“Too many people are trying to walk with God but they’re in a wrestling match with Him because they haven’t died to self yet. Generally in people, the last thing to go is their will. Where they surrender it. Jesus said ‘if you’re going to follow Him, you got to deny yourself, take up your cross’. You’re not truly going to live until you die,” Napoleon Kaufman said.
It’s the mandate one might expect to hear from a pulpit or shared from personal, pastoral conviction, but Napoleon learned to surrender his will at the peak of an NFL career while playing for the Oakland Raiders. Napoleon recalls,
“I really, really, loved football. And I think my biggest thing was I wanted to play in the NFL. I’ve always been a Raider fan my whole life and so I had a chance to play for the team that I always wanted to play for. I wanted to win the Super Bowl. I wanted to play in the league, you know, 10 to 12 years. I had a lot of fun, living my ultimate dream.”
The former All-American and 1995 first-round draft pick played six seasons with the Raiders, half as their primary running back. His career yards per carry average still ranks among the league’s top-ten. Despite statistical success, it didn’t satisfy Napoleon’s soul, saying,
“I started realizing that there’s more to life than just football. Once I had kind of reached that pinnacle, it was like man, something’s missing. Something in me is not right. And I started realizing that man – something needs to change in me. That’s the reason I’m not happy.”
A teammate got him to think about his faith. Napoleon committed to actively follow the Scripture in transforming his life, evident by a growing compassion for others.
“I can remember vividly coming out for a football game and they would announce us from The Black Hole and looking up in the stands, my heart just started sinking for the people and I literally started to tear up right before the game. It was a moment in my career where I say something really shifted in my heart.”
Napoleon caught the league by surprise, retiring in the prime of his career at 27, leaving the Raiders just two years before their 2003 Super Bowl appearance. He recalls,
“I’m watching ESPN and my name comes across the bottom of the ticker tape, Napoleon Kaufman retires after 6 seasons and when I looked at that, I said ‘here I am Lord, use me.’”