so that it sparked a new trend — "Tebowing." But Tebow's deep Christian faith goes well beyond that, from his preaching and supporting Evangelists in the Philippines to maintaining his virginity until marriage. "I still honor my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, because at the end of the day, that's what's important, win or lose," he has said. "We need to get back to one nation under God and be role models for kids."
2. Clint Dempsey
— The USA World Cup soccer team captain and Texan is a devout Roman Catholic, who has said, "My faith in Christ is what gives me confidence for the future. I know that through both good times and bad, He is faithful and will watch over me."
3. Josh Hamilton
— The five-time Major League Baseball All-Star and Texas Rangers outfielder came clean about his struggles with addiction to drugs and alcohol in his autobiography "Beyond Belief," and said he credits God for saving his life and career. "It's a God thing," he says.
4. Greg Ellis
— The former Dallas Cowboys linebacker turned to God after serious injuries threatened his career. In a video for non-profit group "I Am Second," he said: "God just had a different plan. He blessed me to be the comeback player of the year in the NFL. You have to realize that there is a God and he does show up and do miracles. My faith in Jesus is everything. It is my life."
5. Vitor Belfort
— The mixed martial arts champion briefly turned to God at the age of 20 after a neck injury nearly halted his career in 2004, but he later backslid. After his sister was kidnapped in Brazil, raped, and murdered, he said, "My heart was hard and getting bitter. I wanted a solution to my pain. I started praying. God spoke to my heart. That was my biggest touch with a true relationship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Now I have a great family and a great relationship with God."
6. Jimmer Fredette
— The former Brigham Young University star and player for the Sacramento Kings, the Chicago Bulls, the New Orleans Pelicans, and the Westchester Knicks is very open about his Mormon faith. He married his wife, Whitney, in a "sealing" ceremony at the LDS Temple in Denver and has said, "I definitely have grown closer to the Lord since I’ve been in the NBA. I'm not doing all this to put on a show. I’m doing it because I truly believe in the church and believe in the gospel and this is how I want to live my life."
7. and 8. Venus and Serena Williams
— The top women's tennis professionals and sisters are well known to be devout Jehovah's Witnesses. They were home-schooled by their equally devout mother and do not vote in elections, as their faith teaches them to remain neutral in politics.
9. Philip Rivers
— The quarterback of the San Diego Chargers is a devout Roman Catholic and once told Life Teen, "Appreciate the faith. Appreciate what we have and what a great gift the sacraments are. If you're going to be a Catholic man, be it all the way." He often speaks to youth groups about abstaining from sex until marriage, as he did.
10. Ian Kinsler
— The Major League Baseball player has a Catholic mother and a Jewish father. The second baseman for the Detroit Tigers, Kinsler is a prominent member of the Jewish community and won the Jim Sundberg Community Achievement Award in 2008.
11. Jake Peavy
— The San Francisco Giants pitcher, a Cy Young Award winner, has been a devout Christian since childhood. "I knew enough to understand I wanted to be saved and wanted Jesus to be Lord of my life," he once said.
12. Dmitriy Salita
— The Ukrainian-born welterweight boxer is an orthodox Jew who will not fight on the Sabbath or Jewish holidays, keeps kosher, and even enters the ring to the strains of Yiddish rap music. "I have a personal relationship with God that I won’t compromise," he has said.
13. Manny Pacquaio
— The boxing champ was raised Catholic, but has been very public about his conversion to Evangelical Christianity. He credits his beliefs for turning him away from adultery, drinking, and gambling when he was spinning out of control.
14. Tony Dungy
— The retired NFL coach is a devoutly religious Evangelical who once reportedly considered leaving football for a prison ministry
. He has also supported the Indiana Family Institute, which opposes gay marriage.
15. Dikembe Mutombo
— The retired NBA player born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a devout Baptist and has devoted much of his life to humanitarian work with religious groups in his homeland.
16. Morgan Pressel
— The Ladies Professional Golf Association champ has stated publicly that her Jewish faith plays an important role in her career and life.
17. Jack Del Rio
— The current head coach of the Oakland Raiders NFL Team is a "cradle Catholic" who heads the Jack Del Rio Foundation to help underprivileged children. Jack's wife Linda serves as executive consultant for Varsity Catholic, part of the Catholic group FOCUS, or Fellowship of Catholic University Students. In 2014, she spoke at the Pontifical Council for Culture Conference in Rome. A former NFL linebacker, Del Rio received the Steinberg DeNicola Humanitarian Award, and has said, "I take pride in being a strong Catholic."
18. Deion Sanders
— The superstar athlete turned to God after he found his wealth and fame did not bring him happiness. Today, he mentors young people at the Boys & Girls Club of America and says that when he was saved, "It was just a complete and total transformation that began to work inside of me.”
19. Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon
— The retired NBA player, born in Lagos, Nigeria, is a devout Muslim who, after retirement, moved to Jordan with his family to study his Muslim faith.
20. Sandy Koufax
— The legendary Dodgers pitcher takes his Jewish religion very seriously, so much so that he refused to play in a 1965 World Series game because it fell on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur
21. Reggie White
— They called the Green Bay Packer the "Minister of Defense" when he played, largely because he is an ordained Evangelical minister. He often praised God during post-game interviews, and said, "God allowed me to use this game as a platform to proclaim the name of Jesus. I know some people don't like what I say sometimes, but God has called me to preach a message and I have to preach the message."
22. Bill Goldberg
— The heavyweight champ was known for non-stop aggression and beat downs on the football field and professional wrestling mat but, in his personal life, Goldberg takes his Jewish heritage and religion very seriously. He has called it an "honor" to represent the Jewish people in professional wrestling and football and says the "most important thing in life" is religion. He is a leading advocate for animal welfare and spokesman for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
23. Steve Young
— The NFL Hall of Fame member and former San Francisco 49ers quarterback comes by his Mormon faith righteously — he's the great-great-great-grandson of Mormon founder Brigham Young
. He has said that during the tough times in his life, "I have always found a sense of home through my Savior Jesus Christ and the calming influence of the Holy Spirit."
24. Joe Gibbs
— The retired NFL coach and NASCAR team owner once spoke at the 2008 Republican Convention in support of Sen. John McCain and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, saying their election would bring about a "spiritual awakening" in America. He has authored the "Game Plan for Life NIV Bible" and "Game Plan For Life: Chalk Talks," a book of devotionals.
25. A.C. Green
— The retired NBA star's faith is so strong that he insists he was a virgin throughout his basketball career, despite stories about his teammates sending willing groupie to his hotel room. He now runs the A.C. Green Youth Foundation, which promotes abstinence until marriage.
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26. Kurt Warner
— The retired NFL quarterback and his wife Brenda both are devout Evangelicals, and Warner famously thanked Jesus when his team, the St. Louis Rams, won the Super Bowl and he was named most valuable player. Warner's foundation, First Things First, notes on its web page that it is "dedicated to impacting lives by promoting Christian values." He believes God healed him from a concussion in 2000.
27. Muhammad Ali
— The retired boxing legend controversially and very publicly changed his name from Cassius Clay and embraced Islam as a black Muslim in the 1960s, and later converted to more mainstream Sunni Islam. In 2005, he reportedly turned to Sufism.
28. Mariano Rivera
— The retired New York Yankees pitcher had his glove inscribed with Philippians 4:13
: "I can do all this through Christ who gives me strength." He established a church in New Rochelle, Refugio de Esperanza, where his wife, Clara, preaches.
29. Allyson Felix
— The track and field superstar, who holds multiple Olympic gold medals, is the daughter of a preacher. "My faith inspires me so much. It is the very reason that I run. I feel that my running is completely a gift from God and it is my responsibility to use it to glorify him," she has said.
30. Lolo Jones
— The top Olympic hurdler and bobsledder is a devout Christian who reads the Bible and plays Christian music before competition. She faced some public backlash for criticizing the book "Fifty Shades of Gray" for its sexual content and has said she intends to remain a virgin until marriage.
31. Curt Schilling
— The retired Red Sox pitcher is also a committed and outspoken Evangelical who says he was led to Christianity during his wife's battle with skin cancer.
32. Amar'e Stoudemire
— The New York Knicks and Miami Heat basketball star feels very strongly about his Jewish religion. He has a Star of David tattoo near his left thumb and has traveled to Israel to better understand his adopted culture
, yet he still claims Jesus as the Messiah.
33. Mark Gastineau
— The former defensive end for the New York Jets spent 11 months in prison for domestic violence and drug possession, and says that, upon his release in 2001, he underwent a religious conversion to Christianity. He has since witnessed on religious shows like "The 700 Club."
34. Peyton Manning
— The Denver Broncos quarterback says in his autobiography that he became a Christian at the age of 13 and, while he doesn't publicly discuss his religion, he has said that doesn't make him "any less a Christian" than more publicly demonstrative players.
35. Russell Wilson
— The Seattle Seahawks quarterback says he became a Christian at the age of 14 when Jesus appeared to him in a dream. He has said, "I'm just grateful that God has given me the opportunity to play the great game of football. I'm so grateful."
36. Shaquille O'Neal
— The basketball great is Muslim, like his stepfather, and he has expressed an interest in taking the required Islamic pilgrimage known as the Hajj
, to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, allowed only for Muslims. However, he also has stated, "I'm Muslim, I'm Jewish, I'm Buddhist
, I'm everybody 'cause I'm a people person." Either way, he's a religious athlete.
37. Mike Tyson
— The former heavyweight boxing champion is a practicing Muslim, who has said, "Allah doesn't need me; I need Allah."
He converted while in prison.
38. Ryan Hall
— The Olympic marathon runner is a committed Christian with strong beliefs, who said in 2010, "I believe that the Bible is the best sports psychology book out there and that Jesus would have been an amazing athlete."
39. Mike Piazza
— The former New York Mets catcher, a Roman Catholic, has said, "I truly believe my whole professional career has been a blessing from God." He appeared in "Champions of Faith," a documentary on the intersection between religious faith and sports.
40. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
— The former NBA basketball star, known as Lew Alcindor in his pre-religious days, is a dedicated Muslim who has said that Islam "gave me a moral anchor; it enabled me to not be materialistic; it enabled me to see more what was important in the world."
41. Jabari Parker
— The Milwaukee Bucks basketball star is Mormon and very active in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He attended LDS Seminary, is an LDS priest, and has performed baptisms.
42. Tiger Woods
— When the golfing legend's life was falling apart after he was exposed as a serial adulterer, he repeatedly invoked his Buddhist faith and said, "I was raised a Buddhist and I actively practiced my faith from childhood until I drifted away from it in recent years."
43. Jeff Kent
— The retired MLB player converted to Mormonism in 1989 and insists that it improved his life. The former Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman has supported those opposed to same-sex marriage in the past.
44. Curtis Martin
— The former New York Jets running back, a devout Christian, took the number 28 as his jersey number when playing because of the Biblical passage Deuteronomy 28, which speaks about the benefits of obedience to God.
45. Tim Howard
— The Team USA goalie was diagnosed with Tourette's syndrome at age 11, and his grandmother led him to God as a source of strength. "Through her, God revealed His love for me as well," he has said.
46. Michael Chang
— The top tennis player won a Grand Slam singles title in 1989 and immediately thanked Jesus for his victory, saying, "Without Him, I am nothing."
47. R.A. Dickey
— The Toronto Blue Jays pitcher, knuckleball artist, and Cy Young Award winner overcame child sexual abuse and rape. He prayed at 13 "to receive Christ," but it didn't take. In later years, as his career slid, he was on the edge of suicide in his car, but believes God saved him. Today, he is a born-again Christian and works with Honoring The Father, a Florida-based ministry that helps those in need in Latin America.
48. Clayton Kershaw
— The Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher is a devout Methodist, who wrote, "Arise: Live Out Your Faith and Dreams on Whatever Field you Find Yourself," with his wife Ellen. He has done a lot of charity work, including helping to build an orphanage in Lusaka, Zambia.
49. Derek Fisher
— The one-time star guard for the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team and four-time NBA champion is a committed Christian who was introduced to his faith by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. "I just totally put everything on my faith in God," he has said. He outlined his faith in his book, "Character Driven: Life, Lessons, and Basketball."
50. Dwyane Wade
— The Miami Heat basketball superstar is a devout Christian and chose to wear the number "3" because of the Holy Trinity
. His mother is an ordained Baptist minister and Wade bought a church for her to pastor.
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