His is a voice that New England Patriots players, and fans alike, know well. It is easily distinguished as the leader of the team’s postgame victory cheer (known by its rally cry: ‘Awww Yeeeeaahh,’) which is so commonly seen throughout social media. When the team is set to begin overtime (as they did during Sunday’s AFC Championship Game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium) that same distinctive voice can be clearly heard calling the coin toss to determine possession. His is a voice of a team captain. As such, he is one of the most respected players in the Patriots locker room. For the 52 remaining players on that roster, his voice remains poignant for reasons beyond just the gridiron.
It has been said many times that football is the ultimate team game. To win, it takes a total team effort. The talent has to be there; as does the game-planning, coaching and even a bit of luck. However one of the most important elements of success in football, as in life, is faith. Successful teams almost always credit their prosperity to employing players that demonstrate enormous faith in each other. That faith may come from a number of sources.
For wide receiver Matthew Slater of the New England Patriots, his faith remains rooted within his ‘audience of one.’
Each Monday, from the opening of training camp through season’s end, Patriots Character Coach and team chaplain Jack Easterby, presides over a team Bible study. About 10 to 12 players regularly attend, including safety (and fellow captain) Devin McCourty. The team also holds a prayer service before games. The services are kept on a low profile. There are neither cameras, nor print media to cover them. Rather, this group of teammates come together to celebrate their faith. Slater, the Pats’ special teams captain, is always front and center for these events. Each time, they look to Slater for guidance and support. While always setting the standard on the field on game day, Slater takes his greatest pride in the spiritual example he sets each and every day.
Chip off the ‘ol Block
Growing up in southern California, Slater was no stranger to football. His father, Jackie Slater, was an All-Pro offensive lineman for the Los Angeles Rams from 1976-1995. He is also a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. To no surprise, Matthew followed in his father’s footsteps, and has become quite the professional himself. Using the example set by his father, Matthew quickly developed a love for the fundamentals and nuances of the game. Recently, he even revealed to the Boston Globe that he always calls ‘heads’ during the coin toss, just as his father did during his playing days.
However, in addition to his love of football, the elder Slater passed his deep Christian faith to his son, as well. As a result, Jackie, his wife Annie and Matthew all share a religious connection to this day. That connection has helped to shape both the man, and the athlete that Slater has become.
Slater is one of the NFL’s standout special team players. He has earned seven Pro Bowl selections, and two Super Bowl Championships. On the field, he is universally recognized as exemplifying the “Patriot Way,” or always knowing what needs to be done at the time it’s needed most. Most Pats players would say that one would be hard-pressed to find someone on the team more respected than Slater.
For all of his on-field success, the argument can be made that Slater is as, or even more, respected off the field. Slater was honored with the 2017 Bart Starr Award. This honor, voted on by his peers, is given annually to a player who exemplifies character and leadership on and off the field. His father also won the award in 1995, making them the first father-son duo in the NFL to receive this accolade. In accepting this award, Slater cited his faith as the ‘core pillar’ of his life. In an interview he gave to Mike Lowe of the Portland Press Herald, Slater detailed the role that faith has played in his life:
“It’s something from a very young age that has given me direction and purpose beyond what I do professionally. It’s helped me lead in the home and it’s helped me lead on the job. Obviously as I work and prepare to play football, I’m always going to give everything I have. But I think on the back end, where you get off the football field, the relationships with people you build, especially in the locker room and the community and in your home, that’s very important.”
Slater’s moral compass has directed him well. Within the Patriots organization, he is second to none in community outreach. In 2013, Slater was awarded the Ron Burton Community Service Award by team owner Robert Kraft, for his strong commitment to community service and leadership. He is also the team’s representative for the United Way and works closely with the organization in the greater Boston area.
Slater’s reach also extends far beyond the Patriots. On October 25, 2016, Slater hosted a fundraiser titled ‘Matthew vs, Matthew,’ to benefit the victims of Hurricane Matthew. He raised over $60,000 for an organization known as Samaritans Purse, which still assists efforts in areas of the Carolinas and Haiti that were affected by the storm’s devastation.
However, faith and spirituality remain the center of Slater’s heart and soul. He is active in Professional Athletes Outreach, which is a fellowship and spiritual ministry that has existed since 1971. Slater has also told his faith story by video on TheIncrease.com, a website where professional athletes share their faith-based stories. In perhaps the best blend of his two passions, he has worked with Football Sunday, a 30-minute film that is available for churches to show on Super Bowl Sundays. (Credit info to Mike Lowe, Portland Press Herald)
A Unique Legacy
For as much passion as he has for his individual faith, Slater is not one to force that faith on anyone, especially his teammates. Rather, he simply vows to always be there for them, should they need him. Coincidentally, they often do. Slater’s friend and teammate, Julian Edelman, had this to say about him in 2017:
“Matthew Slater is probably the best teammate I’ve ever had. He’s the ultimate guy where you can talk to him about anything and he can help you. He comes from a strong family … He’s a great role model for guys in the locker room, not only just kid, by the way he lives his life.”
Much like football, however, Christianity hasn’t always been an easy path for Slater. His faith was tested and then reaffirmed in his freshman year at UCLA. He offered the following insight:
“When I got to college I really had to personalize my faith and there were some tough decisions that needed to be made, and I hadn’t made all the right ones. I remember coming home and my dad really challenged me. He said, ‘Hey this is the time for you to become a man. When you say you want to be this kind of man and you profess that, well it’s time to start acting on it.’ There was that time when I had to trigger my faith. Some of that has continued to develop and will continue to develop.”
On Sunday, February 3, 2019, Slater will once again be challenged by lessons taught to him by his father. One might say, things will come ‘full circle.’ For New England, they will take on a familiar foe in the Los Angeles Rams. It is the same franchise over which the team scored it first Super Bowl victory in 2002. For Slater, however, this game will have a ‘full-circle’ feel for a different reason. As previously stated, his father is a Rams legend. Jackie Slater’s number 78 has even been retired by the organization. However, the younger Slater will assuredly be the consummate professional on Super Bowl Sunday. Proudly wearing the Patriots colors, Slater can always be relied upon to do his job on the field. Yet, the shadow of his father will not loom ominously over his shoulder. In fact, the greatest way that Matthew Slater may honor his father’s legacy is to continue to embody the faith and character he inherited from him. Jackie Slater will unquestionably be watching proudly, as his son perseveres both in body and in spirit, on the field of battle.
It is that perseverance that has led Matthew Slater to a place of professional success and spiritual peace. While appreciative of his fans, teammates and his family, Slater often states that he performs for an ‘audience of one.’ In this case, he is referring to God. That method of focus has helped him to become a better athlete, friend, teammate, family member, and man overall. For that reason, he is both loved and well-respected. It is hard to argue that Slater’s audience, whether human or Divine, could not be more pleased with his performance.
–Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and National Columnist for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the New England Patriots and the NFL. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC