THE ISSUE

Former Philadelphia Eagles Pro Bowl kicker David Akers, a licensed minister, will discuss the adversity he and his family faced and how those challenges ultimately helped him grow stronger during a talk at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2, at Highland Presbyterian Church, 500 E. Roseville Road. The event is sponsored by the Parish Resource Center.

Celebrities — including pro athletes — make news frequently when they tweet or offer public remarks. If they make a statement that’s controversial or political, watch out.

The downsides: 1) You risk a major backlash and 2) a lot of people wish you would just keep your thoughts to yourself.

Some athletes are OK with this; some make peace with this reality. Those who keep their thoughts to themselves rather than risk a crescendo of criticism must figure life is easier that way.

But some athletes feel called to use the unique platform that comes with fame. They know they can amplify important issues, and use that platform to help others.

We applaud David Akers for doing just that, for coming to Lancaster County to share his story of faith and struggle.

Akers kicked for six NFL teams in 15 years, earning six Pro Bowl selections. He is a member of the Eagles Hall of Fame and the league’s All-Decade team of the 2000s. Many of us fondly remember him as part of those Birds’ squads — under head coach Andy Reid and quarterbacked by Donovan McNabb — that reached four straight NFC championship games and played in Super Bowl XXXIX.

“At times in his career, he would turn to his wife, Erika, and say, ‘Can we just pinch ourselves?’ because they were living the dream,” LNP’s Earle Cornelius reported.

But, he told Cornelius, “Perception definitely isn’t reality.”

Financial problems and life-challenging medical issues affected him and his family. Akers relied on his faith and his friends — teammates as well as members of his church — to get through the difficulties.

Now, he’s trying to bolster others.

As well as being a licensed minister, Akers today is an NFL announcer and author of the book “Winning In Spite Of.”

For the past several years, the Parish Resource Center has invited nationally known speakers to discuss faith, including the late Christian author Rachel Held Evans.

Kate Good, the center’s executive director, told LNP that Akers “brings a slightly different perspective.” And, Good confided, she is an Eagles fan.

Akers said he accepted Jesus Christ as his savior at the age of 12.

“Faith was definitely part of the household,” he told Cornelius. “But accepting Christ is one thing. In my early 20s, I really started living a life that exemplified how Christ taught us to live. And look, I fall short of that on a daily basis, but that was a change in mindset at that point.”

His years with the Philadelphia Eagles strengthened that bond. “There were such great men of God that took me under their wing.”

He cited players such as Brian Dawkins, Troy Vincent, Paul Grasmanis, Mike Bartram and James Thrash. He still occasionally reaches out to the Rev. Herb Lusk, the Eagles chaplain, for support and guidance.

“I have always held the Eagles organization in high regard,” he told LNP. “They gave me an opportunity to change my life.”

Akers also explained the genesis of his signature gesture of pointing to the heavens after a successful kick. The message, he said, became his way of thanking God for the chance to play in the NFL.

The gesture originated after the Eagles signed him and sent him to the Berlin Thunder of NFL Europe, where he had a solid 1999 season.

Because his wife was back in the U.S., the only time she saw him was on TV broadcasts. To acknowledge her, he told Cornelius, Akers would raise his left hand to kiss his wedding ring and point to the sky, to get her attention and “to thank God for the opportunity to be here.”

His return to the Eagles in 2000 was interrupted by a severe case of food poisoning, but he converted 29 of 33 field goals and led the team with 121 points. He played 12 years with the Eagles and holds NFL records for most points scored in a season by a kicker (166) and most field goals in a season (44).

The platform his success provided enabled him to talk about his faith and to encourage others to tell their unique stories.

“Everybody has a sphere of influence that can change people around them,” he told LNP. “What can you do with that? Are you thinking about eternal things or are you thinking about temporal things?”

Part of his message is the life lesson that “it’s not a matter of if ... you’re going to go through trials and tribulations, it’s a matter of when.”

“But the reality is, if you focus on the prize, as Paul says ... you understand that Christ is the prize. It’s understanding that, ultimately, you’re going to be victorious.”

Bu virtue of his having been a pro athlete, and a star to boot, Akers’ sphere of influence is a large one. It takes a good guy to leverage fame in the way he is. Akers knows what matters, and he’s not afraid to use his unique platform to tell others.

Tickets to his Nov. 2 talk are $25 to $91 and can be purchased by going to parishresourcecenter.org and clicking on “Events & Workshops.” General admission tickets will be available at the door.