Earlier this year I had the opportunity catch up with fellow Catholic, NFL Quarterback and 3-time Pro Bowler, Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers at the Catholic Men’s Fellowship Conference in Phoenix.
Read along as we discuss faith as an NFL player, the importance of Mass and the Sacraments, temptation, Natural Family Planning and trash-talking as a Christian. Even if you’re not a football fan, you NEED to read this.
So what brings you out to Phoenix today?
I got an invite from Bishop Olmsted a couple months ago to come, it was quite humbling to get invited to do this men’s conference. I’ve done one similar before but nothing this big – over a thousand men. Men are the leaders of our families and in the corporate world as well and any time we can share and have an impact, it’s great. And at the same time these guys and the other speakers here can have an impact on myself.
What’s been your most memorable moment as a football player?
Gosh that’s tough to sum it all up into one. I was fortunate enough to play for my dad in high school, so that was special because as I grew up I couldn’t wait for that opportunity. In college beating Notre Dame in a bowl game was the most memorable win. And I think in San Diego getting to play in the AFC championship, that was really memorable. It’s hard to sum up one particular memory.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Quite busy … Wednesday, Thursday and Friday is the bulk of the work week. I leave around 5:30 in the morning and don’t get home until around 6pm. We have Tuesday’s off so that’s kind of like a family day at my house so the kids enjoy that. During the off season up until Easter you’re on your own, so staying in decent shape is up to you. It’s our family’s favorite time of year because we’re all home and we spend a lot of quality time together. It picks up again as we head into the summer, it’s a busy schedule during the season but I appreciate it because you get such a great off season.
You’re known for your very passionate style of play. How do you talk trash as a Christian?
I’m known as a trash talker, but I’m not saying any trash out there. It’s all in fun; just like you would give a little jab to your brother in the backyard it’s the same way out there. You know, as I grew up with my Dad being my coach, that’s the way he coached – with a great deal of passion and energy. So that’s just the way I’ve done everything. I play the game like I did when I was a kid in Alabama, even though there’s a lot more cameras and people paying attention. And the “trash talk,” it’s nothing I couldn’t go home and tell my wife or my mom. That was the thing that really got me through some of the bumpy roads was that I knew I didn’t have to defend anything that was wrong. But I did understand the way anything can be spun by the media, so that was a learning lesson for me.
So you grew up in a Catholic home, and you took that into your adulthood as a football player. That’s pretty rare for professional athletes, how did you do that?
I was fortunate to grow up in the faith; my mom taught me the faith. In North Alabama there were only like 15 of us in my county in my confirmation class. We were quite the minority in Alabama. But one thing I remember is when I went to college at North Carolina State, the biggest thing that stuck in my head from my mom was never miss Mass. That was the thing that she definitely got across. When you go to college that’s when the faith becomes your own. Your mom and dad aren’t waking you up and reminding you “Hey this is a good day to go to confession.” It’s up to you.
So that really stayed with me and I made sure I never missed Mass and continued to grow in the faith. My wife had a lot to do with it, she’s a convert and she actually became Catholic the day before we got married. There’s so many gifts from the faith to appreciate and it strikes people differently, but the one-ness of the church wherever you are, Raleigh, San Diego, Alabama. Every place we were was home because the Catholic Church is the same everywhere. When we went to Mass that first Sunday after moving to a new place, that was where we felt at home and were able to say “well, home is anywhere, it doesn’t matter where we live because we have the faith.”
How are you able to make the sacraments a priority in the midst of your football schedule, especially on Sundays?
They have Mass available for us; there’s a team priest who travels with us. Obviously at home I have the opportunity to go at our parish, either earlier Sunday morning or Saturday mass. But I’ve recently starting visiting the churches in the cities we go to, and it’s that same thing – you feel at home. You’re in the opposing teams city and yet you found Mass there. That’s really special playing on Sunday and being able to go to Mass the day of the game – to play and do something you’re passionate about. I was always worried about that, to be honest, even in college thinking, “How am I going to be able to go to Mass? And if I make the NFL, then what happens?”
Is there any piece of advice that you would give to high school young men?
Appreciate the faith. Appreciate what we have and what a great gift the sacraments are. It’s hard to see that as a young man but I think that again, they too are the leaders of their age. They grow in their faith and everybody will follow, both their girlfriends and others. And then also, this can apply to their faith but also to anything else they do, my dad always said that if you’re going to do something – do it all the way. If you’re going to be a Catholic man, be it all the way. If you’re going to clean your room, clean it the right way. You know, all those little things add up and they stick with you.
What kind of temptations and challenges have you had to face as a football player?
The biggest key to avoid those temptations is to not put yourself in those situations. And it’s not just as a NFL player, it’s in any work-place, in any city, anything you’re doing, anywhere after dark, after midnight. I think it’s Corinthians 11 says “bad company corrupts good morals.” If you’re not in the wrong but you continue to put yourself in tempting situations eventually you may give in. So that’s always been something I’ve lived by all the way through – don’t put yourself in those situations. Even though you may be strong enough to go somewhere and not fall into the sin, avoiding it from the get-go will certainly help.
So you’re married with five kids, I was just wondering if there’s any marriage advice you have for any of us?
I think the biggest thing is to be with your best friend, and it starts right there, that’s the key I believe. NFP [Natural Family Planning] has a lot to do with the strength of our marriage. It allows the understanding that we’re on the same page. There’s discipline and sacrifice that comes with that so we’re able bond in many different ways. And the thing I’m most thankful for is that we’re both in the Church because you have an immediate bond. I don’t know any of these people here today but I already feel like we’re buddies just because we have that connection to the church. That was important for my wife to be Catholic as well; she’s been great for me and also as a mom and wife.
Thanks so much for taking the time today to talk, is there anything that you would like prayers for?
Yeah, I can give you many intentions, but I’d certainly be humbled if you prayed for my family and for all the unborn.
Eric Porteous is Life Teen's Director of Direct Contact. He's served in ministry for nine years, and received his B.A. in Communication from Arizona State University. Eric has also received his certification in youth ministry from Franciscan University of Steubenville. He enjoys a multitude of sports, including hiking and working out.