Former New York Jets center Kevin Mawae was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in February. Over the course of 16 NFL seasons, Mawae made eight Pro Bowl appearances, was named first-team All-Pro six times and selected to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 2000s. He retired from the NFL in 2009 and is now on Arizona State University’s coaching staff. Mawae and his wife, Tracy, have two adult children.
Talk about your journey to the NFL.
Mawae, who is of Hawaiian descent, grew up with three brothers.
“Mom and dad were always a part of our life, and it was always about family,” Mawae said. “That’s one thing my parents instilled in us.”
Mawae’s father was in the military, and the family moved a lot.
“When I was 8 years old, I knew I wanted to play in the NFL and that’s all I ever wanted to do,” he said. “Early on, I learned you had to go to college to go to the NFL … I wasn’t striving for any particular degree. I just wanted to be eligible to play football.”
Mawae had an unshakable love for the game of football.
“Nobody growing up as a kid wants to be an offensive lineman,” Mawae said. “You gravitate toward that way as you get bigger in size and that’s what happened to me. I started off playing quarterback, tight end and then linebacker. By the time I got to high school, I knew I was going to be an offensive lineman. To me, it really wasn’t about the position, but playing the game.”
What about the sport might surprise football fans?
Mawae said, first and foremost, the behind-the-scenes side of the game isn’t all that glamorous.
“It was a rude awakening for me of how much a business the game is,” Mawae said. “Nobody really talks about … the possibility that you could get cut, traded and what all that meant. You realize quickly you become a disposable asset for a team, and your job is to make yourself valuable. General fans don’t understand you have a limited window to make a career.”
Being a professional athlete is a sunup to sundown lifestyle.
“You only have 16 opportunities,” Mawae said. “It’s the only sport you spend more time practicing in a week than actually playing a game.”
How did an unexpected tragedy lead you to Christ?
Mawae didn’t grow up in church.
“My brother was killed in a car accident after my second year in the NFL, and my wife became pregnant two months later,” Mawae added. “Those are the two things completely opposite of one another that completely changed my focus and made me start asking the question, ‘Why am I doing this?’”
Mawae began searching for answers.
“I started reading the Bible on my own,” he said. “No one suggested it. I literally didn’t know where to start, I just knew there was an ‘old’ and a ‘new.’ I just figured the ‘new’ was probably better than the ‘old.’ The more I read the Gospels, I learned about Jesus … the more questions I asked of the Bible, the more it drew me in to receive those answers.”
Mawae hosted a Bible study in his home, even though he wasn’t a Christian.
“I started hosting Bible studies as a nonbeliever at my house, not running it, but making my house available,” he said. “Within a year, I came to know the Lord.”
The answer to who Jesus is also answered the “why” question Mawae was wrestling with.
“When someone loses somebody, the one thing they want to ask is, ‘Why? Why my brother?’” Mawae said. “If you allow those things to mold you into who God wants you to be, then you become whatever the ‘why’ was that you were looking for … My ‘why’ was God took my brother’s life so He could change my life. During that process, my wife recommitted herself to Christ. Both my kids got saved and baptized. The platform I get to share my faith on is that I’ve spoken to thousands.”
Mawae believes that Jesus has the power to transform.
“When I became a Christian, I learned it’s not a Sunday thing or a Bible study thing, it’s who you are,” Mawae said. “It’s the Holy Spirit who comes in you. The old things are gone and new things are here.”
Mawae’s faith has become the epicenter and identifier of every part of his life.
“My wife and I never thought of me as a family member, football player and faithful man,” Mawae said. “For us, it was a three stranded cord because the Christianity part of me was in all that I did—how I played the game and how I fathered my kids. It was never faith, family and football. It was faith and family and football all intertwined within one another … When people realize that’s who they are and you become a Christian, that encompasses all those things. You play football with faith. You raise your family by faith. You live out your marriage by faith. You go through hard times by faith … I’m a Christian dad. I’m a Christian football player. I’m a Christian businessman.”