January 1

    Jonathan Edwards

    Jonathan Edwards

    On this date in 1966, Jonathan Edwards was born in London. Edwards became a born-again Christian as a teen. He decided to pursue a career as a track and field triple-jumper starting in 1987 and competed until retiring after the 2003 IAAF World Championships.

    He is the most successful medal-winning athlete in British history, having won the gold in the Olympics at Sydney in 2000, at the Commonwealth Games in 2002 at Manchester and the World Championships in 2001 at Edmonton, among many awards. Since 1995 he has held the world record in men’s triple jump, with the record at 18.29 meters as of August 2019.

    During his athletic career, Edwards was very public about his Christian faith. In 1991 he even refused to compete in the World Championships because the triple jump meet was held on a Sunday. After retiring from competition, Edwards worked as a presenter for a BBC television program on faith, “Songs of Praise,” during which time he lost his faith, as he announced publicly in 2007.

    Since leaving his religion behind, Edwards has offered some insight into the psychology of athletes’ prayers for success, telling The Times of London, “I was always dismissive of sports psychology when I was competing, but I now realize that my belief in God was sports psychology in all but name.” (June 27, 2007.)

    Edwards has also stated that he held onto his faith so long as an athlete because until then he never felt the need to question his preconceived notions. Edwards and his wife Allison have two sons, Nathan and Sam, and live in Derbyshire.

    “If there is no God, does that mean that life has no purpose? Does it mean that personal existence ends at death? They are thoughts that do my head in. One thing that I can say, however, is that even if I am unable to discover some fundamental purpose to life, this will not give me a reason to return to Christianity. Just because something is unpalatable does not mean that it is not true.”

    —Edwards, The Times of London (June 27, 2007)
    Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski; photo by Featureflash / Shutterstock.com

    Rafael Nadal

    Rafael Nadal

    On this date in 1986, tennis star Rafael Nadal was born Manacor, Mallorca, one of the Balearic Islands off the coast of Spain. Nadal began playing tennis when he was 3 and is consistently ranked as one of the best tennis players in the world. A lefthander, he represented Spain in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and won the gold medal in men’s singles. As of this writing in June 2023, he had won 22 Grand Slam singles events (Australian Open, U.S. Open, Wimbledon, French Open). Only Novak Djokovic, with 23, had more. Nadal earned the nickname “the king of clay” because of his success on clay courts, including 14 French Open titles.

    Nadal became the face for Emporio Armani Underwear and Armani Jeans in 2011. Shakira also featured Nadal in the music video for her hit song “Gypsy.” Nadal is a soccer fan and his favorite teams are Real Madrid and RCD Mallorca. He married María Francisca (Xisca) Perelló, in October 2019 in Port de Pollença, Mallorca. They had been dating since 2005. He is an active philanthropist. He has helped plant trees in Thailand and has his own nonprofit, Fundación Rafa Nadal, which focuses on helping children in Spain, where he has supported the Special Olympics. The foundation also helped build a school in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

    “It’s hard to say, ‘I don’t believe in God.’ I would love to know if God exists. But it’s a very difficult thing for me to believe. … I say, ‘If God exists you don’t need [to cross yourself] or pray.’ If God exists, he’s intelligent enough to [do] the important things, the right things.”

    —Nadal, in a Q&A with Sports Illustrated (July 16, 2010)
    Compiled by Sarah Eucalano

    Jesse Ventura

    Jesse Ventura

    On this date in 1951, James George Janos, later known as Jesse “The Body” Ventura, was born in Minneapolis to George and Bernice Janos. After graduating from high school, he joined the U.S. Navy and served during the Vietnam War. He attended North Hennepin Community College in Minneapolis but dropped out after one year and spent the next several years in various places and jobs. He was briefly a bodyguard for the Rolling Stones. Janos developed a rigorous workout routine and started wrestling professionally in the mid-1970s, changing his name to the one that made him famous.

    Playing a loud, aggressive villain became Ventura’s trademark as a wrestler for the World Wrestling Federation. He continued wrestling until 1984, when emergency hospitalization due to blood clots in his lungs made him miss a title match against Hulk Hogan and ended his career. He spent the next five years as a wrestling commentator and acted in a handful of films, including several Arnold Schwarzenegger movies: “Predator” (1987), “The Running Man” (1987) and “Batman & Robin” (1997).

    In 1990 Ventura ran against and defeated the 18-year incumbent mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minn., serving until 1995. He campaigned for governor as a third-party candidate and was one of the pioneering politicians who reached out to new voters via the internet. He was elected as governor in 1998 and proved to be a progressive politician, strongly backing gay rights, abortion rights, funding for higher education, mass transit, property tax reform and opening trade relations with Cuba. Deciding not to run for reelection because he wanted his family to regain their privacy, Ventura and his family (including wife Terry, whom he married in 1975) moved to Mexico.

    He was the recipient in 1999 of FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award for his “plain speaking” on religion and, as governor, for rejecting proposals to entangle state and church, including refusing to proclaim a state “Day of Prayer.”

    He said at the time, “I believe in the separation of church and state. We all have our own religious beliefs. There are people out there who are atheists, who don’t believe at all. They are all citizens of Minnesota and I have to respect that.” (Minnesota Independent, April 20, 2010.) He also vetoed a bill that would have required students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools.

    Ventura in 1996; Kingkongphoto & www.celebrity-photos.com (cropped) under CC 2.0.

    “Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers.”

    —Ventura, Playboy magazine, November 1999

    Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

    Donald B. Ardell

    Donald B. Ardell

    On this date in 1938, humanist fitness authority Donald Bruce Ardell was born in Philadelphia. After 12 years of parochial school (which he now calls “miseducation in Catholic dogma and superstition”), he served for three years in the U.S. Air Force, then enrolled at George Washington University on a full basketball scholarship. He continued his education at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Stanford University to focus on urban planning and business before earning a doctorate in health and public policy at Union Institute & University in Cincinnati.

    Working initially in 1965 as an urban planner and then as a health planner, he started developing and promoting the wellness concept in 1973. Ardell modified the concept in 1998 to REAL wellness (Reason, Exuberance, Athleticism, Liberty), a science-based lifestyle approach to well-being focused on exercise and nutrition. Since 1984 and as of this writing, he’s published nearly 900 online editions of the Ardell Wellness Report.

    Practicing what he has preached, Ardell has won seven age-group world triathlon championships and a dozen titles in U.S. triathlon and duathlon nationals. He has two patents for a hands-free, fast-transition running shoe that speeds the switch during triathlons from the bike to the run.

    The first of his 15 books was High Level Wellness: An Alternative to Doctors, Drugs and Disease (1977). Planning for Wellness: A Guidebook for Achieving Optimal Health (1982) and The Book of Wellness: A Secular Approach to Spirituality, Meaning and Purpose (1996) followed, among others. Not Dead Yet: World Triathlon Champions 75 and Over Offer Tips for Successful Aging (co-author Jack Welber) came out in 2019. Freedom From Religion in 30 Days, available from FFRF and other sellers, followed in 2021. An excerpt is here.

    As an admirer of “The Great Agnostic” Robert Green Ingersoll, Ardell delivers verbatim Ingersoll lectures to audiences and says, “His speeches still dazzle, inform, inspire and motivate. His passions, themes and causes we, too, embrace and seek yet: secular democracy, emancipation of the oppressed, justice for all, reason as the best guide, joy the highest virtue, happiness the greatest good, science the truest source and natural wonders the only worship.” (Freethought Today, 2013)

    He and his wife Carol live in Gulfport, Fla., and Madison, Wis., where he volunteers for FFRF, judges student essays and contributes op-eds such as “Impositional religiosity added to DSM.” He has a daughter, Jeanne, and a son, Jon, from a previous marriage.

    “I choose to believe in common decencies, science, reason, love, kindness and hope as the consolation of the world.”

    —Ardell, quoted in Lifetime Running online (Jan. 17, 2019)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Alex Honnold

    Alex Honnold

     On this date in 1985, rock climber Alex Honnold was born in Sacramento, California. Honnold is one of the top free-solo climbers in the world. In free solo, the climber does not use any ropes or protective gear but relies only on physical and mental strength. He also does big-wall climbing, which is defined as a route that takes more than a day to climb. A self-described “atheist rock climber,” Honnold was taken to church as a child, but instead of finding meaning in bible readings, he daydreamed about climbing the church’s rafters.

    Honnold began rock climbing at age 11. He attended the University of California-Berkeley to study engineering but dropped out to pursue his climbing passion and lives out of his van, traveling to different climbing spots. In a video by filmmaker Chris Johnson, Honnold described why he’s an atheist: “I was taken to church for maybe five or six years as a kid and at no point did I ever think there was ever anything going on with church. I always saw it as a bunch of old people eating stale wafers, and that’s totally weird to me.”

    Honnold, along with climber Hans Florine, holds the world record for the fastest ascent of “The Nose” of El Capitan, a nearly 3,000-foot granite wall in California’s Yosemite Valley. It’s the most popular route to ascend the mountain. Honnold and Florine climbed it in the record time of 2:23:51. On June 3, 2017, he became the first person to scale El Capitan without using ropes or other safety gear, in 3 hours and 56 minutes. According to National Geographic, the ascent “may be the greatest feat of pure rock climbing in the history of the sport.”

    PHOTO: Honnold atop El Capitan. Chris Johnson photo (cropped) from “A Better Life: 100 Atheists Speak Out on Joy & Meaning in a World Without God.” 

    “By not believing in an afterlife, it forces you to make the most out of this life to get the most out of the time you have.”

    —Honnold in a Chris Johnson video titled “A Better Life in Yosemite with Alex Honnold” (Oct. 11, 2012)
    Compiled by Sarah Eucalano

    Diana Nyad

    Diana Nyad

    On this date in 1949, endurance swimmer Diana Nyad (née Sneed) was born in New York City to Lucy Curtis and William Sneed, a stockbroker who died while she was an infant. When she was 3 her mother married Greek land developer Aristotle Nyad and the family moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Taking her stepfather’s name, Nyad emerged as a swimming sensation. Despite hardships such as sexual abuse by her coach and a less-than-stable household, she won accolades as a high school swimmer.

    A battle with endocarditis prevented her early Olympic aspirations, but within a year she recuperated and went on to pursue a college degree. She was briefly a pre-medical student at Emory University (expelled for parachuting out of her dormitory window), then earned degrees in English and French as well as Phi Beta Kappa status from Lake Forest College in 1973.

    After graduation she resumed her focus on long-distance swimming, setting major records, including swimming around Manhattan in under eight hours in 1975. She set the women’s record for swimming 10 miles across Lake Ontario and subsequently broke a series of distance records at locations such as the Suez Canal, the Nile River and the Caribbean.

     On Sept. 2, 2013, she accomplished an arduous, 110-mile swim from Cuba to Florida, unaided by shark cage or fins. In 1978, at age 28, she first attempted the journey from Cuba to Florida but her dream was derailed by unsafe conditions necessitating an unwieldy shark cage.

    A year later, after setting a world record for crossing from the Bahamas to Florida, she took a 30-year hiatus from long-distance swimming and worked in broadcast journalism, including on “Wide World of Sports” on ABC and NPR’s “The Savvy Traveler.” In 2011 she decided to reattempt the trip from Cuba to Florida. She tried three more times until finally accomplishing the feat in her fifth attempt at age 64. She attributed her success to mental strength and discipline more than physical stamina. 

    Nyad is a multilingual motivational speaker who was honored by the International Swimming Hall of Fame and National Women’s Sports Hall of Fame. Her books include a memoir, Other Shores (1978). She is “out” about her long-term relationship with a woman. She completed a 48-hour charity swim to help victims of Hurricane Sandy.

    She was featured in a controversial episode of Oprah Winfrey’s “Super Soul Sunday,” during which she discussed her identity as an atheist in “awe” of the universe and humanity.

    I’m not a god person. … I’m an atheist who’s in awe.

    —Nyad on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" (Oct. 13, 2013)
    Compiled by Yuna Choi; photo by Helga Esteb, Shutterstock.com

    Arian Foster

    Arian Foster

    On this date in 1986, freethinking athlete Arian Isa Foster was born in Albuquerque, N.M., to Carl and Bernadette (Sizemore) Foster. His father signed with the NFL’s Denver Broncos but never played in the pros. His parents divorced when he was a high school sophomore and Foster moved with his father to San Diego. After graduation he enrolled at the University of Tennessee, where he was a three-year football starter at running back.

    He told an ESPN writer in 2015 that “he was the only member of the team who did not identify as either Christian or Catholic, which made him a source of speculation and misconception” and that “his contrarian side sought out religious arguments with fundamentalist teammates.”

    He signed after graduating with the NFL’s Houston Texans and played there from 2009-15, setting franchise records for rushing yards and touchdowns. Injuries, including a bulging spinal disc and a 2015 ruptured Achilles tendon, ended his career in 2016. He was known for his signature “Namaste bow” in the end zone after scoring a touchdown. He told the online site Well and Good in 2015 that the bow “best describes not myself, but the message I want to convey to my fans — I recognize the light in you. I want to be appreciative of the game and everyone watching.”

    His father had convinced him to start practicing yoga, and for a time he chose a vegan diet, saying he could eat up to seven pounds of kale in one sitting. He invested in Health Warrior, the maker of chia seed superfood snacks, instead of endorsing products like pizza and Pepsi, as is the pro football norm. He joined a national campaign by the nonprofit group Openly Secular to increase awareness and acceptance of nonbelievers, especially in sports.

    Foster’s first acting role was a cameo in CBS’ “Hawaii Five-0.” His feature film debut was in “Draft Day,” starring Kevin Costner and Jennifer Garner in 2014. His podcast “Now What? with Arian Foster” debuted in 2017. He released his debut rap album “Flamingo & Koval” under the stage name Bobby Feeno in April 2018. His Arian Foster Family Foundation is committed to fighting childhood obesity, improving financial literacy and personal development of inner-city youth.

    PHOTO: Guel photo (cropped) under CC 2.0.

    “[Teammates] ask me, ‘You worship the devil?’ ‘No, bro, I don’t believe there’s a God, why would I believe there’s a devil?’ “

    “There’s no dogma in science itself. Scientists? Yeah, any human can have an ego, but if you take the human beings out of it, there’s no ego in science itself. It’s built on ‘prove me wrong.’ But religion can be like, ‘We’re right, and if you’re not in the boat, you’re going to hell.’ “

    —Foster, ESPN The Magazine, Aug. 6, 2015
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Ted Williams

    Ted Williams

    On this date in 1918, baseball’s Hitter of the 20th Century, Ted Williams, was born in San Diego. The street evangelism of his mother, who worked for the Salvation Army and was known as “Salvation May,” embarrassed him as he was growing up. He was dubbed “The Kid” when he started with the Red Sox as a 20-year-old rookie in 1939. His record-breaking career was interrupted twice by service in World War II and the Korean War, during which he safely crash-landed a burning plane in 1953. He was a decorated fighter pilot who received the Medal of Freedom in 1991.

    “The Splendid Splinter” won the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award in 1946 and 1949. Williams’ career accomplishments include a .406 season in 1941, two Triple Crowns, two MVPs, six American League batting championships, 521 home runs, a lifetime average of .344 and 17 All-Star Game selections. Williams ended his career at age 42 by hitting a home run at Fenway Park. Williams had the record for career on-base percentage (.483). He was the last major league baseball player to hit .400.

    After enduring a series of strokes, congestive heart failure and a nine-hour heart surgery in 2001, Williams died the next year at age 83. After the laudatory sports tributes came news stories in which two of his children disclosed Williams’ nonreligious views, also revealing that their father had signed a pact with them to be frozen after death and kept in “biostasis.” Williams’ children told Reuters on July 25, 2002: “Our father was not a religious man. The faith that many people place in God, we place in science and other human endeavors.”

    Photo: Williams in his rookie year in 1939.

    “Johnny Pesky, his best friend on the Red Sox, said Williams was an atheist. Nobody has disputed that assessment, and the lack of a funeral or any other religious commemoration for the Splendid Splinter would seem to confirm it.”

    —Jim Hijiya, "No one talks about Ted Williams’ atheism," New Bedford Standard-Times (Aug. 2, 2002)

    Bobby Hinds

    Bobby Hinds

    On this date in 1931, fitness entrepreneur Bobby Hinds was born in Kenosha, Wis. He had an impoverished upbringing, with an alcoholic father and a mother with polio. At age 10 he was sent to reform school for his part in several robberies and burglaries in the company of older boys.

    “I was quite religious being brought up. My parents were Pentecostal, a Four Square gospel kind of thing,” Hinds said in a March 2014 interview on FFRF’s Freethought Radio. He chose Catholicism in reform school, where “the priest had a tremendous power over me.” He told about sexual abuse before his arrest, by foster parents after being released and then by his parole officer, a Moravian minister.

    As a high school senior, he lived at his best friend Alan Ameche’s house. Ameche went on to win football’s Heisman Trophy and have an NFL career. Hinds, who had boxed Golden Gloves in Kenosha, sparred and starred at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a varsity boxer, graduating with majors in criminology and art.

    He taught art at Madison East High School and moonlighted as a professional boxer before a broken wrist ended his boxing. Before long, the extroverted Hinds, a natural salesman, embarked on the venture that made him a millionaire. At age 46 he “made a little discovery that if you string 65 big plastic beads on a piece of nylon cord, what you’ve got is a superior jump rope.” (Wisconsin State Journal, March 18, 2023)

    After he talked his way on to the national TV show “To Tell the Truth” hosted by Garry Moore (“Will the real Bobby Hinds please stand up?”) and demonstrated the rope, J.C. Penney bought 85,000 Bobby Hinds’ Lifelines. He appeared on talk shows hosted by Johnny Carson (twice), Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas. Time magazine dubbed him “The Jump Rope King.” His company, LifelineUSA, was a leader in the 1970s fitness movement that was an early adopter of resistance training, a way to exercise without weights.

    Hinds sold Lifeline to a Chicago-based company in 2014. A few months later, at age 82, he was inducted into the National Fitness Hall of Fame. His office walls were lined with dozens of photos of celebrities, from entertainment, sports and politics, who used his products and became his friends.

    Asked once to name a person in history he admired, Hinds said, “Clarence Darrow because of his passion for truth.” His said his religious doubts started when he was about 13 when he started reading biographies about Darrow, Voltaire, Schopenhauer and Gore Vidal. He joined FFRF in 1984. (For an interesting feature with photos of Hinds and celebrities, scroll to page 8 in the April 2014 issue of Freethought Today.)

    He married his wife Joy in 1955 and they had four children raised in a freethinking atmosphere: Jil, Jef, Juli and Jonny. He died of heart failure at age 91 and donated his body to the UW School of Medicine. (D. 2023) 

    “Being kind with an open mind is my religion.”

    —Hinds' "Out of the Closet" statement featured in FFRF's 2010 bus ad and billboard campaign
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Annika Sörenstam

    On this date in 1970, professional golfer Annika Charlotta Sörenstam was born in Bro, Sweden, to Gunilla and Tom Sörenstam. Her mother worked in a bank and her father was an IBM executive. Her younger sister Charlotta also became a pro golfer.

    Extremely shy as a youth. she was a talented all-around athlete, excelling in soccer, tennis, skiing and golf. She would deliberately miss putts in the last round of tournaments in order to avoid making remarks as the winner.

    She moved to the U.S. to play college golf at the University of Arizona in Tucson and won the NCAA Division I championship as a freshman. She turned pro in 1992 and in 1995 won the first of her eventual 72 LPGA Tour titles (3rd all-time as of this writing in 2023). All told she won 97 professional events, garnering nearly $23 million in earnings, the most of any woman golfer ever. She retired from the tour in 2008 but continued to play in selected events.

    In 1997, Sörenstam married David Esch, whom she’d met three years earlier when he worked for Ping, a club manufacturer. After a 2005 divorce, she married Mike McGee, the managing director of the ANNIKA brand of businesses. She gave birth to Ava Madelyn McGee in 2009 when she was 38. Their son, William Nicholas McGee, followed in 2011.

    Sörenstam published “Golf Annika’s Way” in 2004, an autobiography and golf instructional book. She holds dual Swedish and American citizenship and lives primarily in Florida. She is a U.S. ambassador for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and in 2021 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, along with golfers Gary Player and (posthumously) Babe Didrikson Zaharias.

    At the 2023 American Century celebrity tournament won by NBA star Stephen Curry, Sörenstam finished sixth behind Curry, tennis player Mardy Fish, hockey player Joe Pavelski, former major league pitcher Mark Mulder and quarterback Aaron Rodgers

    PHOTO: Sörenstam in Los Angeles at the 2008 ESPYs (Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly); shutterstock.com/s_bukley photo.

    “I believe in the good message that exists within religion. But that there is someone up there above the clouds who rules, I doubt.”

    —Interview on Sveriges Radio (January 2002)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Pat Tillman

    Pat Tillman

    On this date in 1976, NFL player Patrick Daniel Tillman was born to Mary (Spalding) and Patrick Tillman in San Jose, Calif., the first of their three sons. He grew up in a household without a television where he and his brother largely read or played outdoors. As a teen he wrote in his journal that he considered himself an atheist. As a high school senior he led his team to the Central Coast Section Division I Football Championship. He helped lead the Sun Devils at Arizona State University to the 1997 Rose Bowl after an undefeated regular season and graduated summa cum laude from ASU’s School of Business.

    He signed with the Arizona Cardinals in 1998, played defensive safety and broke the franchise record for tackles in 2000 with 224. He also competed in marathons and the Ironman triathlon and volunteered in youth groups and schools while pursuing a master’s degree in history. He married his high school sweetheart, Marie Ugenti, in 2002. He soon made his stunning announcement that he was placing his NFL career on hold to become a U.S. Army Ranger with his brother Kevin. They served tours in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 and in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2004.

    They were recipients of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 11th Annual ESPY Awards in 2003. Tillman died from what was officially termed as “friendly fire” as he tried to provide cover for fellow Rangers escaping an ambush in a canyon in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004. It took the Army five weeks to disclose what it said was the truth to his family — that he was a victim of fratricide. When his anti-war views — he had grown to see the war as illegal — were documented by his family, they were attacked by right-wingers. Several investigations, including congressional probes, ensued that revealed suspicion that Tillman was actually murdered and that friendly-fire evidence was contrived.

    The program for his memorial service featured a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, which had been found underlined in Tillman’s belongings: “But the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” In an article in October 2006 appearing in Truthdig, Kevin Tillman wrote that the best way to honor his brother was by choices made on “the day after Pat’s birthday” (Nov. 7, Election Day). Kevin Tillman wrote: “Somehow suspension of habeas corpus is supposed to keep this country safe. Somehow torture is tolerated. Somehow lying is tolerated. Somehow reason is being discarded for faith, dogma and nonsense.” D. 2004.

    “Hold your spiritual bromides. … Pat isn’t with God. He’s f-ing dead. He wasn’t religious. So thank you for your thoughts, but he’s f-ing dead.”

    —Richard Tillman at his brother Pat's memorial service, San Francisco Chronicle (May 4, 2004)

    Bruce Lee

    Bruce Lee

    On this date in 1940, philosopher and martial artist Lee Jun-Fan, better known by his English name Bruce Lee, was born in San Francisco while his parents were on tour with the Chinese Opera. Lee was raised in Hong Kong, where he studied martial arts and worked as a child actor. He was raised by a Catholic mother and a Buddhist father and was not personally religious. When he was 18 he emigrated to the U.S to study drama and philosophy at the University of Washington-Seattle, eventually becoming a citizen.

    Lee opened his first martial arts school, where he taught the traditional Chinese gung fu method. Lee married one of his students, Linda Emery, in 1964. His big break into acting came with the role of Kato in the TV series “The Green Hornet” (1966-67). Five feature-length martial arts films followed: “The Big Boss” (1971), “Fist of Fury” (1972), “The Way of the Dragon” (1972), “Enter the Dragon” (1973) and “The Game of Death” (1978).

    Although he never received his degree in philosophy, his interest in the subject continued throughout his life and he wrote extensively about it while seeking to “infuse the spirit of philosophy into martial arts.” (Lee’s essay “Me and Jeet Kune Do,” reprinted in Words of the Dragon, ed. John Little, 1997.) He combined influences from various schools into his personal martial arts philosophy, which he dubbed Jeet Kune Do (The Way of the Intercepting Fist).  Lee was named by Time magazine in 1999 as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.

    Lee and his wife had two children: Brandon, born in 1965, and Shannon, born in 1969. Brandon died in 1993 during filming of “The Crow” when another actor fired blank ammunition at him “which in turn propelled into Mr. Lee’s abdomen a lethal obstruction that had been lodged in the barrel of the gun during the filming of another scene several weeks earlier,” according to Linda Lee’s lawsuit.

    He died at age 32 in Hong Kong on July 20, 1973, of cerebral edema, which he had been treated for in May. An autopsy determined pain medication for a headache fatally exacerbated the condition, a determination that was contested by others. Biographer Matthew Polly wrote in 2018 that Lee had had his underarm sweat glands removed in 1972 because he thought underarm sweat was unphotogenic and that heat stroke during workouts may have contributed to the cerebral edema. He was buried in Seattle. (D. 1973)

    PHOTO: Lee in 1971 during filming of “The Big Boss.”

    “When asked by journalist Alex Ben Block in the summer of 1972 what his religious affiliation was, Lee answered: ‘None whatsoever.’ Block then pressed him further, asking him if he then believed in God: ‘To be perfectly frank, I really do not.’ ”

    —John Little, "The Warrior Within: The Philosophies of Bruce Lee" (1996)
    Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski

    Aaron Rodgers

    Aaron Rodgers

    On this date in 1983, Aaron Rodgers, National Football League quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, was born in Chico, California. Rodgers, who played college football for the California Golden Bears while attending UC-Berkeley, led the Packers to a Super Bowl championship in the 2010-11 season. Completing 24 of 39 passes for 309 yards and three touchdowns, Rodgers was named Super Bowl MVP. Rodgers has frequently led the NFL in touchdown-to-interception ratio, passer rating, touchdown passing percentage, touchdown passes and yards per attempt.

    In August 2017, he was the subject of a 5,000-word profile in ESPN The Magazine. In the profile, Rodgers spoke about growing up with devout Christian parents. While Rodgers “absorbed the religion’s traditional tenets,” he said he remembered encountering “aspects of dogma that left him dissatisfied” at a young age. The profile speaks of Rodgers meeting “teammates who grew up in different parts of the world” and “friends with different religious backgrounds” and how that experience encouraged his skepticism.

    Then, in 2008, he met a progressive Christian pastor, Rob Bell, and their friendship contributed to Rodgers becoming “increasingly convinced that the beliefs he had internalized growing up were wrong, that spirituality could be far more inclusive and less literal than he had been taught.” Rodgers said that “he no longer identifies with any affiliation.”

    Rodgers was in a relationship with actress Olivia Munn from 2014-17. He started dating former race-car driver Danica Patrick in 2018. In December 2019 on Patrick’s podcast “Pretty Intense,” he talked about the absurdity of religious claims. “I don’t know how you can believe in a God who wants to condemn most of the planet, you know, to a fiery hell. Like, what type of loving, sensitive, omnipresent, omnipotent being wants to condemn most of his beautiful creation to a fiery hell at the end of all this?”

    Rodgers became embroiled in controversy in November 2021 after he contracted COVID-19 and it was revealed he was not vaccinated. He claimed he was “immunized” by alternative treatments and credited controversial podcaster Joe Rogan for helping him devise an anti-viral protocol. After being roundly criticized for lying about his vaccination status and potentially endangering teammates and others, he issued what many deemed a half-hearted apology for “comments that people might have felt were misleading,” he was fined $14,650 and the team was fined $300,000. Considering his $33 million annual salary, the size of his fine was also criticized.

    PHOTO: Rodgers in the 2016 wild-card game against the Redskins; Keith Allison photo under CC 2.0.

    “I think organized religion can have a mind-debilitating effect, because there is an exclusivity that can shut you out from being open to the world, to people, and energy, and love and acceptance.”

    —Aaron Rodgers, ESPN interview (Aug. 30, 2017)
    Compiled by Paul Epland

    Chris Kluwe

    Chris Kluwe

    On this date in 1981, Christopher James Kluwe, athlete, author and activist, was born in Philadelphia to Ronald and Sandra Kluwe. He grew up in California and graduated from Los Alamitos High School before enrolling at UCLA, where he graduated in 2005 with majors in political science and history.

    Kluwe excelled in high school and college as a football punter and placekicker, skills that led him to join the Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League in 2005. He spent seven seasons with the Vikings as one of the top punters in the league and set 14 individual punting records for the franchise before retiring in 2014. While playing he was an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ rights and same-sex marriage and was named grand marshal of the Twin Cities Pride parade in 2013. Ellen DeGeneres, a Packers fan, named him the first inductee in her TV show’s Hall of Fame.

    In 2012, after Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo spoke out in favor of a Maryland ballot initiative to legalize gay marriage, state delegate Emmett Burns Jr. urged Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti to “inhibit such expressions from your employee.” Kluwe responded to Burns in an open letter: “It baffles me that a man such as yourself, a man who relies on that same First Amendment to pursue your own religious studies without fear of persecution from the state, could somehow justify stifling another person’s right to speech. To call that hypocritical would be to do a disservice to the word.”

    He also clashed with Vikings management and threatened to sue the team in 2014 over alleged homophobic remarks by special teams coordinator Mike Priefer. Kluwe also alleged he was released by the Vikings due to his activism. After an independent investigation, the team suspended Priefer for three games, announced a $100,000 contribution to LGBTQ charities and pledged to enhance sensitivity training. Kluwe, who did not receive any money, and the team have since mended their relationship. In 2018 the Vikings were the first NFL franchise to host a large-scale summit focused on the inclusion of gay athletes.

    He published Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies: On Myths, Morons, Free Speech, Football, and Assorted Absurdities in 2013, a collection of short essays, vignettes, letters, digressions, lists, rants and complaints. “Who Is John Galt?” is one of the essays. In it he takes apart the hero of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, calling Galt “a remorseless shark feeding on those unable to get out of his way.”

    With Andrew Reiner, he published the science fiction novel Prime: A Genesis Series in 2015. Kluwe’s futuristic novel Otaku, geared to young adults, was released in 2020 and features a black female protagonist who is one of the world’s top gamers. Its themes include bullying and online hate speech directed at women gamers. (The Gamergate controversy in 2014 stemmed from a vicious harassment campaign against female video game developers and progressive politics and culture.)

    Kluwe married Maria Isabel Alvarado in 2004 near the end of his UCLA years. Thеу hаvе twо daughters, Remy аnd Olivia, born in 2008 аnd 2010. Kluwe describes himself as “cheerfully agnostic” and spoke at the 2014 American Atheists annual convention. 

    “My religion is doubt. I believe with all my heart that I will never know everything, that the decisions I make will necessarily be flawed by the imperfect assumptions I base them on but that the only way to keep learning is to change those assumptions when faced with new evidence.”

    —"Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies" (2013)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

Freedom From Religion Foundation