Bob Briner

The legacy of a faithful pioneer in mainstream media and sports

GREENVILLE, Ill. -- Two decades ago, Bob Briner made a radical decision as he edged away from his 35-year career in pro sports and global media: He sold his homes in Dallas, Texas and Paris, France, and moved to a quiet town in southern Illinois.

The goal was to pass on what he had learned while mentoring students at his alma mater, Greenville College. He hosted Bible studies, helped students find jobs and spent time hanging out and talking sports.

But Briner kept hearing one awkward question over and over, after the release of his book "Roaring Lambs," a bestseller urging believers to get more involved in mass culture. People kept asking if he was going to start producing "Christian media."

Briner always tried to change the subject. Truth is, he once told me, most of his fellow evangelicals would not appreciate his answer. Many would be offended.

"I decided I wasn't tough enough to work in Christian media," he said, a few weeks before he died of cancer in 1999.

"You see, it never offended me when secular people acted like secular people," he explained. "What I couldn't understand was why so many Christians I did business with didn't act like Christians. I found that things were actually worse -- in terms of basic ethics -- in the Christian media than in the mainstream. That really hurt. So I decided I wasn't tough enough for Christian media."

Anyone who knew the man would recognize those words as "quintessential RAB," said retired Greenville College President Robert "Ish" Smith, using the initials that formed Briner's nickname. Smith and Briner met at age 12 on a church baseball team in Dallas, and were friends for life, including during college.