Most sports fans have listened to athletes thank God for their success on the field. But few athletes display the same level of dedication to their religion that Michigan wide receiver Jason Avant showed last night.
In front of a larger-than-capacity crowd in a Chemistry Building auditorium, Avant spent 70 minutes speaking about his rough childhood on the south side of Chicago and how he came to incorporate Christianity into his life.
Avant said his grandmother had instilled Christianity in him at a young age, but the “wild” temptations of his Chicago neighborhood prevented him from living out that faith until he came to the University in 2002.
When he arrived in Ann Arbor, Avant initially behaved according to the hard-partying reputation of university athletes. “I’m going to go here and get my party on. I did everything my flesh wanted to do,” Avant said.
But Avant said he didn’t “feel right” going out to clubs and bringing women back to his dorm room. After a semester of partying, Avant followed fellow Michigan football player Alijah Bradley to church. Less than a year after that, Avant said he turned his life over to Jesus Christ.
“I haven’t been the same ever since,” Avant said.
Avant punctuated his talk with shouts of “Hallelujah” and “You gotta live right” and concluded his speech by imploring the audience to “give God a chance.”
One of two MCs for the night, Nick Willis – an LSA senior and former member of the Michigan track and field team- joked after the event that the size of the crowd met his expectations, “give or take a couple hundred people.”
LSA freshman Emily Bier said that her motivation for attending the event was two-fold.
“I’m a Christian and I love football, so seeing Jason Avant speak is like mixing my two favorite things,” Bier said.
Bier added that she thought the larger-than-expected turnout resulted from students’ excitement for tomorrow’s football game between Michigan and Ohio State.
When asked why so many people came to hear him speak, Avant conceded that the game may have been part of their motivation, but he wasn’t concerned with the reason they attended.
“I don’t care how they get here, as long as they hear about the glory of God,” Avant said after his talk.
Even though LSA senior Jeremy Hannich – the other MC of the event – said the point of the talk was to show how God works in people’s lives everyday, the presence of Michigan football was everywhere.
Before Avant spoke, a short film about the history of the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry was shown, and Hannich and Willis gave away Michigan merchandise to members of the audience who correctly answered trivia questions about the football team.
But in the end, Avant’s passionate recounting of his journey to God is what stuck with the audience the most.
“In society today, it is not an easy thing to do to say you are a Christian. It was a really powerful story for Jason to share with the Michigan community,” LSA freshman Annie VanDyke said.
The talk was sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ in conjunction with Athletes in Action, an offshoot of Campus Crusade that serves the religious needs of varsity athletes.