Chaplain calls his work `a ministry of presence'

Known as `Rev,' he offers guidance, on and off field

Super Bowl Xxxv

Ravens vs. Giants

January 27, 2001|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

When the Ravens go to battle tomorrow, prowling the sideline among the purple and white will be a man of the cloth in a different color.

Rod Hairston is the man the Ravens call the "Rev."

As the team's full-time chaplain, Hairston is responsible for the spiritual welfare of the players, staff and their families. He counsels one-to-one, teaches Bible studies each week and presides at a chapel service before each game.

For Hairston, 34, being a chaplain for an NFL team isn't a hobby or passing fancy but his life's work.

"I've always seen that athletes have a very powerful influence on the culture," says Hairston, who attended Virginia Tech. "My desire was to reach young men and help them develop. Because even as I was coming along in college, I saw young men who had a lot of athletic potential but other areas of their lives were terribly neglected and often terribly out of balance."

Hairston, a native of Norfolk, Va., is an ordained Baptist minister and a member of Athletes in Action, an evangelical Christian group that uses sports to spread the Gospel message.

In the early 1990s, he joined UCLA's sports programs as chaplain. After six years, he decided to move on and accepted a job as a traveling Bible teacher and evangelist with a Raleigh, N.C.-based ministry. A year later, the Ravens came calling when then-chaplain Rev. Joe Ehrmann, the former Baltimore Colts defensive tackle, decided the team needed someone who could devote more time to it than he could.

"I heard about him through some people I know," says Ehrmann, who founded The Door, a ministry to inner-city children in East Baltimore, and now works with Mission Baltimore, a network of urban and suburban evangelical churches. "He came with great credentials, a great reputation. Then I called him up and he stayed a couple days with me as we investigated the relationship and his capabilities to do that job."

The main thing he was looking for, Ehrmann says, was someone with a strong enough sense of self not to be seduced and overwhelmed by the world of the NFL.

"It can be pretty intimidating working with athletes. You can get caught up in all the glamour," he says. Hairston had "a great sense of who he is and a great sense of personal integrity."

Hairston, who travels with the team, describes his works as "a ministry of presence," to be available to talk about issues surrounding marriage, family, careers and even how they're doing on the field, he says.

In all these encounters, Hairston says he emphasizes accountability and responsibility for one's actions, a concept that he perceives as sorely lacking among many NFL players.

"I like to say that the NFL is one of the best places to look like a man and never become one," Hairston says. "And I think that is one of most critical issues I deal with. They have the bodies of men, men of all ages gawking at them every week, but they don't have the formula for developing into manhood themselves."

It is also Hairston's job to be by players' sides when they run into trouble. When Ray Lewis was arrested and charged in the double murders after last year's Super Bowl in Atlanta, Hairston flew to meet with him and was a constant presence until the murder charges were dropped.

Hairston has developed a loyal following among a core group of players. Running back Priest Holmes says he has grown to appreciate Hairston's approach to counseling the players.

"He always asks that extra question," Holmes says. " `How is your wife? How are the kids? What's going on in your personal life?' He's been very consistent in the support and advice that he brings."

Quarterback Tony Banks says he would have been a different man if Hairston had not organized a series of Bible studies and small group meetings during the season.

"He brought me to Christ," Banks says. "Only good things have happened since."

Sun staff writer Edward Lee contributed to this article.

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