SPRINGFIELD, Va. (CHRISTIAN EXAMINER) — Twitter is often viewed as an online gathering place for people to hide behind a computer screen while hurling insults at celebrities. One 27-year-old man is using it for quite different reasons.
Daniel Park started running the @NFLPrayers Twitter account in February 2014, and for nearly two years he's been using it to pray for the health, safety and salvation of NFL players, coaches, staffs, front offices, families, and cheerleaders. And he's encouraging others to do the same.
A few players and their families have even taken notice.
Terrell Owens, the former NFL wide receiver, retweeted a tweet directed at him from the account. DeSean Jackson's (Redskins wide receiver) mom responded to a tweet. Justin Tuck, a defensive end for the Raiders likes the account's tweets. And Golden Tate, a wise receiver for the Lions, once retweeted one of the account's updates.
If you visit the @NFLPrayers Twitter page, you'll see recent prayers going up for Hudson, the son of New England Patriots lineman Nate Solder — the boy is battling kidney cancer; for Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell, who underwent knee surgery recently; and for NFL cheerleaders who are in school nearing the end of the semester. On and on it goes.
Park doesn't do it to be noticed. He does it because he's a former athlete (and former basketball intern at Virginia Commonwealth University) who got to know the people around him and his heart was broken by what he saw.
"Some of the greatest influences in my life were the managers, graduate assistants, assistant coaches, and of course, the players," Park told Christian Examiner in an email interview. "Most of them don't know God, don't have a personal relationship with him."
Park's story begins on a high school football field in Virginia.
"Ever since childhood, I worked hard toward becoming the first-ever Korean-American quarterback in the NFL," he said. "I played as a freshman in high school but was forced to quit mid-season after tearing a retina."
Undeterred, he did what many who are unable to play the game they love at the highest levels do. He picked up his pen and began to write about it.
After graduating from college in May 2013, he volunteered as a camp ambassador at the Washington Redskins training camp. After his shifts were over, he started a blog to write about his team observations — a practice the team eventually approved.
"As I was writing, I also prayed for the players' protection, the fans who idolized RG3 (Robert Griffin III), Coach Mike Shanahan and his staff. It broke my heart whenever I saw fans worship RG3 as their savior. It shattered me when I watched RG3, a self-identified Christian, deal with the burdens of enormous expectations."
This only whet Park's journalistic appetite.
"After 16 days of pretending to be an Redskins writer, I prayed to God for an opportunity," he said.
He was balancing four jobs at the time, but still asking God to give him the chance to "package the gospel" in his writing about the Redskins. Eventually, he had a chance to sit in the press box for the Redskins-Cowboys game in December 2013.
Park began praying during that game that God would allow him to write a feature story on middle linebacker London Fletcher, who was playing the final home game of his career because he retiring at the end of the season. As Park was praying, he heard what he describes as a faint whisper from Jesus: "Can you do this every Sunday?"
"I eventually said no," Park said. "I knew God had another calling for me. That's when Jesus drew the line on my heart's pursuit."
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The @NFLPrayers Twitter account was born out of what he says was a product of his obedience to God's calling.
Not everybody is happy about the prayer requests that Park shares on his account, though. And some are downright angry that he prays for players who have committed heinous sins.
"I understand that they're angry about me praying for athletes who get paid millions of dollars — wife beaters, children abusers, adulterers — but I pray for both the victim's and assailant's repentance," he said. "I'm not tweeting justifications."
And he does so with John 13:34-35 in mind: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."