Most of the local jocks who have tried to break into the record business in recent years have flopped. Allen Iverson and Chris Webber both got nowhere pushing gangsta rap. Brandon Lloyd’s attempt to fashion a hip-hop career while he was with the San Francisco 49ers alienated management and helped punch his ticket to D.C., but he still hasn’t found a label to release his rhymes.
Amid all the failures, there’s one area athlete who went in another direction when he joined the biz and has been moving units ever since.
Would you believe…Mark Brunell?
In the fall of 2004, during his lousy first season with the Skins, Brunell was part of a group that included former Jacksonville teammate Tony Boselli that invested in InPop Records. Before Brunell’s money came in, the Nashville-area label, known for releasing lite Christian rock, was thought to be in as much trouble as the QB’s career.
Both have since been revived.
“[InPop’s] image is definitely solid, known for well-produced quality music in the pop vein,” says Doug Van Pelt, editor of HM, an Austin, Texas–based magazine that caters mainly to a Christian-music-listening clientele. “They’re big with the soccer moms. InPop and anything with the distribution that the label has—everything goes to at least 1,200 Christian bookstores across the country—is pulling in some pretty big bucks.”
Brunell’s stable of talent includes several righteous rockers who are or were at one time on the fringe of the mainstream music scene, acts such as Newsboys, Mat Kearney, Petra, and Superchick.
Just as Iverson and Webber tried to use their rhymes to hype the thug-lifers they’d become (or, in Webber’s case, wanted to become) through serial brushes with the law, InPop’s output seems aimed to do nothing but enhance Brunell’s hard-earned image as perhaps the godliest man still in a sports uniform.
(Quick test! One set of lyrics is from Iverson’s unreleased 2002 recording “40 Bars,” and the other comes from a disc by InPop’s heaviest hitters, Newsboys: (A) “Come to me with faggot tendencies/You’ll be sleeping where the maggots be/Everybody stay fly get money kill and fuck bitches/I’m hitting anything in plain view for my riches”; (B) “Good news for the modern man, yes it is/Eternity in the heart of every man/Confirmed just who I am/Here I stand/The forever man.” Guess which is which! No Googling!)
InPop is only the most audible of Brunell’s off-field commercial projects. In the noncommercial vein, he’s long been a frontman for Every Nation, an evangelical organization based in the Nashville area. Other celebrity proselytizers for the ministry include Boselli and former Redskins Tim Johnson and Darrell Green.
Cracking the connections between Brunell’s side ventures and his church is easier than Monday’s crossword puzzle.
For example, Newsboys’ go-to slogan, featured on the front page of the band’s Web site, is “every tribe, every tongue, every nation.” Newsboys’ last major tour was called the “Have You Done the Purple Book?” campaign. At the shows, attendees were given copies of the “Purple Book,” also known as Biblical Foundations for Building Strong Disciples, which is the handbook that those in the Every Nation flock are tasked with memorizing.
Brunell provides the primary back-cover blurb on the hardcover and paperback versions of the book: “The Purple Book has been instrumental in my growth as a believer, an effective tool in helping me build the life that God has intended for me.” The book was co-authored by Every Nation founder Rice Broocks, who is also a partner of Brunell’s and Boselli’s in InPop Records.
Brunell is also the public face of a group called Champions for Christ, whose catchphrase is “Every Person. Every Team. Every Sport. Every Nation.”
Along with that slogan, the Champions for Christ Web site’s front page has a big photo of Brunell, along with a plea from the Skins QB to come to the group’s annual conference, where, he says, “professional and college athletes from around the world will come together for a time of worship, teaching, and camaraderie.”
Messages left at InPop’s offices were not returned, and, through the Redskins media office, Brunell declined a request for an interview about InPop and how his business interests relate to his church, saying he likes to stick to football matters during in-season interviews.
The more the lefty’s right-minded image rubs off, the better for Every Nation—its rather quiet expansion has not come without controversy.
“Brunell, he’s one of their stars, and Every Nation is a cash cow,” says Rick Ross, a New Jersey resident and self-appointed watchdog of religious institutions. “There’s absolutely no transparency in the finances of this church, nothing like what you’d get with any other established church,” citing the ministry’s reluctance to submit to an independent audit.
Every Nation’s fiscal strategies aren’t the only things that have caused some unwanted light to be shined on Brunell and his partners. In 1998, Champions for Christ was said to be steering NFL players to an agent tied to the group—Brunell’s then-marketing representative, Greg Feste, was accused of putting the fear of God into Chicago Bears running back Curtis Enis to get him to switch agents. (Brunell partnered with Feste to found the Austin Wranglers, an arena football team.)
In May 2005, a federal lawsuit was filed in Nashville against Bethel World Outreach Center—an Every Nation church in Brentwood, Tenn., that is Broocks’ home base and where Johnson serves as chief pastor—after a student and church recruit at local Hillsboro High School attempted to kill herself. News reports at the time said the girl was distraught over orders to recruit fellow students for Every Nation and an edict from church leaders not to tell her parents about speaking in tongues during the afternoon meetings, which were held on the grounds of the public school.
And in January, Judy Peters, a former Fairfax County schoolteacher now living in the Pittsburgh area, brought Ross in for an intervention in hopes of deprogramming a daughter who had turned on her kin after being recruited by Every Nation on the Boston University campus.
“Every Nation controlled her entire life, and they were so abusive and coercive,” says Peters. “Everybody who was not a part of their church was dead to her. They brought her to Nashville and put her in a two-bedroom apartment with five girls for what they called ‘training.’ [In Boston] they had her working more than 80 hours a week for the church, most of it fundraising, and for that she was being paid $550 a month. So we had an intervention, just like she was an alcoholic that needed treatment.”
According to Peters, who says she comes from a family of devout Catholics, after the intervention her daughter agreed to leave the church and to stay for two weeks in the Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center, an Ohio facility that, according to its promotional material, treats “people who have been victims of psychological, emotional or spiritual abuse from religious cults, toxic relationships or other manipulative groups.” Peters says Ross hammered home the lack of transparency in Every Nation’s finances and how that differed from more mainstream religious entities.
“I try not to use the word ‘cult,’ but that’s what it was,” says Peters, who asked that the name of her daughter—who is back living at home but still seeing a psychologist because of the church episode—not be used for this story. “They told her who to trust, who not to believe, who she could hang out with, what she could read—she had to memorize the Purple Book—and what music she could listen to.”
And what music was that?
“She listened to Mat Kearney and the Newsboys,” says Peters.