When New York Knick Jeremy Lin wore a wrist band with the words "Active Faith" while playing on the court a few months ago, the start-up company that created the faith-themed accessory was flooded with inquiries and orders. The reaction highlighted the newfound influence of high profile Christian athletes.
The company "My Active Faith" is the brainchild of former basketball player Lanny Smith, who says, "Our strategy was to start out with some of the churches and mega churches and grow it that way. But once the media got a hold of Jeremy Lin and several other athletes wearing our brand, it kind of just blew up us overnight. We literally went global overnight."
Smith's business partner is Minnesota Timberwolves forward Anthony Tolliver. They are inviting other pro athletes to invest in the entrepreneurial venture. He's also quick to point out that the athletes who own the company already are not trying to force their faith on anyone else.
Tolliver says, "We are not the first nor will we be the last Christians that play this sport. Don't think anybody looks at this as though we are pushing it on anybody.... We've seen more people reaching out to us and saying 'Hey, we want to represent your brand. We want to wear your rubber bands and wear your gear.' And what's really been funny is that some of them aren't even Christians. They just see the positive nature of what we are doing and they also see the biz aspect of what we are doing."
Smith's once-promising NBA career was cut short by devastating injuries. But his faith put him on a new path of creating the Christian-themed gear.
"While I was recovering from my knee surgery and I was just kind of contemplating what my next steps would be, God blessed me with this vision for a Christian sports apparel brand," he said. "That really gave me the opportunity to really merge my faith and love for sports at the same time."
The full line of T-shirts, shorts and sportswear carry the tagline "In Jesus Name I play," a takeoff of "In Jesus name I pray." Smith says it was born out of a mistake during one of his pre-game rituals. "I just slipped up and said 'in Jesus' name I play,' and I remembered laughing at myself at time," he said.
The line is now the company's philosophy. Inspirational biblical verses fill the company's website, myactivefaith.com, where the products are primarily sold. The only retail outlet carrying the faith-themed gear so far is the huge mega complex of Lakewood Church in Houston. But with the website boasting scores of pro athlete endorsements, Tolliver hopes more retailers will seek them out.
"The sky's the limit," says Tolliver. "I really think there is a big enough market out there worldwide, that if we create this niche product and this niche market that isn't in existence right now, but if we are really able to capitalize on it and become the premium Christian sports apparel company, I think it has a whole lot of potential."
Lauren Green currently serves as Fox News Channel's (FNC) chief religion correspondent based in the New York bureau. She joined FNC in 1996.