Athletes in Action brings religion into hectic lives of student-athletes


For some student-athletes, faith plays a guiding role in their sometimes hectic lives.

One of those athletes is former MSU linebacker Chris Norman, who said his faith in God was a major reason why he decided to forgo entering his name in the 2013 NFL draft.

“After I graduate from Michigan State, I actually got a real interesting offer from a church of Southfield,” Norman said. “They’re looking for some leadership on their staff, and they asked me to work with them for a couple of years.”

To some, it’s not surprising that Norman’s faith would guide such an enormous decision. Norman is a member of Athletes in Action, or AIA, a national sports ministry for student-athletes seeking to strengthen their Christian faith.

“It’s a place where God and sports unite, but honestly, it can function in so many different ways,” Norman said. “It can be the place where people come to grow in their relationships with Christ, it can be the place where people come to establish a relationship with Christ.”

The MSU chapter of AIA meets Tuesdays in the Duffy Daugherty Football Building. The meetings are conducted by Phil Gillespie, campus director for the MSU chapter, which was founded in 2000.

“It’s definitely grown in numbers (since then),” Gillespie said. “It’s grown in depth in terms of people’s involvement, their character development, their spiritual development.”

Gillespie went on to say, “We want their lives to be changed and transformed from the inside out. It’s changing the course and the direction of a lot of people, in a real positive sense.”

Gillespie mentioned many notable MSU athletes regularly attend meetings, such as women’s basketball center Madison Williams, men’s basketball forward Matt Costello and starting quarterback Andrew Maxwell.

Women’s softball shortstop Raime Cronkhite said when she transferred to MSU from Dayton after her freshman year, her involvement in AIA eased the transition.

“I’ve been involved since my freshman year when I attended the University of Dayton,” she said. “When I transferred here, it was awesome because I had a community to join already, so it helped the transition a lot easier.”

Norman, who’s season wrapped up last fall, attended a retreat with AIA last week in Chicago. He said meeting other religious athletes was a good experience.

“Believers, we all share a common bond in that we all confess and believe that Jesus Christ is Lord,” he said. “That is a bond that is gonna outlast anything. It’s gonna outlast sports, it’s gonna outlast (MSU), it’s gonna outlast our careers once we leave from this place. So having something like that in common with other people just makes you gravitate toward one another.”

Cronkhite said the program redefines what it means to be an athlete.

“I love that it takes the paradigm of how our society glorifies the athlete, and to use that platform that’s already built and tears it down,” she said. “It uses the athlete’s platform and story to then say ‘It’s not about you guys. It’s not about success. It’s about Jesus and what he did.’ So it’s this awesome shift in how our society thinks.”

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