The Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise is reaching out to Christian fans by hosting an event following Sunday's game which will feature popular Christian music artists, a Christmas-themed message and even a personal testimony shared by one of the players.
The "Faith and Football" event will take place immediately after the Buccaneers (6-8) wrap up their game against the St. Louis Rams (6-7-1) this weekend, and is included with the purchase of a game ticket.
Following a performance by Christian rapper KJ-52, a Christmas message will be presented by Scott Dawson, founder of the Scott Dawson Evangelistic Association. Newsboys, a four-time Grammy nominated band, will also perform, and The Tampa Tribune reports that Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy will be sharing his personal testimony as well.
"Opportunities like this don't often present themselves," McCoy told the Tribune. "I plan to take advantage of this time to tell the fans why it's important to be a good example and a positive influence. I'm called to live a life that pleases the Lord, and I'm not afraid to declare that."
Dawson told The Christian Post that he has been speaking at athletic stadiums for the past 10 years, mostly at minor league baseball venues. He has also shared his message at Kauffman Stadium, home of Major League Baseball's Kansas City Royals, but Sunday will be his first time speaking in front of an NFL audience.
"You know, the Apostle Paul was a sports fan. Throughout his writings there's always these analogies of 'I have finished the race,' 'I have fought the good fight' ... We all know football's a great sport, but it's a lousy god, and to be able to present the Gospel in that arena is a privilege," said Dawson.
Dawson says the recent shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., is just one example of how "the world is out of control," and his message on Sunday will be a reminder that Christ's birth means God is with us.
"If all you do is celebrate Christmas as just a baby being born in a manger, that will not change your life. It's when you realize that this baby was God in flesh, 'God with us,'" he said.
He'll be addressing the issue of the pain and suffering that occurs in a fallen creation, as well as the hope that Jesus Christ's resurrection from the dead and promise to return brings to those who believe.
Dawson says he has been in contact with churches in the Tampa Bay area to encourage them to buy tickets to the game. Typically his ministry has to raise funds to rent a venue, but because he's partnering with the team as part of a promotion he can simply encourage people to attend the game and stay afterward for the event.
He is also asking pastors to come and counsel people who make decisions to follow Jesus Christ during the event.
"In this economy, when dollars are tight and churches are having to cut back, this is one of those things where you say: You don't have to cut back on evangelism. You don't have to cut back on reaching out to people, because you may not have the ability to invite them to church, but everyone would like to go to a football game," he said.
Dawson says he has also been given the opportunity to do the coin flip at the beginning of the game, and Newsboys lead singer Michael Tait will be singing the national anthem.
Although the Glazers, owners of the Buccaneers, are Jewish, they are supporting the Christian event as a way to engage the community and draw in fans, the team's director of communications, Jonathan Grella, told the Tribune. The idea for "Faith and Football" was reportedly thought up by the team's chief ticketing sales officer, Paul Rothenberg.
Dawson says Raymond James Stadium will be the largest venue he has ever preached in – it holds a maximum capacity of 65,890 people – and he has already been invited back to do the event again next year.