Chris Sanders knows all about competing in athletics at the highest level. As a standout three-year starter at wide receiver at The Ohio State University, and a member of the track and field team from 1992 to 1994, Sanders set the school record in the indoor long jump, a record that still stands today.
He was named the “Ohio State Athlete of the Year,” across all sports in 1994. The Houston Oilers (who later became the Tennessee Titans) selected him in the third round of the 1995 NFL Draft. There, he played for seven years. In 1999, Sanders and the Titans made it all the way to Super Bowl XXXIV, losing to the Kurt Warner-led St. Louis Rams in one of the closest, most memorable games in Super Bowl history. Since his retirement from the NFL, Chris Sanders continues to use his platform as a Christian, husband, father, track and football coach at Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville. In an interview, Sanders talked about life after football and mentoring the next generation of student athletes.
Q: What is it about coaching student athletes that inspires you?
A: The reason why I love to coach is that I’m not building a football player. I am building a young man, with my words and my encouragement. I’m teaching them how to be men and building a foundation into their lives. One thing I tell my players I coach is [that] football is going to end at some point, but your destiny is going to continue. That’s the reason I love to coach. You get to speak truth in these kids’ lives and show them how they can become great like God created them to be.
Q: Many pro athletes retire, and they’re remembered only for what they accomplished in a relatively short time. How has God done an even greater work in your second life beyond the NFL?
The Coaches Channel photo
Chris Sanders uses his time in the NFL as a platform to reach the next generation of athletes.
A: When football [is] over and retirement happens, that life starts. Some NFL players retire and think that it’s all about looking at the sunset and blue skies. It can be rough retiring. You have to deal with beating down depression, self-image issues … and all the stuff that comes along with being finished as an athlete. The good part is that we realize that Jesus is our foundation. Jesus is my foundation regardless [of] what’s going on in my life. I can stand. That’s what guys have to come to understand in the NFL. If you have a vision to play football … you can have that vision taken away from you. And then what do you do? But if you have a vision to serve God, if you have a vision to seek His face, if you have a vision to do what He’s called you to do, that vision never stops.
Q: Being an Ohio State guy, you must be pumped up about new head coach Urban Meyer, who helped turn the Buckeye football program around. They were undefeated this year and finished third in the national rankings.
A: Urban (Meyer) has done a great job. I actually went to a game this year. He’s got the Buckeyes fired up, disciplined, and hungry. … Coach Meyer has found a way to get these guys to come back and win. He teaches his kids to never give up. Even though the situation looks crazy, they found ways to pull games out.
Q: What is so important about focusing on character development in addition to football ability?
A: You have to go back to the coaches, especially those coaches that have a vision. Not to just build a football player only. Then you’re doing a disservice to that person. … But if you have a vision for that student athlete to be a great man, a great father, a great leader, a great motivator, and a great student that understands his craft, then at the next level, the NFL [is] just second nature. And if he’s ready, and he’s ready for that moment, he will be successful in that moment.
Q: This year you have been traveling to military bases to speak. Tell us what you’re doing with the Wounded Warrior Project.
A: We really encourage the troops that are going through some tough things to seek help. … We talk about the correlation between the NFL football player who gets hurt, or has to retire, and being a soldier coming back hurt from a war. … And now they’re not in the army anymore. I just go there and tell my personal story. And [I] use my life to really encourage these young men and young ladies. It’s been an honor and a blessing to really do that.
Q: How does it make you feel having the opportunity to encourage these men and women?
A: It makes me happy. … I get the opportunity to go in there and thank them for what they did and encourage them [and tell them] that they’re not forgotten. They go to war, and they come back home and hear the clapping at the airport. But what happens after that clapping is over? Do people really care? I take the time to show them that Chris Sanders and the Sanders family really cares. It is truly a privilege. … I really appreciate the opportunity to travel to these bases and do this for some of our soldiers.
Q: Chris, you’re so passionate about Jesus and the gospel. Tell our readers and others why a relationship with Jesus is so important.
A: Before I got saved I had no destiny, no purpose. I was just living life, just out there. … One thing I love about Jesus is He busted up in my life and shook my foundation. And [He]made me have a total dependence on him. Yes, we all mess up. We all come up short. But, the one thing I love about Jesus, is the grace He gives [in] my life. I love him, and I adore him. He adores me and He loves me. It is great knowing [that] I played football at the highest level, the NFL. But if I played without Jesus, it would have meant nothing. The NFL stands for “Not For Long.” But with Jesus, He’s everlasting!
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roman Gabriel III is president of Sold Out Ministries. He hosts Sold Out Sports on Saturday nights 8 p.m. EST on American Family Radio, and is an evangelist and motivational speaker. Contact him at (910) 431-6483 or email [email protected]. His website is www.soldouttv.com.)