Deion now uses his flash and dash in Bible study.

Since rebirth, Cowboy takes to the pulpit!

by: Christy Lemire


PLANO, Texas —

Deion SandersDeion Sanders pulls up to the building in his sleek, black Mercedes with tinted windows. All eyes are on him as he glides inside, dressed in a raspberry-colored linen suit and matching leather shoes.

He hugs and high-fives those who flock to him, surround him, adore him.

The Dallas Cowboys cornerback is not at a nightclub or a party after a big win. This is a Tuesday, and he is at church to lead his weekly Bible study class. He takes the stage and a microphone, preaching “Praise God” and “Hallelujah” to the rapt group as gospel music blares in the background.

Sanders ’ “Prime Time Tuesdays” draws hundreds each week ---— some true believers, others who simply want to catch a glimpse of the born-again Christian.

Within six months, the group has grown from a half-dozen teammates in Sanders’ living room to about 400 worshipers simply through word of mouth. The crowd is a mix of black and white, young and old.

Sanders has kept the Bible classes quiçt, seemingly out of character for a star who nicknamed him-self “Neon Deion” and “Prime line” and who struts and high-steps every time he makes an interception or scores a touchdown.

When The Associated Press attended a recent session, Sanders said it was the first time he had alJowed media coverage. His reason: “We don’t want to taint the word of the Lord.” He’s also perhaps fed up with people, including sports columnists, questioning his “rebirth.”

“They talked about me when I was in the world. They’re going to talk about me now that I’m delivered,” he said.

Sanders is among a growing number of NFL players who make religion a big part of their lives. Reggie White has made headlines from the pulpit and many other stars have made their faith public.

But Sanders’ image — on a team known for its problems off the field —— leaves some skeptical of his sincerity.

“People are waiting to see if this is a long-term change,” said Marc Dickmann, a spokesman for Athletes in Action , a nationwide group that promotes Christianity in sports . “There are plenty of stories of athletes coming into religious faith and then falling off the platform, getting caught in some story of ill repute.”

Sanders said his religious transformation came a year ago when he was depressed and close to suicide. Last month, he donated $1 million to The Potter’s House, the Dallas church he credits with his salvation. About half that money comes from

the advance Sanders received for his upcoming autobiography, “Power, Money and Sex: It’s a Man Thing,” which details how his fast-paced lifestyle brought him no fulfillment.

But, in many ways, Sanders is as flashy as ever.

When he takes the church stage at Bible study, the electricity level suddenly jumps a few notches. He grabs the microphone and the first words out of his mouth are “Praise God.”

He continues, the gospel music pounding behind him, “I said hallelujah.” When he doesn’t get quite the readion he wants, Sanders puts a hand on his hip, pouts and growls: “I really don’t think you heard me. I ain’t speakin’ French. I don’t know if you understand me, because I said hallelujah!”

The crowd jumps and cheers. Sanders’ stage presence evokes memories of Deion the rap singer, who was the opening act for Boyz II Men in 1994 . He stomps his foot to the music. He pumps his arms high in the air, prompting the crowd with the palms-up, raise-the-roof gesture.

After a few raucous minutes, Sanders brings the mood down. The music becomes quieter, as does his voice . He speaks in breathy, almost seductive tones.   “We don’t have to tell nobody at work that we’re saved,” he says, pausing, then whispering, “We show them.”

Worshipers respond with a chorus of “amens.”

The evening’s Bible study topics include temptation, which Sanders says was his downfall. His wife Carolyn divorced him recently and moved with their son and daughter to Houston.

The most emotional moment of the evening comes toward the end, when Sanders and the Rev. David Forbes ask worshipers who are having a rough time to come forward for a blessing.

Sanders approaches a tall man wearing jeans and hiking boots, looks him in the eye, takes him in his arms and the man crumbles into a heap of sobs. He holds him for about five minutes, whispering encouraging words in his ear. Afterward, he brings the man tissues and guides him back to his seat.

Sanders says later that he didn’t know the man. “1 saw in that person that he was broken, like I was a year ago. You could see the anguish and see the hurt,” he said.

This is a very different Deion Sanders from the showboating, dorag-wearing, trash-talking football player who prances up and down the field at Texas Stadium.

Even so, Sanders’ teammates say they can vouch for his sincerity at the church. “People doubt that he’s a real Christian and then they come here and see he’s a real, true Christian,” said Emmitt Smith, one of the original group members.

Charlie Williams, another Cowboy who has been part of the group since the beginning, said : “It’s definitely a blessing. I appreciate Deion for doing this. He’s saved a lot of souls.”

Sanders says football is now “irrelevant” in his life . Religion has taken over. “I play to win and I play with all my heart, but if the Lord told me to walk away, I would walk away and never look back.”


The San Diego Union-Tribune Newspaper

Sunday , May 10, 1998 (Pg. C-3)

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