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Faith and Sports

For athletes, Yolanda Adams is the sound of ‘Victory’

The gospel singer is a lifelong golfer and a fan of the Rockets and Texans

A look at the intersection of sports, faith and religion.

When Simone Manuel became the first African-American woman to win an individual gold medal in swimming at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, she was inspired by the song “Victory” by Grammy Award-winning gospel artist Yolanda Adams.

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has talked about having “I’m Gonna Be Ready” by Adams stuck in his head. And when track star and Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee was asked about her favorite musical artists, she name-checked Beyoncé, The O’Jays and Adams.

“Here is the thing about sports and religion,” said Adams, 57. “They are so closely united. When you think of the concepts of sports, you have two very capable teams vying for that one W. So sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. It takes a team, it takes effort. It takes determination. It takes a sheer will. It’s the same thing with religion.

“I’m honored that folks love the music and they’re still inspired by what we’ve done,” Adams said. “That’s the whole point of what I do. My end goal for everything musically, and just in life in general, is to inspire people to be their best self.”

Adams said her songs captivate many people because she “does not preach the problem,” she “sings the solution.”

“When you encourage people to keep moving forward no matter how hard it feels or how hard it gets, they tend to believe you,” she said. “That’s the beauty of the folks who listen to me. They believe what I sing. They believe what I say because I live it. It’s one thing to sing it and not live it, but it’s another thing to sing it and live, and it shows people, hey, if she can do it, I can do it.”

Adams’ second husband, Tim Crawford, is a former NFL player. Crawford, who played at Texas Tech, was selected in the third round of the 1986 draft by the New York Jets. The couple were married for nearly eight years before divorcing in 2004. They have one daughter, Taylor, who attends Howard University.

Known to many as the first lady of modern gospel, she’s sold more than 8 million albums worldwide. Born in Houston, Adams is the oldest of six siblings, and her love of gospel music was influenced by her late mother, Carolyn.

She graduated from Texas Southern University with a bachelor’s degree in radio and television broadcast. She was once a schoolteacher but left education to pursue a career in gospel. She got her first break as a member of the Southeast Inspirational Choir in Houston, which is affiliated with the Church of God in Christ. As lead singer, she is featured on the 1982 gospel classic “My Liberty.” (She now is a member of the nondenominational Abundant Life Cathedral in Houston.)

She’s also worked with several mainstream artists and producers, including Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Mary Mary and others. “I think [crossing over into mainstream radio] is a part of growth,” Adams said. “For me, it wasn’t intentional, I never thought about it like that. I thought that every heart on the earth needs the same things. We all need love, we all need encouragement, we all need to know that what we’re doing counts for something. That’s what I concentrated on when doing any of my projects.”

Adams believes sports and religion have a stronger connection than people realize.

“Some people won’t go to a church or a tabernacle or a synagogue, but they’ll go to a game,” Adams said. “Then they find camaraderie there. You never know what that means to a person. We love our sports. Sometimes our sport is our religion. I know that for a long time, people have tried to separate it because they didn’t understand it. But there’s so many parallels between spirit and sports. As a matter of fact, Paul in so many of his writings talked about winning and persevering and staying in the race. So he understood how important those whole metaphors of sports and spirit work together. So it’s really hard to separate it.”

As a Houston native, Adams loves all the city’s teams and frequently attends Houston Texans games. “The Houston Rockets can do no wrong for me. I wish we still had our Comets, because they were amazing. But I am an all-around sports fan.”

Adams grew up in a sports-oriented household. Her father, Major, was a middle school coach.

“We had sports every season,” she said. “We had track season, we had baseball season, we had football season, basketball season. So I am an avid fan of all sports because I know what it takes to be a champion, and I definitely know what it takes to continue to keep your body in tip-top shape, because I saw it growing up.”

Adams’ sport of choice growing up was golf, which she still plays.

“I have been playing golf since I was about 8 years old,” she said. “My dad and my grandfather were avid golfers. My grandfather played almost every day. If he wasn’t playing, he was talking noise and talking to his friends about playing. At the time there was only one golf course here in Houston that he could play at: Hermann Park Golf Course. It was the only course in the area reserved for African-Americans at that time. He taught me and my brother … you are actually playing against the course. Each course has its own level of difficulty. That to me is what makes golf so amazing. It’s a game of correction, just like life is.”

Kelley Evans is a digital producer at Andscape. She is a food passionista, helicopter mom and an unapologetic Southerner who spends every night with the cast of The Young and the Restless by way of her couch.