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Derek Carr’s message for religious families with big sports dreams

The Las Vegas Raiders quarterback discussed his religious upbringing in a recent podcast interview

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Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr watches during the first half of an NFL preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings in August 2022.

Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr watches during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2022, in Las Vegas.

Rick Scuteri, Associated Press

To say Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr had a religious upbringing is a bit of an understatement. Faith was a huge part of his family’s personal and professional lives.

“My grandpa was a pastor. My uncle was a pastor. My other grandpa was a deacon. My dad was a deacon. My mom was a worship leader. ... I had missionaries as cousins,” he said during a recent episode of “The High Note” podcast.

From a young age, Carr was taught to put faith at the top of his priorities list. He and his older brothers would skip sporting events to go to worship services, despite their NFL dreams.

“My mom and my dad taught me that my faith was No. 1. If there was a game on Sunday ... we always told my traveling coach that I wasn’t going to be there. I was going to be at church,” he said.

Carr told podcast host Tauren Wells, a Christian recording artist, that his parents gave him a strong faith-based foundation that he started to build on during college. By the time he was drafted by the then-Oakland Raiders in 2014, he was almost ready to trade quarterbacking for a career in ministry.

“The day before our first real practice ... I’ll never forget it. I felt the tug of my Lord on my heart saying, ‘It’s time to retire.’ ...  I fought it for like 20 minutes, but I just kept getting heavier and heavier. I couldn’t do anything else but go retire,” Carr said.

He went to talk to his head coach, who told him to talk to the offensive coordinator. That coach encouraged Carr to go be with his family and said he’d support whatever decision he made.

After talking to his wife and praying some more, Carr determined that God would be OK with him continuing to play. Now, eight years later, he’s amazed at how his NFL career has opened the door to ministry opportunities.

“I’ve been able to minister to thousands of people. I’ve been in stadiums with 15,000 (or) 18,000 people preaching the gospel and watching thousands of people get saved. I’ve seen healings take place. I’ve seen people set free. I’ve seen marriages reunite. I’ve seen kids come back home all while playing football,” he said on “The High Note” podcast.

Carr said faith has helped him navigate the ups and downs of his NFL career.

“Being secure in who you are and whose you are — once you have that, you don’t need the world to give (you) anything else,” he told Wells.

He added that he has fun connecting with his teammates, including the ones who aren’t religiously active.

“Some of the best conversations I’ve had are with nonbelievers,” he said. “I’m not in there throwing Bibles at people. ... I have just tried to live in a way that, if people have questions, they can come to me. I don’t judge anybody.”

The main challenge that comes with being religious in the NFL doesn’t come from the people, it comes from the messaging, said Carr, who founded a religious organization called the Altar Conference and often preaches at his Las Vegas church.

In the league, you’re told that you’re only as good as your achievements, he said. In church, you’re taught that all that matters is accepting Jesus into your heart.

“The thing that has helped me is that when I wake up I read my Bible (and) I pray. I have worship music on all the time. ... I don’t fill my head with other stuff,” he said.

Carr said that religious families should keep his experience in mind as they try to balance the demands of sports leagues and faith groups, which increasingly come into conflict, as the Deseret News reported earlier this year.

“It worked out for me. I made it to the NFL. So to all these moms and dads who say we have to go to your games at 8 years old, (I’d say) it’s OK to miss,” Carr said.