“Declare His glory among the nations, His marvellous works among all the peoples.” Psalms 96:3 (The Israel Bible™)
Some of football’s biggest Hall of Famers are in Israel this week for an historic visit with Jewish New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft aimed at promoting football in the Holy Land and exposing the players to the truth about the Jewish state.
The tour of eighteen NFL greats, including four-time Superbowl champion Joe Montana and star quarterback Roger Staubach, was kept under wraps until the players arrived last Wednesday. The caution was due to concerns over anti-Israel BDS supporters putting pressure on the athletes to cancel their trips, as has been the case with many celebrities in the past.
The illustrious group also included Jerome Bettis, Cris Carter, Dave Casper, Eric Dickerson, Marshall Faulk, Joe Greene, Willie Lanier, Andre Reed, Bruce Smith and John Stallworth.
Of the eighteen, only two had visited Israel before. On Friday, they visited several Christian sites near the Sea of Galilee, and many underwent baptism in the Jordan River, JTA reported. They also toured Tel Aviv, the Old City of Jerusalem, and the Dead Sea.
In addition, the players had lessons on Israel’s history, observed scrimmage football games between Israeli high school teams and coached student athletes, and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their trip.
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Cornerback Lem Barney told media that he had been drawn to Israel for religious reasons. Barney, who serves as associate minister at Empowerment Church in Southfield, Michigan, described the “great spirituality” in the country. “This is a dream come true,” he said.
“Israel is the center of what’s happening, and it’s good to see it,” added tight end Dave Casper.
Pro-bowler Jerome Bettis told attendees at a Sunday football event in Jerusalem that the trip had been incredibly meaningful for he and his wife, saying it had “changed our lives.”
The players praised Israel’s sense of family and community, with several noting the palpable feeling of unity and patriotism among Israelis.
“Here, it feels like family,” Staubach said.
Montana expressed that while the goal of the trip was to promote the game of football in Israel, where the sport has a tenuous but growing hold, the emotional aspects of the visit had been most rewarding.
“A lot of guys learned a lot about Israel and the people that they really had no idea of the culture,” Montana said. “While we come here on a mission for American football, I think we take home a lot more than we bring.”
‘“The people here are wonderful,” he added.
Billionaire Kraft, who has sponsored the growth of football in Israel since 1999, is currently building the country’s first regulation-size football field at the Kraft Sports Complex in Jerusalem. Kraft has been escorting American NFL players to Israel for years.
“I love bringing people from America to the Holy Land who’ve never been here,” Kraft told JTA on Thursday. “I think bringing these Hall of Famers – it’s a treat for them, and they see that [Israel] is not like it is [described] in the media.”