Ron Brown: Right Man, Right Place, Right Time

Ron Brown, right, delivered a drug-free message at NU’s 2011 Spring Game.

By Randy York

"God, there are a lot of little boys around the country today watching this game and they’re trying to figure out what the definition of manhood is all about. Father, this is it right here. I pray that this game will be a training ground for what manhood looks like."

Those were just some of the words that Ron Brown delivered Saturday in a two-minute pregame prayer as Penn State and Nebraska players went to their knees, side-by-side, brothers in life and opponents only for the next few hours … two traditional football powers gathered together with one collective heart and reaching out to each other, their fans, a national television audience and, perhaps, more important than anything else, trying to connect with young boys across the country wondering what real manhood is and how football and winning and idols are all inter-related but separate from where their minds should be focused each and every day.

Yes, Ron Brown, a man of faith who happens to be Nebraska’s running backs coach, was the right man in the right place at the right time to deliver this message of unity, hope, love and perspective. He was the one who was asked to call young men to a shared platform and help them understand that while they don’t have control over the events that took place before their coming together, they would transfer whatever glory they might experience to something higher. That way, 108,000 fans in Beaver Stadium and countless others across the country would see, respect and remember a different, new and stronger definition of manhood. Brown prayed that little boys would see how football can be “a training ground for what real manhood looks like”. He prayed that both teams “would compete with fierce intensity” and “with the honors, the gifts and the talents” God had given them, so “truth and justice” would be known and “protection” can begin for children who have been victims everywhere.

Talk about a great game that honored both teams which had dedicated the action to a higher cause. An entire nation could see football in vastly different terms and through a completely different lens than a normal Saturday. The Lincoln Journal-Star called it an unforgettable moment. The message was so consistent and so pervasive that even the NCAA carried the video of Brown’s pregame prayer on its official blog. So did countless other national media outlets that rarely cross the lines between a spiritual message and a sports message.

Husker fans were not surprised that Penn State would ask Brown to deliver this message with his customary dignity, grace and humility. Brown, after all, counts himself among those that can idolize football and unintentionally define success by the applause of men and women. He’s never forgotten how his re-entry into Nebraska football was met with more “pats on the back” and “welcome backs” than he’d ever received in his time away from football - the four meaningful and productive years he spent as Nebraska’s statewide director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Brown knows there’s a spirit of idolatry at Nebraska that must change, just like changes must happen elsewhere. Since his return to the Nebraska coaching staff, he’s been trying to figure out why people see his higher visibility coaching job as more important than his ministry. Saturday, I believe, Brown received his answer, and I couldn’t help reflecting back on an April 3, 2008 N-Sider where Brown observed that people seemed to view his full-time ministry as a consolation prize and his coaching stint as the championship prize. “I don’t see it that way,” Brown said, “and I don’t think God does either.”

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