Luis Sharpe: “My faith carried me through”
As the preacher’s passionate words resounded within the prison walls the former NFL lineman, responding to the Holy Spirit, squirmed nervously in his seat, stood shakily, and then went forward.
Reflecting today on that intense, emotional moment, Luis Sharpe, 42, relates: “I felt a calling to repent and ask Jesus to be the Lord of my life. I accepted him into my heart and, for the first time, felt real peace and hope for a better tomorrow.
“I knew it was Christ, because there I was–confined behind barbed wire fences and concrete; yet I felt such joy and peace! I knew more freedom incarcerated than I ever did living my former lifestyle, making the millions of dollars!”
Contemplating the web of events leading up to his imprisonment, the former Phoenix Cardinals tackle quips: “God has a way of humbling us.”
Born in Havana, Cuba, to Catholic parents, Luis moved with his family to Detroit at age 6. “Always gifted,” he says, he played organized sports in high school and attended UCLA on an athletic scholarship. By age 23, he was playing professional football.
Luis soon discovered, however, that “a lot of the players” were using drugs and “practicing other types of immoral behavior.” He explains: “I just kind of fell into it. I really thought this is what a young professional does who makes the kind of money I was making–that it was acceptable. That’s the big lie from the enemy to get you trapped and sucked in! I played with the NFL for 13 years, and during all that time, I didn’t know the Lord. I
didn’t really believe in anything greater than myself!”
Despite his cocaine use, Luis was able to remain functional for several years. In 1994, however, things changed dramatically for him. “I suffered a career-ending knee injury, and my wife filed for divorce. In just one year I lost a very successful NFL career plus a marriage and five children!” Afterwards, “I moved away from my family and became more heavily involved with the cocaine.” Eventually, he got a drug charge and went to prison.
Somberly, Luis recalls: “My story was well-covered by the local news media. It was very difficult walking through those prison doors, wondering what people were thinking and saying about me.”
Then came the eventful day when “a man of God” held a worship service at the prison. “I gave my heart to Jesus and began reading God’s Word. For the first time, it started to make sense–this Bible which until now I absolutely did not understand!”
After a year’s imprisonment, he was released. Just two years later, however, Luis found himself back behind bars. “I was clean and sober for 15 months; then I started using drugs again and caught another charge!” Nevertheless, despite the highs and lows, his faith carried him through. After 18 months, Luis was again released–this time court-ordered to a drug rehab facility. On May 1, 2001, he checked into the Phoenix ARC.
Today an ARC graduate, Luis serves on staff as the men’s residence manager. His great passion, he relates excitedly, is teaching a Christian twelve-step study group. “The Bible says, ‘Give and it will be given to you.’ Hearing what God is doing in these men’s lives builds my faith. It reminds me that he is real! He’s alive! He’s a miracle-worker! Giving of myself, I’m receiving so much more than I am giving!”
Recently, after participating in the NFL’s 2002 Rookie Symposium, Luis received a letter from the NFL Management Council, thanking him. It reads in part: “You should take great pride in how you have turned your life around. The courage you displayed in telling your story–from your days as an outstanding lineman for the NFL to your dark days in prison–was inspirational to us all. We should all follow your example and ‘give back’ as you have.”