For Deion Sanders, a suicide attempt led him to the Lord
Despite Super Bowls and a World Series, ‘Prime Time’ said he felt empty
A look at the intersection of sports, faith and religion
Deion Sanders knew all about success.
He had won two Super Bowls and appeared in a World Series. He’d become a father, made a lot of money, even released an album.
Yet in 1997 at the prime of it all, he drove his car off a cliff, ready to die.
His marriage to his first wife Carolyn Chambers and mother of his two oldest children (Deion Jr. and Deiondra) was ending. “I was going through the trials and tribulations of life. I was pretty much running on fumes,” he said. “I was empty, no peace, no joy. Losing hope with the progression of everything.”
Sanders recounted the suicide attempt in his autobiography Power, Money & Sex: How Success Almost Ruined My Life. Amazingly, he survived what he said was a 30- to 40-foot drop without any significant injuries. He decided his life was worth living.
“I finally just got on my knees and gave it all to the Lord,” Sanders said.
“Slowly, but surely, I had to deal with my faith, deal with my strength,” Sanders said. “I had to get a lot of Word in so that I could fight off the enemy. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my faith. People argue about what faith is, and who Jesus is, but it works for me. I’m not going to sit here and argue about who is what, and what is what, I’m just going to say it works for me.”
He began reading his Bible and seeking guidance from mentors such as Bishop T.D. Jakes.
“No one had told me that life would be tough going from one team to another one,” Sanders said. “Going from the enemy’s team, being one of his soldiers, to God’s team. That’s a tremendous turnaround.”
Even as he continued his sports career, Sanders said, he was committed to live a faith-first lifestyle.
“I don’t believe you can be at your optimum without your faith,” Sanders said. “Sports is sports, it’s a game. My faith is everything. It’s the gas that propels the courage, the truth, keeps me going. It’s the wind, it’s the wings, it’s the air that pumps into my lungs, that provokes me to live. Faith is everything.”
Raised by his mother, Connie Knight, in Fort Myers, Florida, Sanders, 51, grew up in a faith-based household.
“I was in church on Sundays,” Sanders said. “It was mandatory that you must go to church on Sundays, and Sunday school as well.”
He attended North Fort Myers High School and was selected in the sixth round of the 1985 MLB draft by the Kansas City Royals after graduating, but went to Florida State University instead to play football, baseball and run track.
Drafted No. 5 by the Atlanta Falcons in the 1989 NFL draft, Sanders, known as “Prime Time,” played with the San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins. He first retired in 2001 after one year with the Redskins before returning in 2005 to play two more seasons with the Baltimore Ravens.
During his stint with the Falcons early in his career, he recalls talking about faith with his teammate Bobby Butler.
“I named him ‘Reverend Pressure’ because he could take the heat,” Sanders said. “He would always testify to me on his trials and tribulations of life, as well as in sports. By the time I got there, to Atlanta, he was all of that. He was the constant and the consistency that I needed as a friend, from a friend and teammate.”
Sanders won his first Super Bowl in 1995 with the 49ers and another with the Cowboys in 1996. Playing primarily as a kick returner and defensive back, he finished his NFL career with 53 interceptions. The nine-time Pro Bowler’s MLB career included time with the New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds and the San Francisco Giants.
Moonlighting as an outfielder for the Braves, Sanders batted .533 during four games in the 1992 World Series, including four runs and two doubles. Sanders is the only player in history to participate in a World Series and a Super Bowl.
Sanders is a member of Vision Regeneration Church in Dallas, a nondenominational Christian church led by Bishop Omar Jahwar. Through Jahwar, he has teamed up with Stand Together, a Dallas agency that is working to eradicate poverty and youth violence.
“Finding someone that’s like-minded at this age and stage of my life is a delight to me,” Sanders said of Stand Together. “They give with no expectation, give from the heart. They want to fight domestic violence, homelessness, poverty, disenfranchised families. There’s so many things that they’re up against.”
Sanders is the father of five children, Deion Jr., Deiondra, Shelomi, Shedeur, and Shilo. He works as a commentator with the NFL Network. And he ministers to others and shares his personal testimony, although he won’t call it a ministry.
“What people call ‘in the ministry,’ I call it ‘in my will.’ I’m in God’s will,” he said. “I don’t really get down with a lot of titles, this and that. I believe I’m just in God’s will. If he called me to minister to a group, or setting, or whatever, that’s what it is. That’s what I’m gonna do. I don’t really desire a title to go and do what I’ve been called to do. I think it’s only right to go.”
On Tuesday January 31, 2019 a new feature-length 30 for 30 documentary on ESPN will take a close look at an unbelievably eventful few days in the life of Sanders. The film will capture the 24 hours in October of 1992, when Sanders sandwiched a pro football game between a pair of postseason baseball games in two different cities, located one-thousand miles apart.