Mon, Aug 03, 2009 - Page 19 News List

X Games stars trading bad boy image for Bibles

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , CARSON, CALIFORNIA

Extreme sports legendary skateboarder Tony Hawk poses on a skateboard under his wax figure at the figure’s unveiling at Madame Tussauds in Hollywood, California, last Wednesday.

PHOTO: AFP

Brian Deegan and his band of freestyle motocross miscreants called the Metal Mulisha wore black and were covered in tattoos. They brawled, cursed and stirred up trouble. In their sport, they were the bad guys.

So when Deegan was baptized, he wondered what his fans would think.

After a near-fatal crash in 2005 while attempting a back flip during filming for a TV show, he lost a kidney and four pints of blood, and found religion. When a surgeon told him he might not survive, Deegan, 34, who has won more freestyle motocross medals at the X Games than any other rider, made a pact with God.

If he lived, he would mend his ways. When he finally pulled through, he sought a pastor, began reading the Bible and “gave his life to Christ,” he said.

Soon his fellow freestyle riders Jeremy Lusk, Ronnie Faisst and Jeremy Stenberg, who is known as Twitch, began attending Bible study with Deegan.

“All the heavy hitters of the Mulisha are born-again Christians,” Deegan said. “I started tripping. ‘What are the fans going to think?’ I started getting nervous.”

Action sports such as freestyle motocross and skateboarding were founded as antiestablishment. But events such as the X Games, taking place this week in and around Los Angeles, have made them more mainstream. And as the sports’ culture has changed, some have recognized a greater profile for religion.

It is difficult to chart when attitudes toward religion began shifting in action sports. But several years ago, ESPN representatives began receiving credential requests for members of the clergy to accompany athletes at the X Games and they have continued to issue them.

The case of Nate Adams is instructive, too. As a Christian, Adams was part pariah during the early days of freestyle motocross.

“We tried to pick him apart,” Deegan said. “But you had to respect him. He always ripped on a dirt bike. And now Nate Adams is one of our best friends.”

Skateboarding, too, has been transformed somewhat.

Christian Hosoi, 41, was a high-flying rival to Tony Hawk during the 1980s. On Sunday, he will compete in the Legends event at the X Games.

“I was such a rebel against conforming to government, or society because we skateboarders were so radical and we wanted to be outlaws,” he said about his professional heyday. “We were totally individuals, image-driven. It was more a lifestyle.”

Drug addiction derailed Hosoi’s career. He spent nearly five years in prison after pleading guilty to possession with intent to distribute crystal methamphetamine. He was released in 2004, but not before embracing Christianity.

“There wasn’t another option back in my day,” Hosoi said about the image he fostered as a professional skater. “It was either you were hardcore against it all, or you’re not cool and you’re out.”

Today, Hosoi is an associate pastor at a church in Huntington Beach, California, and he travels the world as an evangelist, using skateboarding and drawing on his personal experiences.

“I’m using my popularity, the history, my image and my accomplishments to preach the gospel,” he said.

Deegan is on a similar mission. At an X Games tribute to Lusk on Saturday before the freestyle motocross finals, Deegan planned to say a short prayer. Lusk, who won the gold medal in freestyle at last year’s Games, died of head injuries sustained in a February crash during a competition in Costa Rica.

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