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The Truth Saves NFL Player from Gang Life

NFL wide receiver Jason Avant is known for his sure hands and clutch plays. In his eight seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, he’s also emerged as a leader, a role model and someone who keeps things in perspective.

“The game of football, I love to play, but in the grand scheme of life, it’s this big,” laughed Jason.

Jason’s outlook stems from a life of adversity. As a young boy he lived with his grandmother in the projects of Southside Chicago. Most of the relatives that lived with them were gang bangers. Drug deal and drive by shootings were just a part of life.

“I understood what it was like to come into the house with $1000 dollars for making drug deals because I was selling drugs in the 6th grade.” 

Jason’s grandmother took him to church and prayed for him constantly, hoping he would find a way out.

“I was young, and I was her second chance on life,” Jason explained. “Her children didn’t turn out the way she wanted them to, so her prayers for me, ‘Lord, let him be different. Lord, let his life be one that will serve You. Let him escape these streets. Let him do Your will.”

 A battle raged in Jason’s mind between God’s truth, and the reality of life.

“Because of that environment it made me bitter and callous toward God. Even though my grandmother had something that I knew I wanted, but I still couldn’t see me serving Him when some people in the world could have affluence and others had the bottom of the barrel. I couldn’t understand that.”

Even then, Jason says his grandmother’s words were sinking in.

Jason told reporter Tim Branson, “I tell you the truth, Iwas the worst gang member slash drug dealer because my grandmother gave me too much truth for me to be comfortable in that environment.  And I...”

Tim responded, “You couldn’t ignore it.”

Jason said, “I couldn’t ignore it.”  

In the midst of the chaos, it became clear that Jason was a gifted athlete. On the playgrounds of Chicago he decided basketball would be his ticket out. But when his grandmother moved them to a new neighborhood with a new school, he found his passion… in football.

“In one year of playing receiver I was the number one player in the state of Illinois. And it was like a dream come true.” 

Jason became an All-American, and signed with the University of Michigan. He thought college would get him away from all his grandmother’s talk about God and Jesus.

“I get to the University of Michigan and I get to room with the pastor’s son,” laughed Jason.

Tim smiled, “Wherever you go man!”

Jason agreed, “Wherever I go. Right?Listen! Here I am again with these religious, crazy people!” exclaimed Jason. 

Tim poked back, “It hadn’t sunk in had it?”

Jason admitted, “It still hadn’t sunk in.”

But it soon would. When Jason first came to Michigan he expected to be a star. After all, he was a top recruit. Instead he found himself on the bench. . . and stewing.

“I’m pouting on the bench. I’m so mad because I’m not playing. I’m not dressed.”

Then Jason had an epiphany.

“I’m sitting on the bench and thinking, ‘I’m being a real baby right now, and I’m missing this exciting game,’ and so the fourth quarter, I get up off my seat and I begin to cheer with the crowd and get the crowd pumped up. And we end up winning the game on a last second field goal of 56 yards and we win by one. And it was one of the greatest victories I’ve ever had as an athlete and it has nothing to do with the win, but it was more me dying to self. Then I made my life about others. It was one of those moments where I saw how selfish I was.”

With a new attitude Jason finished out the season and even saw some playing time. But he admits his heart was still empty. At the end of his freshman year Jason went to church where he says he heard from God.

“He began to show me all the times being in a gang neighborhood selling drugs out of my grandmother’s house, all the times my house was shot up and nobody was killed from it, how He protected me over and over again,” said Jason.  “The last thing He showed me how He gave me this talent that I didn’t know I had and how He used football to bring me to this place and He began to replay all of these things over in my mind. And at the end of that it was the Spirit speaking to me. ‘After all I’ve done for you Jason, and you can’t live your life for me?’ And the Bible says, ‘it’s the goodness of the Lord that brings us to repentance.’ He was so good to me, so merciful to me, so kind to me, that May 4, 2003, I finally said, ‘yes,’ and surrendered my life to Jesus Christ.”

Afterwards, Jason went to see his grandmother.

He explained, “I was able to go there and say, ‘You know what? I thank you for showing me that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Light. I thank you for all your prayers. I thank you for being a good person. I thank you for helping me find the right path. And I tell you that because of you I surrendered my life to Christ.’ It was the happiest day of her life. Because she enjoyed me going to the University of Michigan but her goal in my life was that I would finally surrender. And I finally surrendered to God. And the next year she passed. It seemed like she stayed around long enough to see me come to Jesus Christ.” 

Jason went on to have a stellar career with the Wolverines.  And after college he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, where by all accounts he was admired and respected by his team and the community.

Since our interview, Jason was released by the franchise after eight successful seasons and is now a free agent. He’s not sure where he will land, but he knows God has the answer.

“That’s what I love about God. He’s the God of the comeback. It seems like it’s always going down and it seems like it’s never going to work out. But He has the power to raise up dead things. He’s the Resurrection and the Life. I was definitely on my way down but I know Him now to be the Resurrection and the Life!”

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