An Influential Patriot

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Picture: (Jan. 29, 2015 – Source: Elsa/Getty Images North America)

Last year, I had the privilege of being a wide receiver for the New England Patriots for four months during OTA’s, Mini camp, and almost all of preseason. As soon as I got there, the buzz about “Jack” was already looming. Naturally, I thought that Tom Brady or Rob Gronkowski would be who people would direct me to first but rather it was Jack. Jack Easterby is the Patriots team chaplain. There are not many men in the world like Jack. God pervades his entire life view. One cannot be around him for any considerable amount of time and not realize that he is enamored by who God is. I quickly built a relationship with a man that was electric to be around and yet convicted me of what a godly life looks like. He powerfully witnessed about Jesus Christ that one could not but see what his purpose in life is–to proclaim the glories of Christ. Below is an excerpt of an original article that ESPN posted back in January during the Patriots playoff run. Seth Wickersham, ESPN Senior Writer, gives a great story about Jack Easterby and his influence with the New England Patriots.

ON THE NIGHT of Dec. 1, 2012, a man named Jack Easterby — a lanky and balding former college basketball player and golfer with a thick Southern accent and a demeanor so relentlessly positive that it approaches goofy — stood before the Kansas City Chiefs and tried to make sense of death. Not just death: a murder-suicide.

That morning, shortly after killing his girlfriend with 10 shots, Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher arrived at the team parking lot with a handgun. He was distraught, crazed, panicked. A few team officials surrounded him, pleading with him to surrender his weapon and to not do any more damage. From down the road a police siren grew louder. Belcher decided it was over. “You know that I’ve been having some major problems at home and with my girlfriend,” he said. “I have hurt my girl already, and I can’t go back now.” Belcher knelt behind his car, made the sign of a cross on his chest and shot himself in the head.

Easterby, the Chiefs’ chaplain, was in the team building preparing a Saturday service when the gun went off. Just hours later, players and coaches were waiting for consoling words from a man who, if the team hadn’t drafted punter Ryan Succop out of South Carolina with the very last pick in 2009, they never would have known. Easterby had been the chaplain at South Carolina. Early in his second season, Succop asked Easterby to lead Bible study for the Chiefs, and Easterby demonstrated such an innate ability to connect with players — listening rather than talking, investing more in their lives than their games, assigning homework rather than uttering empty maxims — that Chiefs GM Scott Pioli came to personally pay for his flights from Columbia, South Carolina, to Kansas City.

That night, while players wondered what they could have done to prevent tragedy, Easterby felt prepared for his talk as if he had been born for it. “There is hope beyond these moments,” he began. “There’s something bigger going on.” He told them that if they prepared for death and for the life that continued after it, today’s devastation would linger less. He hugged a lot of guys. He gave everyone in the room a list of notes from his speech. He told them they could call him at any time. He combated crisis with love, plain and simple. “Men left encouraged,” former Chiefs linebacker Andy Studebaker remembers. “And they left in tears.”

Eight months later, in July 2013, the Patriots opened training camp with many wondering whether they had lost their way. The arrest of Aaron Hernandez on murder charges rattled many on the team. The post-Spygate years had seen them lose two Super Bowls, which gave license for some to question the validity of the three they had won. Some players privately struggled with the ruthless reality of life in the NFL, where the machine and the pressure can become too much. Something bigger than football seemed to be at stake. The team needed someone. Strange as it sounds, special-teams star Matt Slater says, they needed someone who would “offer love with no strings attached.”

They hired Jack Easterby.

“TONIGHT, MY GOAL is that you’ll never be the same.”

Easterby says that often in his devotionals, with the swagger of a hitter calling his shot. It’s an invitation, and dozens of athletes and coaches — from Tom Brady to Brady Quinn, from Bill Belichick to South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley — have accepted it. They don’t always buy into Easterby’s gospel, but they buy into Easterby himself. His job is to be trustworthy, and it doesn’t help him earn trust if he’s out there talking about it, which is why he politely declined to speak for this story. “He’s just a great person and friend,” Brady says. “You feel a special connection with him and with his genuine caring for all the people in his life.”

The Patriots, since his hire, say they are not the same, no matter what happens in Super Bowl XLIX and no matter the result of Ted Wells’ investigation into whether the team illegally deflated footballs in the AFC championship game. Owner Robert Kraft calls Easterby a “wonderful individual,” and Brady has told friends Easterby is one of the main reasons for the Patriots’ success this past year. Safety Devin McCourty calls him “a godsend to this team” who has “helped create better men.”

Easterby’s presence in New England has been as welcome as it is strange. A man known for being a “big hugger, a loud hugger,” as Pioli says, now roams the halls of a building where men are so lost in thought they often neglect to say hello as they beeline to their offices. An organization that proudly suffers wins as hard as it does losses — once, after the Pats missed a fourth-and-inches in a blowout win, Belichick griped to the players, “Fourth and the size of my d— and we can’t get the first down?” — now relies on an eternal optimist who, rather than referring to the Ten Commandments as “Thou Shalt Nots” calls them “the list of God’s dos.”

Easterby has a gift for making others feel better about themselves. Players say it’s hard to overstate how precious that is, working for a fiercely bottom-line team and in a league they believe targets them unfairly. When Easterby talks to players or coaches, he pulls them in for an embrace, raising their handshake to his heart. He fixes his eyes to theirs so long without blinking that it’s both awkward and somehow liberating. He is 31 years old, young enough to relate but old enough to have some scars. He tells them football is temporary, to never forget how blessed they are and to focus on their gifts — their beautiful wives or girlfriends or children, their ability to earn a living playing sports. He always closes by reminding them he’s a quick judge of character, and he can tell by the look in their eyes they are men of integrity. It’s not something Patriots players and coaches have heard much since 2007, and certainly not a term used to describe them during the deflated footballs controversy in the run-up to Super Bowl XLIX.

To read the full article, click here.