By Chris Wilkinson —
Ever since he could remember, excelling in sports was the most important thing in his life. Driven by the desire to match his father’s athletic prowess, an injury forced him to reexamine what he was living for.
“Sports was the god of my life,” admits Donnie Dee, president of Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). On one level, Donnie’s father set a very high bar of achievement for his son to match, with a gold medal win in the 1968 Olympics and an NBA career with the Pacers.
But there was another side to his father’s achievement. He was also an alcoholic, which led to a divorce between his parents when Donnie was in eighth grade. “I came from a fairly dysfunctional family,” Donnie says.
As a boy, his family went through the ritual of going to church. Donnie’s most vivid memory from church was the image of Jesus hanging on the cross. No one ever explained to him what “the man” on the cross really represented. “I know he died, but I wondered why,” he says.
“It didn’t look to me like Jesus survived that, whatever it was that happened.”
Donnie excelled at sports and was accepted to Tulsa University with a football scholarship. His dream of making it to the NFL began to look more like a reality. But after only two weeks at Tulsa, an unfortunate collision with a linebacker’s helmet left his thumb in need of surgery.
Suddenly he was on the sidelines, pondering his future. He realized that everything he dreamed about in sports could vanish in an instant.
His injury forced him to question his relentless pursuit of a career in the NFL. What is life really about, he wondered? Was there anything solid he could hang on to that could not be snatched away at any moment?
At this crucial juncture in his life, several teammates involved with FCA reached out to him.
One night they sat and talked together in Donnie’s dorm room at the University of Tulsa. Finally, Donnie’s childhood question was answered about the man he saw hanging on the cross.
“The Jesus you saw on the cross died for a purpose,” they told him. “He died for your sins. His hands and feet were nailed to the cross because He loved you.”
They asked Donnie to recognize that Jesus paid the price for his sins. “Confess your sins and ask Jesus to come in and run your life,” they urged.
Donnie pondered their words for a moment. He knew they spoke the truth. He knew there must be a bigger purpose for living. From a deep place in his heart, he surrendered and said, “Jesus, be the boss of my life.”
Suddenly the light bulb went on. “God opened my eyes and ears spiritually,” Donnie says.
After he accepted Christ, his life changed in many ways. According to Donnie, if he had not found Christ he believes his marriage would have failed, he would have alcohol problems, and he would be estranged from his children, because that is what was modeled for him growing up.
He knew no other way of living until Christ became “his boss.” Donnie gives God the credit for having a successful marriage and a loving relationship with his kids. Donnie’s mother and siblings have also come to accept Jesus and they all continue to pray for his father to accept the free gift of grace God so lovingly offers.
Donnie achieved his dream by actually playing in the NFL, as a tight end for two seasons with the Indianapolis Colts. One of his most memorable sports moments was in a preseason game against the New Orleans Saints.
It was fourth down and the Colts had the ball at the one-yard line. “Everyone on the planet thought Eric Dickerson would get the ball,” he notes. Instead, quarterback Gary Hogeboom faked the ball to Dickerson and threw a play action pass to Donnie in the corner of the end zone.
“I spiked the ball as hard as you’ve ever seen a football spiked,” he says. Three of his best friends sat in the stands and his father watched his moment of triumph on television.
After reaching his goal, Donnie also recognized his life stopped revolving around the god of sports; it revolves around the one true God who will never leave nor forsake him. Donnie joined the staff of the FCA and was their regional director in Southern California for 12 years, growing the region from one volunteer to 30 staffers.
His loyalty to FCA was rewarded with a promotion to the organization’s executive director and chief operating officer in 2009. He has committed his life to serving in this outreach for Christ to the athletic world. His debt of gratitude to the organization is clear – they were so instrumental in leading him to the Lord and mentoring him throughout his life.
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