The X-Games™ have always been the place where over-the-edge athletes throw down adrenaline-pumping stunts that blow the minds of spectators. Those who really excel at these death- defying sports often embrace a dark and murky culture of dissent, dissatisfaction, and dissing anything that resembles rules or conformity.
But a few of these dare-devils have been raising an uncomfortable stir. Sponsors and organizers are nail-biting over what fans will think when they learn their bad-boy, rebel heroes have embraced Christianity. In this lesson we’ll find out who some of them are, and how it happened…
When motocross racing newcomer Brian Deegan won the1997 LA Coliseum Supercross, he astonished the crowd by hopping off his moving bike at the finish line. It launched riderless into the air. That was to be the first of many shocking stunts from Deegan that would rock the motocross world. The move was immediately banned by motocross authorities and racing rebel Brian Deegan found his bad boy niche.
Deegan was 12 years old when his parents divorced. He found a vent for his anger in dirt biking, and turned pro by age 17. He left small town Nebraska for Southern California, FMX headquarters, promising his father he would come back home and go to college if he didn’t make it.
Brian soon switched from motocross racing to freestyle motocross (FMX), which is more about stunts and tricks than riding laps. He soon joined up with other riders who wielded the same revulsion for authority. With Larry Linkogle, Deegan co-created the “Metal Mulisha”, an FMX team that would eventually compete and perform around the world.
In an interview with Phil Bartsch of the Courier Mail, an Australian newspaper, Deegan said “We formed the Mulisha because we wanted to have our own group of guys who stood up against the (motocross industry) establishment. We’re against people trying to make you do things you don’t want to do, like dress and look how you don’t want to look.”
The Mulisha became known for their raucous, destructive behavior, shaved heads, tattoos, wild parties and busted hotel rooms. Deegan chose a skull with a Nazi helmet for the Metal Mulisha emblem, marketing the symbol in a multimillion dollar clothing line.
The X Games (formerly known simply as “X-treme Sports”) began to include Freestyle Motocross in 1999. Deegan has taken 3 Gold and 7 Bronze medals, competing in at least one X Games event annually.
He was the first ever to do a 360 in competition – an aerial back flip on the motorcycle while ramp jumping. The trick was named the “Mulisha Twist”. Deegan became internationally known for his willingness to invent new tricks risking everything to entertain an audience.
“For me, I would say my whole life was being a rebel; trying to form an image of this guy who has done a lot of sins, a lot of bad things. (I was) trying just to build a name – basically glorifying being a bad person…” Deegan goes on to express his growing emptiness he felt inside. “ I just was hurting the people I loved and doing the bad things.”
The Metal Mulisha packed stadiums wherever they went. But ripping on a bike in FMX competition has the potential to rip the rider’s body as well as take his life. Like ancient gladiator games, spectators are as eager to see a crash as they are thrilled with a successful death-defying trick.
In May of 2005 Brian Deegan attempted a back flip for the MTV cameras filming Viva La Bam. He tried to slice through a 40 mph crosswind. The jump went bad. He took the handlebars in the gut, exploding his kidney, lacerating his spleen. He crash landed and writhed in pain on the ground.
“In my head, I knew I was dying.” recalls Deegan. Rushed to hospital, the surgeon told him that he might not make it. Then and there he made a promise to God. “That was the final moment when I said, ‘You know what? If I live through this, I am going to fully follow Christ.’”
The day after his surgery, his wife Marissa fueled his desire to live by announcing that she was pregnant with their second child.
In an interview with Chris Palmer of ESPN Magazine Deegan said, “ That was be being a dumb kid. I tried to uphold an image and shock people. We had to be gnarly all the time. When I realized how stupid that was, people called me a sellout. But I didn’t owe them anything.” He also said, “It took me years to realize that I was a [expletive removed] idiot. It took me another 2 years to get away from it.”
True to his promise, as soon as he recovered he found a church for his family to attend and began opening up his home for a bible study and faith sharing for his biking brothers.
Soon other members of the Metal Mulisha joined Deegan in his search for God. “I was able to bring Jeremy Lusk into our bible study. Twitch was in our bible study, just our close friends that we really cared about and it started to grow.”
They started taking heat for expressing their Christian faith in a culture that despises religion. But they found strength to stand up for their beliefs in each other. “I think the main thing,” said Deegan, “ is finding people that you can associate with. I continued to grow. Through that, we (all) really started to learn about God and the bible. That was pretty much how our walk started advancing.
Jeremy Lusk was one of Deegan’s closest friends and a teammate, and he had recently been baptized. On February 9, 2009, while performing a back flip trick called the “Hart Attack” at a show in Costa Rica in front of thousands of motocross fans, he crashed and crushed his skull. The Metal Mulisha were devastated, but continued in their public outpouring of faith.
“At this point, I’d say Jeremy Lusk passing away – you know I see my best friend, and just seeing him laying there – you know after he passed, down there in Costa Rica, I was just like, you know what? I go, this has to be the strongest awakening for me going, ‘You better figure it out, you better just follow Christ from this day on.’ It just really made me see how short that life can be and you don’t know what is going to happen the next day, and so why not live your life to where when you’re gone, you can be like, ‘Man, I lived the best life I could possibly live. I affected people in a positive way.’
Deegan, when asked about his making his faith public, told The New York Times, “In the end I said, ‘who’s more radical than us?’ Everything we do is full-on. Once we went to church, we were full-on Christians, too. And we’re going to go for it. On the mic, I’ll say it. On TV, say it. The next thing you know, I have way more people pumped on me.”
So many fans began to question what it meant to give one’s life to Christ that Brian Deegan was moved to share his faith with his fans in an interview posted on YouTube called “Faisst Pastor PJ and Deegan Gospel” part 1 and part 2.
Brian Deagan spends a lot of time up in the air flipping motorcycles. But his life is becoming grounded in Christ. He strives to be a better person with God’s grace. “You know we had our ups and downs. We have done a lot of bad stuff and it still happens. I am still a sinner, I’ll admit it. I have my moments. I’m not happy for the things I’ve done. I feel bad the next day and I don’t want to do it again. The thing is, I am trying to become a better person, a better dad, a better husband, a better friend.
X-treme motocross has something in common with the real Cross. When an FMX biker, rally car racer, or any other extreme sport athlete performs, they offer every bit of themselves to their sport. Risking great injury and maybe even death, they pour it all out on the altar of that dirt track; to feed their fans hunger for a rush, and to gain their prize: the medal, respect, and money.
When such radical people come face to face with the intense, “full-on” love, giving, and selfless sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross (and we witness at Mass), they have a deep understanding of what it takes to do that. They get it, they respect it, and want to follow it.
God’s love for us, and giving that love to others, is the missing element that they were searching for but could never satisfy with an adrenaline high. Their desire to be unique is answered by Christ’s individual love for each of us. And as they continue their Christian walk, they find themselves more radical and different than ever before.