Jon Kitna, the former NFL quarterback now teaching and coaching at Lincoln High School in Tacoma, challenged men Friday at the annual Pierce County Prayer Breakfast to become spiritual leaders in their homes and communities.
“America is under a curse,” Kitna told the crowd of 1,600 in the Tacoma Dome Exhibition Hall. “It’s the curse of fatherlessness. The track we’re on is the track of destruction.”
After a 15-year professional football career, Kitna, 39, now teaches math and is the head football coach at Lincoln, where he once studied and played sports. He lives in Lakewood with his wife, Jennifer, and their four children.
With nearly 200 high school and college football players in the audience, Kitna delivered an unapologetic, fiery challenge for men to address the void of fathers who aren’t present in homes.
“We have young men that have no idea what it means to be blessed and affirmed, to hear the words, ‘You have what it takes, my son. You’re a man’s man,’” Kitna said.
That role for men includes husbands leading their wives and teaching their children, making sure they understand the Bible, Kitna said.
“These are all things the Bible never apologizes for,” Kitna said. “That’s our job, men. Your first job is to lead your home, to disciple them, to make sure they understand the word of God.”
But Kitna didn’t stop there. With fathers absent from many homes, Kitna said, “You need to reach out and disciple others, too.
“Our young women are growing up today without any men to choose from,” Kitna said. “And so they settle for less than what God has for them or they turn to alternative lifestyles.”
Kitna said he can speak around the country and tell stories about NFL players. “But as soon as I want to bring up the name of Jesus, (people say) ‘we really don’t want to hear that, sir.’
“And that’s just too bad,” Kitna said.
“I can’t help but tell people about what I’ve seen and heard in my own life,” he said. “I was a thug, an idiot, a man without direction, who had no hope in life until Jesus Christ intersected my life.”
David Fechtel, a senior at Cascade Christian High School in Puyallup, was one of nearly 200 high school and college football players who listened to Kitna’s message as guests at the 34th annual Pierce County Prayer Breakfast.
“I thought it was really inspiring,” said Fechtel, 18, a center for Cascade Christian’s football team. “The community really needs men to step up and bring the youth to Christ.”
Caleb Wolf, 17, a junior guard at Tacoma Baptist High School, said he liked Kitna’s message.
“It shows what we feel and reflects what’s happening in our lives,” Wolf said.
Kitna drew a standing ovation at the end of his 40-minute talk at the breakfast, sponsored by the Greater Tacoma Christian Laymen’s Outreach.
Afterward, he posed for pictures with Cascade Christian and other high school teams, who were presented NFL footballs signed by him.
Football players attended from Life Christian Academy and Bellarmine Preparatory School as well as Cascade Christian, Tacoma Baptist, Emerald Ridge and Franklin Pierce high schools. Pacific Lutheran University football players also attended.
Kitna quarterbacked the Central Washington University Wildcats to a share of the NAIA national title in 1995 and graduated the next year with a math education degree.
After a long NFL career with Seattle, Cincinnati, Detroit and Dallas, he retired in January to start a new career at Lincoln, where he graduated in 1991.