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As the NFL’s regular season kicks off Thursday night, much of the news continues to be dominated by less-than-flattering stories. Sure, there are the annual sleeper lists and predictions of which teams are playoff-bound, but the ongoing fight between Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliot and the NFL, as well as the months-long debate surrounding Colin Kaepernick’s continued unemployment, still lead the headlines.
Fortunately, the weeks leading up to the start of the season are also replete with stories about some of the league’s rising stars. Perhaps no one fits that description better than Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr.
Carr became the NFL’s second-highest-paid player this summer, and the new contract speaks to the excitement surrounding the quarterback throughout the franchise. Yet, despite his on-field success this past season, it’s Carr’s demeanor that has the team most enthused.
You see, to a man, his teammates say that there’s just something special about him. As they told Bleacher Report‘s Tyler Dunne, one of the keys to Carr’s success is the way he seamlessly combines his fierce competitiveness with a genuinely affable personality defined by his faith even more than football.
Derek has long been a Kobe Bryant fan, and that self-described “mamba mentality”—a reference to Kobe’s moniker as the “Black Mamba”—is a big part of why he was able to lead his team to seven fourth-quarter comebacks last year. But unlike the former NBA star, Carr’s competitiveness does not result in profanity-laced insults or demeaning trash talk. As Dunne writes, “Nobody can remember Carr swearing. Ever. Not once. Only loud variations of ‘Darn!'” Carr is proof that one can be a great athlete and a great competitor without being profane or demoralizing. He can lift up his teammates without deriding the opposition, and they respect him all the more as a result.
The fire that fuels him on the football field is present in other aspects of Carr’s life as well, but it often takes a different form. The quarterback is passionate about his desire to be a pastor once his playing career ends. He has already made tentative plans for a mission trip with teammate Karl Joseph to Joseph’s native country, Haiti, when the opportunity arises.
There’s a genuineness to Carr’s personality and faith that allows him to live out both fully to a degree that others often struggle to maintain, especially in the realm of sports. That’s part of why, as Dunne describes, Carr talking about “wanting to help other people immediately after signing a $125 million deal made some players do a double take.” Those who know Carr understand that he was being authentic, but it’s still a perspective that so few in the league—or anywhere, really—would take to becoming one of the highest paid athletes in history.
It will be interesting to see where Carr’s story goes from here. He’s considered one of the league’s most promising players and the leader of a team many think could pose the greatest threat to the New England Patriot’s juggernaut. But while his ascendance to the NFL’s elite is far from certain, those who know him best seem sure he’ll still be the same person no matter how his career plays out.
That ability to stay true to the person God has called him to be regardless of his situation is one of the most important parts of Carr’s story. Scripture is clear that God has created each of us with a different personality and a unique set of gifts (1 Corinthians 12). How well we merge those characteristics with our calling is one of the primary determinants of how useful we can be to the kingdom.
History, both inside and outside of the church, is filled with examples of people who possessed extraordinary abilities but failed to use them for God’s purposes and fell short of fulfilling their potential as a result. Many eventually come to see their gifts as a burden rather than a blessing simply because they cannot understand how to use them in conjunction with a godly character. As a result, they fall to temptation or become filled with an emptiness that is only exacerbated by the innate knowledge that they should be so much more than they are.
Fortunately, the same God who endowed each of us with our unique combination of gifts and personality longs to help us learn how to merge the two to become the people he created us to be. Some of the most important and influential people in Scripture were those who achieved and maintained that balance, and the same can be true for each of us.
Have you found that balance yet today?