Home > Devotional > Personal Testimony – Leo Wisniewski

I moved to Pittsburgh when I was 13 years old in 1971 just when the Steelers were turning the corner from the cellar to greatness in the NFL. A few years later we were singing the Steeler Polka in the neighborhood with my buddies, “We’re from the town with the great football team. We cheer the Pittsburgh Steelers.” My early years were spent at several places in New England but Pittsburgh would soon become the town that was really home. The Pirates, or Bucs, as they are known affectionately here in the Burgh were already great when I moved in, having won the World Series that year with an all-star outfield of Willie Stargell, Al Oliver and Roberto Clemente. I became a sports nut.

My neighborhood buddies, all lifetime “Burghers”, attracted me to a great love affair with competing in everything from playground basketball, pickup football, and that favorite of American boyhood obsessions, home run derby. They had a passion for our hometown teams and it quickly took over my heart as well. With all the importance placed on youth and high school sports and a fierce competitiveness growing in me, my devotion to football and wrestling became hugely important to me.

I am the fourth of six children from a solid Catholic family with two loving and committed parents (now deceased). We lived in a middle class neighborhood called O’Hara Township.  By the age of 16 at Fox Chapel High School, football and wrestling were the outlets where I gained my strong sense of validation as a man. The physical toughness and skill I demonstrated in these sports brought many accolades (1977 All State honors in Football, 1978 State Championship in Wrestling) and scholarship offers from many schools around the country (i.e. Stanford, Notre Dame, Michigan, Penn State). In this success I gained the respect of my teammates, coaches, friends, classmates and the football community throughout the state. Though I had grown up attending church every Sunday, in my high school years my involvement was not meaningful to me any longer.  Even though I sought to be forgiven it was on my terms and I experienced a widening distance from God. I had a growing distraction with sex in my thought life which captivated my attention and made me feel opposed to God’s direction for my life.

Looking back, I believe there were three lies about masculinity that I was embracing. The first was the idea that physical toughness and athletic ability defined manhood and I embraced it especially since men respected me for it. The second lie was that sexual conquest with women made me a man. The fuel for this came from a growing testosterone and the gasoline of pornography thrown on top! My older friends gave me the magazines and they seemed to be a rite of passage for men. Again, the respect from my teammates and friends in getting young women validated my manhood in this area and seemed to make it right. “There is a way which seems right to a man but in the end leads to death.” (Proverbs 14:12)

The third mandate of false masculinity is the notion that real men gain status and respect through physical wealth and material emblems of success. They are a man’s way of keeping score with other men. I didn’t have any real money when I accepted a football scholarship to go to Penn State but in my sophomore year there I was already looking forward to the prospect of a big payday in the NFL. The satisfaction I derived from this false manhood was temporal, like a high from alcohol or sex, it was a momentary buzz to lift me, followed by a lingering emptiness.

It was at PSU that the Lord sent a band of brothers after me who lived out of a true masculinity that was counter-culture; in opposition to the three lies where I sought validation. Instead of seeking validation for themselves  through toughness and physical talent they viewed their gifts as given from God and sought to use them to bring glory and honor to Him. In contrast to my pleasure seeking life with women the Christian brothers on the team honored the women they dated; many openly talked about a commitment to sexual purity. They didn’t seem to keep score with us or other men with with regard to their gifts, money or material things. I was always comparing and competing. There was a deep sense of security one could see in them however and I learned that it flowed from their new identity as “sons of God”. They shared with me, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26) They told me that God has no biological children, only spiritual children through adoption. “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

At the beginning of my junior year I was deeply searching for answers and convicted of my sin. My binge drinking and the casual sexual relationships I looked to for the “buzz” had me feeling empty inside and without purpose. Also, my parents were struggling in their marriage and that shook me because their marriage brought a deep sense of security to me. I remembered two short verses from Romans the guys shared with me. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23 They said that Jesus life reflected the glory of God and that perfection was the measuring stick for how we would be judged. God doesn’t grade on a curve! The other verse stated, “The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) They told me this verse made clear that the payment for our sin (falling short of the mark of perfection) was spiritual death. This death means separation from God. Being separated we are in a place of judgment, unable to please God. On September 20, 1980 shortly before kickoff of our game at Kyle Field, Texas A & M University I got on my knees and prayed a simple prayer of faith and surrender.  Some call it “The Sinners Prayer.”  If you aren’t sure of your eternal destination; if all your attempts to fill the void in your heart have left you empty; if your life apart from God has you confessing that you are poor in spirit; you are ready. Pray right now and call out to the Lord.

“Father, I recognize that you are holy. I believe that I was created for a relationship with you through your eternal Son, Jesus Christ. I confess that I am a sinner. I have fallen short of your perfect standard. I believe that you sent Jesus to take the penalty of sin that was due to me. By his death on the Cross and shed blood I am washed clean of all my sins. By his victory over sin and death in the Cross I am saved from sin’s penalty of spiritual death. I believe Father that you raised your Son Jesus from the grave. I receive Jesus by faith as my Savior and Lord. I thank you for the new birth I have by the Holy Spirit who makes me a “son” of God. I pray all these things in the powerful name of Jesus, our Savior and Lord.” There is no magic in the words; it requires only your heart of faith.

I got up from that locker room floor a changed man. I felt the weight of my sins lifted from me and the Spirit of God upon me. He had given me a new heart for him (Ezekiel 36:26) and a real hunger for his word. In those first weeks walking with the Lord I was rejoicing in my adoption into God’s family as a “son” of God and thanking Him for my new “brothers” in Christ. They accepted me completely and I quickly developed strong and transparent relationships with many of them. That first huddle of men gave me an experience of authentic community and its just as important in my faith today.

The apostle Paul wrote, “those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a Spirit that makes you a slave again to fear but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by Him we cry Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:14-15)  The deep security and authentic manhood I longed for was a gift to me by the Spirit of Christ (sonship) when I opened my heart to trust him by faith as Savior and Lord.

I experienced a new joy in football as I was playing to honor Christ and not myself. I married my high school sweetheart after graduation in 1982. The Lord opened the door for me to play in the NFL after three big games at the close of my Senior year at the Fiesta Bowl, the Hula Bowl, and the Japan Bowl. I was taken #28 overall in the 1982 draft by the Baltimore Colts. I had a great experience at Baltimore and then Indianapolis as a three year starter at Nose Guard. Due to my inability to pass a physical following ACL reconstruction I retired after the 1985 season. The Lord however had a calling on my life to serve Him and I began working in campus ministry in the Penn State area after retirement. Over the years there have been many positions where I have served, joyful seasons of growth and many failures. The setbacks in my journey of faith due to sin have been powerful times when the Lord has been merciful and faithful to me, especially through my brothers in Christ.

Today, the Lord is the center of our marriage, our relationship with our children, and my ministry work. The power of his word lived out with my brothers in our Pittsburgh area huddles each week is equipping me to become the man Christ redeemed to be. My work with Locking Arms Men is a natural extension of what God is doing by his mighty grace shaping me and our men into the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29).

Feel free to contact me at: leo@lockingarmsmen.org