Very few positions in major sports require as much burden as the goalkeeper in football. Virtually the last player between the ball and the net, the goalkeeper, armed with only a set of padded gloves, serves as a last remaining hope that carries the weight of the rest of the team before the ball soars through the goal; one minuscule mistake can prompt the affection and respect of a stadium of supporters to become intensive loathing. Multiply this expectation by an entire nation, football’s largest stage in the FIFA World Cup, and the top-tier and respected football players from around the world, and all of a sudden the football jargon “you must be crazy to be a goalkeeper” becomes clear.
Tim Howard, member of the English club Everton and the U.S. National Team, recently displayed one of the finest goalkeeping performances in football history in the United States’ match against Belgium in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, despite their losing effort. Notching in a World Cup-record 16 saves, Howard has become the forefront of recent pop-culture hype as an American savior, ranging from the face of internet memes to national media interviews praising Howard’s performance. However, his world-record match shouldn’t be a surprise for football fans; at the veteran age of 35, Howard has proved himself as one of the most elite goalkeepers in professional football for the majority of his career, consistently showing the mental toughness that separates the goalkeeper from the rest of football’s positions. But where does Howard gain his inner-strength that has led him to develop as a dominant force in such a psychologically-burdening position, even on the world’s biggest platform?
Howard credits his Christian faith as the biggest influence not only in football, but also throughout the adversities of his life.
“Through her [Howard’s grandmother], God revealed his love for me as well,” Howard reflects. “It wasn’t long before I was following in her footsteps. I wanted the same kind of faith and peace she had, and that is exactly what God gave me.”
Before exploding in the football scene as the premier goalkeeper, Howard struggled with Tourette’s Syndrome, a neurological disorder that produces verbal and physical “tics,” and experienced racial prejudice in his life. Tourette’s Syndrome followed him from childhood (diagnosed at age 10) to his Premier League career; media outlets over-exaggerated his diagnosis by labeling him as a “disabled” and “handicapped” player, while opposing fans would spew heckles and insults relating to the disorder. Howard’s dating life was halted short in high school when he dated a Caucasian girl whose parents would not let Howard into their home because of his biracial background, coming from a Hungarian mother and African-American father.
Despite the stress of his past life, Howard was still able to emerge as a renowned football player in one of the most mentally-hectic positions. What keeps Howard anchored to succeed at the highest level is his trust in his Christian walk in faith that give Howard peace of mind while his environment is all fast-paced, hectic, and trying.
“Today, I am blessed to be living a dream,” Howard confesses. “And yet, if it all went away tomorrow, I know I would still have peace. That probably sounds crazy to most people, but that’s the kind of peace Christ gives. It is rooted in His love, and it surpasses all understanding.”
Howard continues to live out his faith by regularly volunteering with a youth group at Bramhall Baptist Church, playing soccer with the children before and after Bible lessons. Howard is also heavily involved with Athletes in Action, an offshoot of the campus ministry Campus Crusade for Christ. On and off the field, Howard battles not only the world’s most skilled football players, but also the factors that work against his walk in faith.
“You can experience this same sense of love and peace, too,” Howard explains.
“All you have to do is ask for it.”