Image is everything.
In a culture of 33-character tweets, instagram photos, and 30-second news stories, creating marketable images is paramount. The formula is simple; stage an inspiring photo, broadcast the image to the world, move on, and repeat.
In 2015, a 4-year old boy named Gavin King was diagnosed with a form of brain cancer called medulloblastoma. He endured months of chemotherapy, radiation, and other treatments. In October of that year, ‘Coaches vs. Cancer’ and ‘ProCure’ collaborated to give children like Gavin an experience to create joy and hope for those who had gone through so much suffering. After the Oklahoma State vs. Kansas State game, children like Gavin would be pared with an Oklahoma State player for a ceremony.
Of course, there would also be the photo-op.
In the photograph, Mason is holding young Gavin in his arms. Gavin looks to the crowd and waves, while Mason looks up into the stands. The picture has found its home in the King’s household, perched on a ledge at eye level and encased in a frame which bears white flowers and small Oklahoma State logos. The frame rests on a white handkerchief with blue cursive lettering. The lettering reads; He will wipe away every tear… Rev. 21:4.
The picture had been taken. The image had made its way to the Oklahoman newspaper. Mason Rudolph and OSU had done their good deed, projected their desired image, and strengthened their brand. Now, it was time to move on a repeat.
Only that’s not Mason Rudolph.
Mason Rudolph’s grandfather was a preacher. He explained to Fellowship of Christian Athletes; “Growing up with my family, my grandfather being a minister, I was always around the gospel. Once I made it to college, my faith had to become my own. The distance away from my family actually strengthened my relationship with Christ. I passionately pursue Christ because I want to be a witness for Him and use this platform to impact our community. I think my faith has grown in every chapter of my life, especially in college.” To Adam Kramer at Bleacher Report, he added; :I was brought up with a biblical background, with an idea that I could and should do what I could in my community. If I were to get a platform through football or something else, I didn’t want this just to be a gain for myself. I wanted to give back and impact people.”
While still at Oklahoma State, that’s exactly what Mason did. Fellowship of Christian Athletes arranged situations for him to read books to children and speak to elementary school students. He led team-building exercises with high school football teams. He spent his Thanksgiving in 2016 serving dinners at a local food bank. He took part in Tim Tebow’s 2015 “Night to Shine” event, which serves as a prom for teenagers with special needs. When he heard of tragedies in the area, Rudolph would go to the hospital and visit the victims.
Oklahoma State coach, Mike Gundy, said of Rudolph; “I said this three years ago, and I’ll say it again. I have three sons, and if they could grow up to be as squared away off the field as Mason is, it would make me comfortable as a dad. That’s the kind of kid he is.”
Mason Rudolph isn’t concerned with his brand, his image, or creating a picture-perfect, inspirational photo. His goal is to use the platform God has given him to become a blessing to others.
The day after the photograph with Gavin was taken, Gavin’s mother, Angela received a message from Oklahoma State. Rudolph was seeking permission to contact the family. He explains, “I wanted to know I wasn’t just a guy in a picture to them. I wanted to have some kind of relationship.” Rudolph would send text messages to Gavin. He would reach out with words of encouragement during times of treatment. The two developed a special bond.
Soon after Christmas that year, Gavin was called home to glory.
Rudolph has remained in contact with Gavin’s family. Their connection continues to be a blessing. Gavin’s mother Angela explains; “I feel like my child and his story along with Mason’s is just going to keep going. His impact is still here.”
As it turns out, Oklahoma State was just the beginning of Rudolph’s journey. In 2018, he was selected in the 3rd Round of the draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. On Sunday, September 15, 2019, Steeler’s quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, went down with a season ending injury. Rudolph has taken over as the starting quarterback and will receive the first start of his NFL career this upcoming Sunday, September 22, in San Francisco against the 49ers.
There are many who doubt his talent. Nick Schwartz of “For the Win,” dropped the Steeler’s odds of making the playoffs by 26% when Rudolph was named starter. Steven Ruiz of USA Today published an article entitled, “Mason Rudolph Isn’t the Short- or Long-Term Answer at QB for the Steelers.”
This Sunday, Rudolph has the opportunity to prove the world wrong. His plan is simple. He tells Sports Spectrum; “Christ is at the center of it. It’s Christ who will always be there for you; He’s your foundations. So just getting in the Word and leaning on a few of my life verses throughout the week, as well as constant communication with my parents – that’s my secret to success.
As young Gavin King would be glued to his television screen during Oklahoma State games, the world will be watching as Rudolph takes the field on Sunday. Whether his college success will translate to the NFL is yet to be determined. But his faith, his maturity, and kindness are already making an impact.