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From Guest Lecturing to Enrolling

Motivational speaker and NFL transition coach Steve Fitzhugh GS’23 connects with his studies at Bethel.

By Judd Martinson '20

June 04, 2020 | 9:45 a.m.

Steve Fitzhugh GS'23 speaks at the Baltimore Ravens' headquarters.

Steve Fitzhugh GS'23 speaks at the Baltimore Ravens' headquarters.

When former NFL player Steve Fitzhugh GS’23 met Chick-Fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy, he asked the businessman about his secret to success. “There’s no secret, Steve,” Cathy replied before sharing Proverbs 22:1, which talks about choosing a good name over great riches. Cathy then told Fitzhugh, “Everything you do, you put your name on it. I just try to do it right every time.” This inspired him to write a piece for NFL rookies about guarding their names, which was turned into a short video shared across the NFL, bringing Fitzhugh a new opportunity to help others. “I was speaking in Pasadena, and I got an email from the NFL headquarters that said, all caps, ‘WHAT’S YOUR CELL NUMBER?’” Fitzhugh says.

NFL leaders asked Fitzhugh to become a certified NFL transition coach as part of a new program to help players transition from the league to their next opportunities in life. It fit perfectly with Fitzhugh’s calling. Today, he is using his experiences—and his good name—to inspire and help others as a sought-after youth and corporate motivational speaker, a leader for several nonprofits and camps, and an author. Along with his work as an NFL transition coach, he’s also a Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) spokesperson, motivational speaker, and president of Covenant Village, a camp and retreat center in Pennsylvania. His work with FCA brings him to about 150 to 200 schools per year. “I’ve dealt with every demographic. I’ve been in and out of high schools and colleges all over the country for 30 years,” he says.

While Fitzhugh has knowledge of students and faculty from his work experiences, he is in Bethel’s Ed.D. in Higher Education Leadership program to gain an in-depth knowledge of how the mechanisms of education work and to make a lasting difference in the lives of young people. 

A Foundation of Faith 

Fitzhugh’s parents divorced when he was two, and he didn’t attend church for many years. But later, Fitzhugh’s sister asked him to go along to a service with her since her boyfriend was away. “I just fell in love with these people… I just remember seeing people that didn’t have bloodshot eyes, so many of the adults in my family had bloodshot eyes from the drinking and smoking, etc.” he says. But then his sister and her boyfriend broke up, she stopped going to church, and Fitzhugh was left without a ride. He called the church and asked if it could send a van to pick him up. “I could probably count on one hand the Sundays that I missed from the time I was 12, 13, 14, 15, 16. I rode the church van by myself to church every Sunday,” Fitzhugh says.

The Sunday before Fitzhugh left for college at Miami University of Ohio, former Cleveland Browns player Oscar Roan spoke at his church. As an aspiring football player, Fitzhugh asked Roan for advice. Roan told him, “As soon as you get to college, find out who the people are who know how to pray and build relationships with them.” That’s just what Fitzhugh did. At school, he connected with the Navigators, a college ministry. During college, he began to sense a call to ministry, but didn’t know what that would specifically look like for him.

After playing two years in the NFL with the Denver Broncos, Fitzhugh earned a Master of Divinity at Howard University, where he met his wife Karen. For one of his summer jobs, former Washington, D.C., Mayor Marion Barry hired him to work for a summer enrichment program for teenagers. Fitzhugh found early success in the program and realized what he wanted to be. “This is what I do, I’m a youth communicator,” he says.

Steve Fitzhugh GS'23 works as a national spokesperson for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Steve Fitzhugh GS'23 works as a national spokesperson for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

After briefly working as a youth minister in North Dakota, Fitzhugh returned to Washington, D.C., and became a national spokesperson for FCA’s One Way 2 Play Drug Free program, and co-founded The House DC, a teen drop-in center at the site of three former drug houses. He also started PowerMoves, his own international speaking organization for youth and corporate motivation. Then building off his connection to the NFL, Fitzhugh started a free summer camp for ninth-grade boys called Good Name Leadership Summit. He has partnered with the Baltimore Ravens, using their headquarters as part of the summit, and plans to expand to partnerships with other teams nationally, including the Minnesota Vikings.

Fitzhugh also wrote a children’s book series called The Adventures of Lil’ Stevie based on stories from his childhood growing up in Akron, Ohio. Through a partnership with the Akron public schools, third graders will be given one of his books.

From Lecturer to Student

By the time he guest lectured for a Bethel University higher education program class, he had an informed response to every question—and some members of the class had previously heard him speak at their schools across the country. The professor jokingly said that Fitzhugh should be teaching the class.

Instead, Fitzhugh wound up joining the students in Bethel’s class. Sometime after his guest lecture at Bethel he was at Covenant Village when his wife, Karen, encouraged him to look up the Bethel program online to learn more details. “My wife and I just bust up laughing. Because on this last page, the first thing I saw was a picture of me. That day we took a group photo…the day I was there lecturing,” he says. As someone in ministry, he decided to enroll in the Ed.D. in Higher Education Leadership program at Bethel because of the opportunity to impact young people who will go on to change the world.

As Fitzhugh engages with the program material, he connects to the subject matter with the underlying tenets of a Christian liberal arts school. He mentions he could read the class content all day from authors making the connection between our purpose and life, God’s plan for our lives, and education. “Now I don’t have to shy away from those words that I’m not allowed to say when I’m doing a high school assembly,” he says.

As Fitzhugh continues serving youth, he hopes to finish his studies at Bethel in 2023.

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