As Robert Kraft said in a speech earlier this year, he believes in “the four F’s — football, family, faith and philanthropy (phonetically speaking.)” That belief is a seminal part of the way the Patriots approach each season and what makes the team so special. This guiding force is often called the “Patriot Way,” and while it has no specific shape or definition, you know it when you see it.
There may be no concrete explanation of the Patriot Way, but there are living examples of Mr. Kraft’s words in the way players treat others and conduct themselves both on and off the field. For one such example, look no further than veteran and five-time Pro Bowler Matthew Slater.
After every game, win or lose, you’ll find Matthew on the field locked hand in hand with opponents and teammates alike. As the stands empty and the teams retreat to their respective locker rooms, Matthew leads players in prayer before leaving the field.
In this capacity, as he often does, Matthew brings people together
From a young age football and faith have been intertwined for Matthew, overlapping and filling up Sunday mornings and afternoons. As a kid growing up in Southern California, Matthew’s mother would drop him and his brother off at Sunday school and pick them up a bit early to watch their father, Hall of Famer Jackie Slater, who played his entire 20 years in the NFL as an offensive lineman for the Los Angeles Rams, take on that week’s opponent.
Now, nine years into his own NFL career and with a wife and 10-month old son, he is still striking this balance between two key parts of his life.
As a Christian, Matthew has always let his faith and beliefs shine — never taking credit for his accomplishments and acknowledging that he is “not a self-made man.” But he doesn’t just say it; he lives it.
Though his religious beliefs were cemented at a young age, it wasn’t until Matthew got older that he was able to personalize his journey and understand how his faith would shape his world. He wanted it to become who he was at his core.
“I realized the love that Christ had for me, and it became real in my life. I tried to take that and apply it in every area of my life,” Matthew said. “The number one thing that I’ve learned is that I’m far from perfect. It definitely gave me an anchor, something to hope in and gave me a purpose that I never had up until that point.”
That purpose has grown more and more defined as Matthew has aged. When his identity was “caught up in being a football player” during his years at UCLA or when he moved across the country to pursue his NFL career in New England, he struggled. Ultimately, he found solace in his beliefs. His religion helped ground him and allowed him to see the impact he can make through faith and football.
“The way I look at football, it’s a tremendous opportunity not only to play a game that I love and provide for my family; it gives me a platform for what I believe is the most important thing, and that’s reaching people, connecting with people, building relationships and trying to show them the love of Christ,” Matthew said. “I’ve always looked at football as a gift. It’s a vehicle that the Lord has given me to reach people.”
The way Matthew reaches people extends beyond his stats on Sundays and the fans wearing his jersey in the stands. He regularly gives back to the community through the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation — whether he is volunteering at the Ron Burton Training Village over the summer or helping to build a playground on his day off.
This selfless dedication to the community and the people of New England earned him the Ron Burton Community Service Award, a reminder of the character in addition to the talent the Patriots chose in the fifth round of the 2008 NFL Draft.
“We knew the day that we drafted Matthew that he was going to be special,” Mr. Kraft said when presenting Matthew with the award in 2013.
The respect Matthew has garnered outside of football is also reflected inside of the Patriots locker room. Matthew, a leader on special teams, was voted by his teammates to serve as a captain in 2011 and has remained in that role ever since. To receive that level of recognition from his teammates is humbling, but his goal is to motivate the guys with positivity.
“I’m not a big yeller. I’m not a big get-in-your-face type of guy,” Matthew said. “I’ve always tried to encourage the guys to see the best in themselves, whether they see it or not.”
The most effective way he does this is by simply being himself, according to defensive captain Devin McCourty. By emphasizing the role of his teammates in press conferences or speaking out for what he believes to be right, despite the challenges of doing so, Matthew leads by example, and his fellow Patriots are challenged to be their best selves.
“His leadership is more than what he does as a player. He sets an example as a man. I think a lot of guys follow that even before what he does as a football player,” Devin said. “As soon as you walk in the locker room he sticks out — his professionalism, his faith. I think that’s what draws people to him. You want to be more like Slate when you come in this locker room.”
In this capacity, Matthew is often offering guidance to teammates or being introduced to their family members. When a fellow player wants him to meet a mother, father, girlfriend, wife or child, it is always something special.
“That kind of stuff means a great deal to me because I’m in the people business more than I am in the football business,” Matthew said.
Everything Matthew does — on and off the field — is done with the love, patience and acceptance he has learned from his faith, and while he is the first to admit he is not perfect, it is not perfection that ultimately matters.
“I’ve always been a big self-critic. As you live life you try to control the things in your life, and you realize that a lot of things in your life are out of your control and a lot of things that you’re not going to be able to do on your own,” Matthew said. “You’re either going to need help from the Lord or you’re going to need help from the people around you. I think understanding that really helped me accept who I was. It didn’t mean that I was complacent. I just am who I am.”
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