A Changed Heart
Napolean Kaufman had traveled a long, bumpy road to the National Football League. He was raised by a single, drug-using mother, whose attempts to keep young Napoleon out of trouble often failed. Twice he found himself in juvenile hall for stealing bikes, food, and other material items to survive. "I didn't have a father around to give me any whoopins when I needed them," he laughs. "My mom did the best she could with me, but oftentimes the devil runs rampant in homes that have no father figure. When I got older, I started doing things I shouldn't have done, because I wasn't afraid of the consequences."
Football was his escape. Blessed with outstanding sprinter's speed (he runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds), Kaufman ran his way into the California state high school record books, finishing his career second in yards and touchdowns. He accepted a scholarship to the University of Washington, where he proceeded to break the school's career rushing and all-purpose yardage records.
Success brought Kaufman fame and popularity. It also exposed him to temptations. He started drinking. His search for acceptance and fulfillment led him to parties, bars, and other places with "the wrong crowd."
"Even though I was not a Christian I always had strong convictions about certain things, until I got to college," he says. "That's when my popularity got the best of me."
After being drafted by the Raiders in the first round of the 1995 NFL Draft, receiving a lucrative contract, and making an immediate impact on the field in his rookie year, Kaufman thought he had it all. Money, athletic stardom, a big house-what more could a guy who survived a rocky childhood ask for?
"Through it all, though, I still felt empty inside," he says. "After the initial happiness, those things-football, fame, money-didn't satisfy me anymore."
Kaufman's discontent softened his heart to the Gospel. A few days after he heard his teammate's testimony in August 1996, he knelt at his bedside and asked Jesus into his heart.
"God drove me to my knees," he says. "I asked him to forgive me of my sins, to come into my life, and to change my life. I had finally reached a point where I could say, 'You're right, and I'm wrong, Lord.' For the first time in my life, I had joy--unspeakable joy!"
He started witnessing and sharing his testimony with anybody who would listen. And on July 18, 1997, he was ordained as a Church of God in Christ minister. Kaufman's friends were amazed at his swift and radical spiritual overhaul.
"They couldn't understand how God could change my life so fast," he says. "But it was nothing more than me giving the Lord my life. I was tired of everything my old life had to offer, so I gave my life totally and completely to Him."
The 5-foot, 8-inch minister has become one of the giants of his sport. But the biggest gain of Napoleon Kaufman's life cannot be measured in terms of yards, points or touchdowns.
"When I found Jesus I found everything," he says. "I found life."