Student Life

Sports Personalities: Celebrity Guests Entertain and Encourage

By Ted Allen, February 21, 2018

An all-star lineup of celebrity athletes graced Liberty University’s Convocation stage last fall, showcasing their skills and imparting wisdom gained through their professional pursuits in the world of sports.

  • Harlem Globetrotters
  • Ben Watson
  • Chad Robichaux
  • John McEnroe
  • Sam and Christian Ponder
  • Kirk Cousins
  • Jeff Gordon, Rick Hendrick, William Byron

NASCAR veteran Jeff Gordon, Liberty student and NASCAR driver William Byron, and Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports, revved up the crowd at the first Convocation of the 2017-18 academic year on Aug. 30. Byron, a sophomore pursuing his degree in business communications through Liberty’s online programs, went on to clinch the Xfinity Series championship and is making his debut in the Cup Series, NASCAR’s highest level of racing, this season behind the wheel of the No. 24 car, with Liberty University as a primary sponsor.

On Sept. 1, Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins and team chaplain Brett Fuller offered a playbook for life as they talked about placing faith and family before football — or any other career field.

Also in September, Liberty alumna Samantha Ponder (’09), host of ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown,” and her husband, NFL free agent Christian Ponder, talked about balancing family life with their careers while prioritizing a relationship with Jesus Christ. Sam Ponder started her sportscasting career as a sideline reporter for the Liberty Flames Sports Network (LFSN) and later became host of ESPN’s “College GameDay.”

The Ponders were preceded on stage by former Flames Football and NFL receiver Kelvin Edwards (’86). Edwards was drafted by the New Orleans Saints and played two years for the Dallas Cowboys. He is a personal friend of Liberty President Jerry Falwell; they met as students at Liberty and lived in the same residence hall. Edwards was inducted into the Flames’ Athletics Hall of Fame in 2009.

Baltimore Ravens receiver Ben Watson spoke on Nov. 10, encouraging students to foster racial unity and social equality by following biblical principles in their walk with God.

On Nov. 8, professional Mixed Martial Arts champion Chad Robichaux delivered a powerful testimony of transformation. The former New Orleans police officer and Marine Corps veteran suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after multiple tours of duty in Afghanistan. He recommitted his life to Christ, saved his marriage, and started the Mighty Oaks Warrior Program, which helps veterans and their families recover from PTSD. Robichaux returned to campus in December to speak at Winterfest, Liberty’s two-day New Year’s festival.

The fall semester also included three athletic exhibitions.

“American Ninja Warrior” Meagan Martin completes an obstacle course in the Vines Center during a Convocation last fall. (Photo by Leah Seavers)

On Sept. 6, “American Ninja Warrior” co-host Akbar Gbaja-Biamila joined competitors Grant McCartney and Meagan Martin to talk about life on the NBC series. Then they demonstrated their skills on a challenge course.

Tennis legends John McEnroe, Andy Roddick, and Michael Chang appeared on stage on Oct. 16 before rallying against President Falwell, Liberty men’s tennis Head Coach Derek Schwandt, and others. The guests competed in the PowerShares Series tournament at the Vines Center later that evening.

The Harlem Globetrotters visited on Dec. 12, speaking in Convocation and showing off some of their tricks before giving an exhibition performance for the public that night.

In recent years, Convocation crowds have heard from a wide range of well-known sports figures, including NBA Champion Golden State Warriors standout Steph Curry, four-time U.S. Olympic gold medal gymnast Simone Biles, Brazilian FIFA and Major League Soccer star Kaká, professional surfing champion Bethany Hamilton, former WWE professional wrestler Shawn Michaels, NBA analyst Chris Broussard, and former New York Mets and Yankees All-Star Darryl Strawberry.

Football fans have enjoyed hearing from legendary college football coaches Bobby Bowden and Frank Beamer, former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, CBS football analyst James Brown, former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann, and former University of Florida and NFL quarterback Tim Tebow.

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