As most of you know, the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl over the Los Angeles Rams a week ago, 13-3, which was the lowest score ever. It was the Patriots 11th Super Bowl appearance. Not only did they have the oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl, Tom Brady (41), but they also had the oldest coach to win a Super Bowl, Bill Belichick (66).
But do you know about one of the most influential members of the Patriots staff? He flew under the radar for a number of years, and you won’t find his name anywhere on the Patriots website. After this year’s Super Bowl, however, he is no longer hidden. Since 2013, Jack Easterby has been New England’s Character Coach/Team Development staff member. Easterby is the only person on any National Football League team with this position. A college athlete himself in golf and basketball, Easterby previously served as Campus Director for the University of South Carolina’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Character Coach for the Gamecock’s men’s and women’s basketball teams. After that, he traveled with the Kansas City Chiefs of the NFL during the 2011-2012 season as a chaplain consultant.
So, what does a character coach do? Simply put, Easterby is a presence. He is a friend to everyone and is available to walk beside any and all of the Patriots players, to guide them in their relational, mental, emotional, and spiritual lives. Easterby counsels with players and their families when issues arise and is a resource when the Patriots face difficult situations. He is also a Christian. Easterby leads Bible studies and prays with players but never pressures anyone to attend. He’s there for players, coaches, staff, and families.
I was particularly intrigued by the uniqueness of Easterby’s job title: Character Coach.
Character can be defined as strength of moral fiber, or the personal qualities that are distinctive to an individual. When we say that a person has “character,” we often mean that this person demonstrates attributes such as integrity, honesty, compassion, self-control, kindness, consistency, graciousness, relational skills, a role model, and a welcoming attitude toward all.
When thinking about character, two quotes jump out at me. They are from Martin Luther King Jr. and the apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans.
- “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the contentof their character.”
- “Therefore, since we have been made righteous through his faithfulness, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have access by faith into this grace in which we stand through him, and we boast in the hope of God’s glory. But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5)
Imagine having a full-time staff member whose only job is to help create character in others! Easterby’s role is to build up the character of the Patriots players so that they not only become the best athletes they can be, but they also become the best human beings that they can be. In a February 1 article in USA Today, Easterby talks about his job. “I always make sure everybody’s here.” “If someone wasn’t on time, or was taking too long in the bathroom, or skipping, I need to know. I like to get ahead on any issues.”
Easterby also talks about character. “Character and the kind of people you hire is something that our country is in desperate need to get back to evaluating.” “Unfortunately, sometimes it matters most when we count it the least. And when we evaluate it the least, it matters most. It’s tough, but we have seen a lot of businesses and industries fall because of a lack of character. One of the things we’ve seen come up in our culture lately – from the (Harvey) Weinstein case and so many others – we’ve seen that choices matter.”
The door to Easterby’s office is always open. He is there to listen, offer guidance, recommend a book, pray, or meet with family members. He writes personal notes to players, offers scriptures and inspirational quotes, and is always available when Coach Belichick or other coaches need him. Fullback James Develin said, “Before every game – and I mean every game – he comes up to each of us and tells us he appreciates us.” Another player, defensive end, Ricky Jean Francois, said, “This guy here (Easterby), every day, he walks up to us and feeds us positivity. Every single day. This dude is not pretending.”
For his part, Easterly feels blessed to be the New England Patriots Character Coach and have the privilege of influencing the lives of others. During Super Bowl week, he spoke of his role. “When you lead people, you have to be with them at all points and for me, one of the biggest things is you come in as a servant. No matter if you’re winning and you’ve won Super Bowls which we’ve been blessed to do or you’re going through challenges which we did when we first got here. You have to serve. You have to serve. You have to take your gloves off. You have to get dirty and serve and work through any issue and every issue that’s thrown your way.”
Jack Easterby is somewhat is an anomaly. Can you imagine someone who is an integral part of a professional football team who is only there to encourage, appreciate, motivate, counsel, serve, and help develop character? It’s something to think about, especially as the time for the 2019 General Conference draws near. I wonder.
- How can you, in your own setting, become a game changer like Jack Easterby?
- What might happen if our primary goal for the General Conference is to exhibit character: the personal and moral qualities that can bring people together and really make a difference not only in The United Methodist Church but in our world?
- What if encouraging, appreciating, and developing relationships between one another as brothers and sisters in Christ became more important than winning?
- What if we ask ourselves the same question that Easterby asks himself in his role as Character Coach for the Patriots? “How can I leave everyone I interact with better than I found them?”
- What if taking off our boxing gloves and serving one another is the only way we can be a witness to God’s unconditional grace for every person in our world?
- What if each one of us made a commitment to become a Character Coach for Christ?