By Mr. Bryan Gatchell (Benning)May 11, 2018
FORT BENNING, Ga. (May 11, 2018) -- Two former members of the Atlanta Falcons football team spoke about faith during the National Day of Prayer observance May 9 at the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning, Georgia.
During the breakfast event at the Benning Club on main post, Buddy Curry, linebacker for the Falcons from 1980 to 1987, and Bobby Butler, defensive back for the Falcons from 1981 to 1992, talked to an audience of Soldiers, Department of the Army civilians and Family members about their personal spiritual journeys through and after their sports careers at the Benning Club.
Maj. Gen. Gary M. Brito, commander of MCoE and Fort Benning, introduced the speakers, citing them as "leaders of character and faith."
Butler and Curry talked about their spiritual journeys in different but complementary ways. Curry, who won defensive rookie of the year in 1980 and now serves as a public speaker and board member of sports safety and ministerial organizations, talked about finding personal strength after he left the support of his life in the team. Butler, who is now an ordained minister and assistant pastor, talked about assuming a spiritual leadership role as he grew in his career with the Atlanta Falcons.
Butler called the time when the Falcons drafted him "a setup."
"My whole life I had won championships," said Butler. "And when I came to Atlanta, we lost nine games my first year. That was more games than I lost in high school and college combined. So I was having trouble."
The setup involved more than the ironic turn of succeeding into a position of frequent loss. In the locker room, he was surrounded by quarterbacks Steve Bartkowski, Mike Moroski and June Jones, all of whom were strongly religious and proselytized the rookie Butler. Eventually Butler relented to the three and became more spiritual
"I thank God for my time in Atlanta," said Butler. "In those 12 years I played on one winning team. But in 1985 I heard the Lord say something to me, and I can't say it was all in a voice, but I heard it in my spirit."
That word told Butler that his purpose was in something higher than winning championships. And, in another ironic reversal, he assumed the mentoring role his quarterback teammates had held when he was a rookie.
"From that point on, I became the spiritual leader of my team," said Butler. "I started digging the word, and I started to be a light in the locker room. Because in the locker room, if you think about it, you've got young men, 22, 23 years old. They've got a pocketful of money, they don't have a curfew any more, they can go to downtown Atlanta and do whatever they want to do after practice, and so that's not a good thing.
Initially, he preached in enthusiasm, which his younger teammates greeted with the same wary skepticism he himself had expressed earlier.
"But I kept the course, and then I learned how to be a witness," said Butler. "You don't always have to voice loud, just be a light, an example. And then the next thing you know, you'll get phone calls in the middle of the night, asking you to pray for them about situations. ... The next day they'll still kick at you like you're a preacher in the locker room. But that was my call, and that's my call today."
Curry, on the other hand, talked less about his spiritual life during his team years and more about finding spiritual resilience afterwards, in the absence of that team structure.
"Team is what we do to submit ourselves to a greater goal," said Curry. "When a person puts on a football helmet, there is no rich or poor, religious, non-religious, black, white, yellow, pink - you are a person who now is a part of something greater than yourself."
This point about donning a helmet, as analogously relevant to the assembled Soldiers in attendance who don a uniform to become part of something greater, similar to Butler's point about transitioning from a winning teams to a largely losing team, was also a setup.
Curry and Butler were both with the Falcons at roughly the same times. They shared in many successes and many losses. Curry was an all-pro selection in 1980 and 1982. And then his professional football career ended in 1987.
"A crisis came in terms of how do you become a man away from the team," Curry said. "In a team, we have an agenda. We are told what to do. In regular life, you've got to figure some things out. As an athlete, I just did what I was supposed to do very well, and things worked out."
But after leaving professional football, he did not have that same structure and intention to fall back on. He had a wife and children, and he worked seven days a week in his business. But this behavior was too much for his wife, who told him she could not take it any more.
"I didn't have the strength to go through what I needed to go through, to win her heart back," said Curry. "You know what I had the strength to do? Cry about half the day. I didn't have the strength to eat because I was so nervous and upset."
He then turned to his Christian faith, where he sought comfort and strength. After four months of character and faith formation, he and his wife reconciled. Curry compared his football career to that period of spiritual trouble that followed his football career.
"It was nothing compared to that moment of crisis, where I allowed God to be important in my life," said Curry. "You guys are training young men and women when they go through crisis. There is one way to go for true peace and true salvation, and a peace that passes all understanding."
For Curry, that one way was through God, but he said his circle of religious speakers all pray in different ways.
"There's no right answer to this thing," said Curry. "What it is is understanding and the value of moving forward."
Curry is a master trainer for the Heads Up Football to address safety concerns in youth sports. He is also a member of the Georgia Concussion Coalition, a board member for the National Council on Youth Sports Safety, Crossroads Ministries and North Atlanta Football League. He also serves as a public speaker at events like Fort Benning's prayer breakfast.
The National Day of Prayer, with roots tracing back to the foundation of the United States, was signed into being by a presidential proclamation in 1952 and is typically observed the first Thursday of May.
Brito spoke about the importance of the National Day of Prayer.
"It was to bring both parties of many government agencies together at a time when they needed divine guidance to give direction to the country," he said. "It is very fitting that we have this great setting to bring all of us together as Fort Benning leaders, both military and civilians."
"While prayer is both a private and communal function, it is raised in supplication of these moments that affect us all," said Col. Anthony Judge, 199th Infantry Brigade commander. "For what we pray for comes from within the deepest hearts of who we are as a people. As leaders, we should pause to reflect on how our prayers - or perhaps our lack thereof - affect those we lead and how we will shape the future leaders of our nation, leaders who are developed here at Fort Benning on our watch at the Maneuver Center of Excellence."
Along with the comments on prayer, Chaplain (Col.) Robert Hart, garrison / MCoE command chaplain, led the invocation; Sgt. 1st Class Charles Evans, Office of the Chief of Infantry, MCoE, led the prayer for the military; Maj. Windy Waldrep, 199th Inf. Bde. executive officer, led the prayer for the nation; and Chaplain (Maj.) Claude Kisuka, 198th Inf. Bde. chaplain, led the benediction.
To learn more about the Religious Support Office or its activities, visit www.benning.army.mil/Garrison/Chaplains.
To see photos from this event, visit www.fortbenningphotos.com/Garrison/Garrison-Events/2018-05-09-2018-MCoE-National-Day-of-Prayer-Observance.