In several interviews with respected media outlets, Russell Wilson, star quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, relates a manifestation of Jesus in his dreams that transformed the teen’s life and made him the devout man of faith he claims to be today. Skeptics outside his faith may look at this sequence in the biographical comic book, published by Storm Entertainment under the title Fame: Russell Wilson, as nothing more than a fanciful and artful way to show Wilson’s devotion. Those in the faith perhaps weren’t privileged to witness such a graphic manifestation in physical form, having experienced it instead during prayer, looking in the earnest eyes of their child, or alone in the backyard watching the sun, and therefore doubt the veracity of Wilson’s account. As the writer of the comic book, I was faced with a choice: Do I treat this moment as literal or imagined?
I chose to open the book with a quieter moment and save this powerful occurrence for the climax of the “B” story. The “A” story deals with Wilson’s relationship with his father. Harrison Wilson is dying in his hospital bed. A proud man, he wouldn’t want even those providing care to see him disheveled and unshaven. While recalling a time from his childhood, Wilson shaves his father in order to preserve his dignity. (Careful readers will notice that the artist chose to draw Wilson shaving himself rather than his father. Although the sequence works in a different way than I intended, it tells the story. I chalk this up to a language barrier as the artist is Spanish and speaks little English). When researching my subjects, I look for a story or anecdote from their lives that speaks to me and perhaps grants me insight into what makes them unique. For me, this tender moment with an ailing parent touched me, informing the story in a nonlinear way that allows readers a glimpse into Russell’s personal life. Family and faith inspire him.
My relationship with my own father – more precisely, the lack of one – drove me to explore the Wilson biography in this manner. My father had been a star football player in high school I’m told. Fast, smart, good looking, voted most popular and funniest in high school, the type of bad boy women adored. I never met that version of him. I met the version transformed by a steaming jungle in Vietnam, the version who rarely spoke to me but walked in his sleep, shouting orders to men long dead. I wasn’t like my little brother, James, who took to hunting, fishing, and organized sports as easily as my father had as a boy. Though James was younger, he soon grew larger, his arms and legs and chest filling out better than mine. The silence that enveloped my father did not prevent my brother from getting to know him in ways I could not. The silence between them was not as palpable – just the silence of men who did not need to talk.
Despite undiagnosed post-traumatic stress, my father never complained about his time in the United States Navy, never faltered in his belief that he had served his country with pride, and never spoke of the part of him he lost in a jungle half a world away. He’s buried in a military graveyard, his headstone an unpretentious white slab of marble erected next to other heroes who served so that I could have the freedom to make the choices he felt he could not.
My father’s relationship with faith was complicated, preferring to worship in his own way while eschewing organized religion. He harbored no romantic illusions regarding God, but didn’t begrudge mine. Wilson’s relationship with his father fascinates me because Wilson doesn’t shy away from the sensationalist aspects of his personal story. To Wilson, it seems, love of faith and family walk hand-in-hand during a time following Tim Tebow’s headline-grabbing displays of devotion. Tebow ignored the social media furor, which alternated between praise and ridicule, by frequently writing references to bible verses in his eye black. In 2010, the NCAA banned such messages, leading media outlets to refer to it as “The Tebow Rule,” implying that the rule was implanted to curtail Tebow’s public demonstration of faith, though the NCAA denied such claims.
It would be easy to dismiss the stories of Wilson’s faith as a way for the quarterback to curry favor with the general public in the wake of negative press and perhaps justify his record-setting payday. However, although the denizens of social media may say that we live in a more enlightened time, where “the other” is embraced and encouraged to step into the light, those who profess deep religious convictions are looked at as somehow less than uneducated, and perhaps deserving of scorn. We all make mistakes. Unlike Wilson, when we make one, it isn’t covered by CNN or splashed on the cover of Sports Illustrated. However, viewing Wilson’s faith as image crafting downplays a fundamental aspect of his personality; an aspect that should inspire and move us. Wilson views his talent as a gift from God.
As a storyteller, I approached Wilson’s dream of seeing a physical manifestation of Jesus as real because it is real to him. That moment is the climax of my biography of Wilson because it defined him, and I will forever sing his praises for publicly declaring his faith.
Michael Frizell is a graduate of the MFA program at the University of Arkansas - Monticello. He is a freelance writer, public speaker, performer, and educator at Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri.