On Tuesday evening, March 25, Packers defensive end and Pro Bowler Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila spoke at Marquette University's Varsity Theater at the invitation of Campus Crusade for Christ. The title of his entertaining, hour-long testimony was "Fame and Faith".
Part 1: A Complicated Boyhood
Gbaja-Biamila was born in Los Angeles in September 1977. His parents grew up and met in Lagos, Nigeria, but started their family in the United States. Kabeer has four older brothers and one twin sister, Hadijat, who preceded him by ten minutes. Kabeer told us, though, that Nigerians consider him the older twin because he pushed her out first.
He grew up in a mixed-religion home. His father is a Muslim; his mother converted to Christianity in Nigeria and remains so. Growing up, he got mixed messages. His mom was more of the spiritual leader of the house; she would drag Kabeer and his siblings to church most Sundays. In contrast, his dad was outspokenly Muslim and got into apologetic confrontations with Christians. As Kabeer grew, his dad told him all about various contradictions in the Bible.
As a youth, Kabeer identified himself as a "good kid", one who tried to stay within the rules and seek adults' approval. In fact, after the 1992 Rodney King riots tore through his neighborhood, KGB became a founding member of the urban food co-op Food from the 'Hood and made the cover of Newsweek as a 15-year-old. However, Kabeer stressed that behind the veneer of good conduct, he stole small items, had promiscuous sex, and felt that he was morally justified if his good deeds outweighed the bad.
Gbaja-Biamila earned football scholarships to San Diego State and Colorado State, choosing the former because it was closer to home (about two hours) and his parents could easily watch him play. He joined the campus chapter of Athletes in Action, but he was repelled by the two-faced lives of its members. Kabeer spoke of them as people who went to church on Sunday, but didn't live their calling the rest of the week; they drank, partied, and hooked up like anyone else on campus. After some time, KGB parroted his father's Islamic critiques of the Bible. When no one gave him a satisfactory answer, he left the fellowship.
Kabeer became San Diego State's all-time sack leader and seemed likely to be chosen in the 2000 NFL Draft. The day before the draft, San Diego State had a media day for him and one other potential draftee. Asked where he wanted to go, he said, "I'd just be happy for a chance to play in the NFL - heck, anywhere but Green Bay", to general laughter. The next day, the Packers selected him in the fifth round. Kabeer, forgetting his joke in the magnitude of the moment, was overjoyed. He was still on cloud nine when he returned to face the local media, who greeted him with tape of "anywhere but Green Bay."
On stage, Kabeer did his best "D'oh!" impression, telling us that to a black kid who had lived all his life in Southern California, Green Bay seemed like an impossibly remote, white place. Yet our God has His purposes. In Green Bay, he would soon meet a man who would change his life.
To be continued...