NFL Lions Kicker Jason Hanson
Win or Lose, Detroit Lions Kicker Jason Hanson Learned That Faith Is The Key To Peace
Written by Charlie Lapastora
He holds the National Football League [NFL] record for most games played with one team; the record for most career field goals made over 40 and 50 yards; the record for most career overtime field goals—the list for the Detroit Lions kicker Jason Hanson continues. Hanson recently wrapped up an illustrious 21 year career, all of which was with the same team; a rarity in sports. While the Lions have had their fair share of losing seasons, this future Hall-of-Famer was always a bright spot on the team and a testament to his hard work and dedication that he shines both on and off the field. There is a drive within him that goes beyond all the training needed to make game-winning field goals. It is a drive that stems from living out his faith in a culture where it may not be popular to do so. There is a lot to learn from this zoology major, family man, and former trumpet player, so Risen kicks it into overtime with Jason Hanson.
Interviewed exclusively for Risen Magazine in Metro Detroit, Michigan
Risen Magazine: How did you become a Christian?
Jason Hanson: I grew up in a Christian home and at junior high age, I personally accepted Jesus Christ. I knew that to follow Christ had to be a decision of mine. It wasn’t a family faith or it wasn’t because I went to church so many times a year and could check that off. I knew it had to be a personal trust. But God really used sports to focus and grow me especially in college where I had a ton of success at Washington State University and was getting a lot of awards. But it was like, “Wow, is this it?” Because I was at the top but thinking, “Man, I think I’m getting the best of what the world has to offer, and it doesn’t feel like enough.” It really convinced me that there was something more, and I had it. And obviously just personal growth through that time as I think I really matured in my faith; then another level of maturity as I entered the pros, then again with my family. We all have grown in our faith. It’s been an amazing experience.
Risen Magazine: How have you been able to maintain your faith in the NFL environment where a lifestyle of money, fame, cars and girls is easily accessed and probably at some level encouraged?
Jason Hanson: Well, for one, I was the kicker so it was easy to kind of stay out of all that. [Laughter.] I’m kidding. [Seriously,] I think it was a number of things from wanting to follow Christ, to having a family and a wife that was on the exact same plane of staying focused on what we knew was true and mattered. We had a team chaplain who was very instrumental in [helping] staying plugged in. Also, I would meet with teammates, sometimes weekly, and we would have studies. So between my family, the chaplain and the other guys on the team – and again knowing that my faith was real and it was true and wanting to stay faithful – all those came together to kind of help me avoid most of the pitfalls that come with a fantasy world of, as you said, unbelievable amounts of money, lots of attention and fame and everybody applauding you and telling you, “You’re special, you can do what you want.”
Risen Magazine: I really respect the fact that you remained faithful to your wife, especially in current times where divorce is so common. Talk to me about the importance of marriage and how you were able to resist temptation.
Jason Hanson: It’s hard work. My wife is incredible as there is a massive drain on wives and families for professional athletes. It’s a challenge. For one, to have the world celebrating your husband, in my case, while nobody is celebrating her; then I’m gone and there’s tons of responsibilities and pressure, and yet behind the scenes is my wife who’s running the ship and spiritually supporting me. It was just a huge priority, again, of knowing right away that I know I’m not going to make it on my own here, and that we are married, and we’re in it together. I think the fact that both of us making sure our faith was strong and growing together, staying plugged in as a couple spiritually with Bible studies and finding a church in Detroit; all of that helped us get through the difficult times that come in everybody’s marriage and the special challenges that come with playing in this unreal-hi-def-super-colorful-perfect world. In reality, there are a lot of hard pressures on professional athlete families.
It was a real faith challenge to stay, to give one hundred percent, to keep an attitude that glorified God while it could be super negative. Everyone can say God is good when you know you’re on top, but when you’re on the bottom can you still say it?
Risen Magazine: Commitment seems like an adjective that spreads into many aspects of your life; like your loyalty to the Detroit Lions, a team known in general for their losing ways, including never winning a Super Bowl, and having a winless 0-16 season in 2008. What have you learned in respect to commitment?
Jason Hanson: Yeah, just stating the obvious, but losing is bad. It’s not fun, especially when your job, your whole career, everything is based on winning and losing. That’s what we do and [there’s the] scoreboard, standings, it’s all right there. So it was incredibly difficult to continuously lose. It was a real faith challenge to stay, to give one hundred percent, to keep an attitude that glorified God while it could be super negative. Everyone can say God is good when you know you’re on top, but when you’re on the bottom can you still say it? It was a great chance to trust God and to continually go back to Him saying, “Hey God, this is miserable. I’m going to give my best this week to glorify You.” Then we lose again and I have to pray it all over again, week after week. So God really used that to grow me. I don’t want to overplay losing in the NFL as if that were some major persecution, or life-changing trauma, but it was tough and God used that to sharpen my endurance; my faith.
Risen Magazine: What advice could you give to people who are going through difficult times?
Jason Hanson: Well, as far as relationally, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, so sin’s at work in your heart, it’s at work in your neighbor’s heart, and in your family’s heart. Man, that stuff is just going to come. It doesn’t make it fun, it doesn’t mean you’re stoic about it, but it does mean you’re not surprised when hard times come your way. I’ve learned just how powerful that sinful nature is and how every day is a living example of how this isn’t the way the world was meant to be. But I also think it’s the same with work. It’s extremely difficult to be the top dog. At the end of every NFL football season there is only one team that feels really good about what they did. And everybody else has a measure of disappointment. And for most of them, it’s pretty disappointing. And so life’s kind of the same way. Only one gets to sit at the top and pat themselves on the back most of the time and everybody else has different levels of feeling like, “Man, I screwed up.” Or, “This didn’t go how it should’ve.” And God’s working right in the middle of that. But I’m also not surprised that you can give your best, try your hardest, do everything right, and still feel like you got the short end of the stick.
Risen Magazine: If most every time involves experiencing some level of disappoint, how do the pressures differ on losing or winning teams?
Jason Hanson: Everyone thinks that if you play on a losing team, there is no pressure because nothing matters. But what I found about losing is that there was at least as much pressure [as winning], because every week you’re trying to find out why you lost. There’s not a single field goal I missed that wasn’t a part of the reason we lost the game, right? If you’re always on the losing end, then every point matters. So there was a ton of pressure because you’re always thinking, “How can we cut corners to get some better players? Do we really need to spend money on a kicker? Why do we keep losing, every game?”
There’s two ways I handle pressure. One is my role of training as hard as I can, as smart as I can, and doing everything I can to be ready for that moment on the field that was going to come. And the other way is that I trust God; to know that God of the Bible, the true God, is absolutely in control and He’s got me. But that didn’t always mean success, which was actually cool to see. God wasn’t a magic genie that I could say the right formula to or that I could bargain with to get good results. But He was faithful and good and so I just trusted Him. I had that peace of knowing that He had me, and I’m going to go out [on the field] and give it my best.
Risen Magazine: What are a couple main lessons you learned about being in the NFL?
Jason Hanson: I think 2 Corinthians 4:18 is the verse that says, “For the things we see are temporary, but the things unseen are eternal.” It’s actually quite scary to see how temporary everything could be; whether it was awards or my free Nike gear that I got when I played, or all the fancy stuff guys in the locker have from cars to clothes. You get the best the world has to offer. It breaks and it rusts; you lose it and it goes out of fashion in three months. It doesn’t last. So I learned that.
[Secondly,] I think it’s in the book of Romans it says, “Therefore having been justified by faith with peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” There is zero peace anywhere else than with Jesus. And so there are amazing things [about being] in the NFL, in pro sports…you don’t worry about paying bills, you have more than you could ever ask for, but for that very reason it’s all temporary and can be taken away; there’s no peace. There’s no peace in performance. Sometimes I was the hero of the city, other times, weeks later, people would be saying to get rid of me if I missed a big kick. It’s exactly what the Bible said and it’s true. I had the best of everything, and there is no peace in any of that.
Risen Magazine: What advice or tips would you share for high school or college-aged kids who want to live for Christ regardless, but find it hard to do?
Jason Hanson: The biggest thing I learned from day one is to be “plugged in” to the Word, with other believers, and a church. If you isolate yourself and go on your own, it’s really hard to be encouraged and to not get discouraged, and then go off and make a lot of crazy decisions that seem right at the time. There is no one around you to say, “That’s so dumb of you. What are you doing?” As a [football] player growing up, I appreciated having a few guys in my life that could say, “You’re such an idiot. What are you doing?” You’ve got have that.
I’ve learned just how powerful that sinful nature is and how every day is a living example of how this isn’t the way the world was meant to be.
Risen Magazine: As a kicker, you are probably a bit more protected, but what are your thoughts on injuries related to football?
Jason Hanson: Football injuries are a huge part of the game. Concussions, even for a kicker – I only had a few but when they happen, it seems like they come out of nowhere. I mean everything’s going fine and the next thing you know, snap! One of my injuries occurred when I kicked a field goal and a guy rolled into my leg and I tore my my ACL; there’s just no warning. It happens, and then everything’s different. That’s the life that most of the guys in football live with, the thought, “Is this the play I get hurt?” You know, we hear, we talk about guys – one blew his ACL, one blew his knee out, we hear it so much, it’s just like, “Ahhh.” I mean that’s major reconstruction. Six months. It just happens, you don’t get the phone call with a warning, and it can radically change your life in a second in the NFL.
Risen Magazine: Because that can happen instantly and you have no control, how important are the little things and special moments in life?
Jason Hanson: As an athlete, one of the techniques you’re taught is to stay in the moment, because you can’t worry about results. By doing that you actually affect your performance. You spend your whole life trying to take control of the future, to prepare and plan so that in the football game, for instance, nothing unexpected comes your way, you’re always in control. I’m telling you it’s an illusion. You do not have control. You do not know what happens the next minute. You don’t know. Again, all of it goes back to there is no peace because there’s nothing to trust other than the One who created and controls everything through Jesus Christ.
Risen Magazine: What would be a highlight of your career?
Jason Hanson: A highlight would be playing with, and against, some of the greatest athletes who have ever lived. Whether it was Barry Sanders or Calvin Johnson, Megaton now… to playing against Joe Montana or Peyton Manning, from Reggie White to Jerry Rice to Cam Newton to Stafford to all the guys now. It’s just incredible, absolutely incredible what the human body can do. Those guys are just amazing with their physical abilities.
Risen Magazine: After just spending the past two decades playing football, have you given thought to what your post-NFL life might look like?
Jason Hanson: Well I haven’t jumped into a new career right now. I’m just taking advantage of the little bit of platform I have before I fade into the black and white pictures and just become an old memory to most people and the generation comes along that doesn’t know anything and could care less about the Lions kicker from the 90s and early 2000s. There is a lot of opportunity to share my faith and experiences and what it means to be a Christian in the NFL. A lot of speaking and things like that and sometimes even with a business that wants to know about winning and losing and leadership. And also plugging into the church we attend and just waiting to see what’s next. There will be something next, I know, but just wanting to really wait on God as He opens my eyes to see where He leads. It was interesting to retire at the start of 2013 feeling kind of like I had a pretty good year before, could still kick at a high level, and I wasn’t mortally wounded or anything. So to walk away was like, “Wow. Okay. I don’t really know what I’m going to do.” It was a tough decision, but I think it’s one that God was leading me to do and we’ll see what comes forward as a path of life here.
Risen Magazine: I’m curious about your college major in zoology… that totally applies to kicking?! [Laughter]
Jason Hanson: Oh, it was crucial. My degree was zoology because I was pre-med and my goal was to go into the medical field somewhere.
Risen Magazine: Any chance you continue pursuing that?
Jason Hanson: I don’t think so. For me, that would take a neon sign outside my door, or some kind of note directly hand-written from God because I wouldn’t choose it right now. I’m 43 and to go to medical school with the intensive training, and then internships – I’d be 50 years old and just starting to practice medicine with a family. Yeah, I’m not choosing that right now.
Exclusive Interview originally published in Risen Magazine, Summer 2014
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