Chris Hoke, a Steelers alumni, discovered ways throughout his career to balance his faith with his family and professional life while in the NFL.
Hoke, who played football for BYU and the Steelers, said that putting his faith and family first is what led to his longevity in the NFL and hopes to teach those priorities to his children.
Jaimee Hoke, Chris Hoke’s wife, said although Chris has now lived out his football dream and passed it off to his sons, his dedication to discipleship is what blessed him with those opportunities.
“Chris has always had this picture that’s hung in his room since he was a little kid of a football player sitting on the field that says, ‘the future belongs to those who believe,’ and he’s living proof of that,” Jaimee Hoke said. “He lives firmly to what he believes and that’s what’s given him his success.”
Chris Hoke said his experience with the Steelers was different from his time playing at BYU when he had to leave his Latter-day Saint teammates and coaches behind.
“The gospel and family was so important to LaVell Edwards,” Hoke said of his coach at BYU. “He wanted us to go on missions and there was no practice on Sundays because attending church was the priority.”
Hoke said he had to work harder and stand firm in his beliefs when he was the only member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on his team with the Steelers. If he had to play on a Sunday, he said that he would be alone in his hotel room doing an hour of scripture study before the game.
“It’s so much different in the NFL than it was playing at BYU,” Chris Hoke said. “You have to make sure that you are really committed to the gospel, you can’t be on the fence.”
Hoke said once he joined the Steelers, he had to let people know right away what his standards were. He said his teammates and coaches ended up supporting him as he tried to live his faith.
“They probably thought I was a little weird at first but eventually, if I was around, people wouldn’t swear,” Chris Hoke said. “My coaches knew after practice, I was going home to my family instead of having these long crazy weekends like my teammates were and they respected that about me.”
Hoke said what started him on the path to becoming both a professional football player and a disciple of Christ was his decision to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Jaimee said that when Chris was a senior in high school, his coach pulled him aside because he knew about Chris’ plan to go on a mission. He told Chris all the reasons he should not and tried to convince him that his beliefs were false.
“He looked up to his coach and it was devastating to Chris when he did that,” Jaimee said. “He came home and told his mom he wasn’t going on a mission.”
Jaimee explained that when Chris’ dad came home from work, they went to a restaurant and listed out the pros and cons of going on a mission, including the fact that there were schools that were not going to support him in that desire.
“After they made their list, he absolutely knew that for him there were only pros to going on a mission,” Jaimee said. “When he was recruited to BYU, he knew that it was a blessing because of his willingness to serve.”
Chris explained that this was a blessing since BYU makes serving a mission easy for football players.
“People have tried to squash his dream and the odds have been against him, but he never gave up,” Jaimee said. “He knew if God gave him the chance, he could do it.”
Chris said that once kids came along, that dream expanded, and they became his biggest priority.
“He’s very involved with his kids and their sports,” Bernd Scanlan, Hoke’s counselor in the Pittsburgh North Stake Presidency, said. “He would always tell us that he’d be traveling to take his kids out of state for some sporting event, even if it meant he’d be getting off a plane at three to be at a church meeting at five.”
Hoke said that when he was home, he was home. His mind was never somewhere else and that his kids knew that their family and the Savior were number one in his life.
“When I wasn’t playing football, I was home with them,” Hoke said. “They saw me take out the trash, they saw that they were my priority and that I was a normal dad.”
Jaimee said she thinks that of all the professional sports to be in, football is the most family-friendly. She said the latest Chris would be home was 5 p.m.
“I had friends whose husbands were in other fields who they wouldn’t see for days at a time, or they’d come home late at night but that was never an issue for us,” Jaimee said.
Jaimee emphasized that the kids loved that their dad played football because he could be home with them so much and could be at their games as they started venturing into their own sports.
“Our oldest, Cade, thought it was just the coolest,” Jaimee shared. “He’d be sitting next to pro athletes and wouldn’t even know.”
Chris said that since he has retired from the football field, he has had even more bandwidth to serve his family and the Lord.
“I knew that once I retired, I would have more time and I just had this feeling that I had more to give Heavenly Father,” Chris said. “He gave me 11 years in the NFL, now it’s time to give back to him.”
Scanlan said that while serving with Chris Hoke, he has seen how committed he is to his calling and to being a disciple of Christ through the little things he does.
“He does his scripture study every morning at five,” Scanlan said. “I know that because at around six, he starts sending out texts to the stake leaders about a scripture or talk that he was just studying.”
Hoke’s sons have followed in his footsteps both with football and their faith. Hoke said that their oldest, Cade Hoke, went on to play for BYU in 2021.
Nate Hoke, an incoming BYU freshman who is currently serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Argentina, chose to postpone his time playing for BYU to serve the Lord.
Jaimee explained that Nate had to work hard for the opportunity to serve a mission and still be recruited to play football.
Jaimee said it is harder in their home state of Pennsylvania to catch the attention of BYU because there are plenty of people to recruit closer but for her boys, BYU was the only school that would support a mission.
“Nate felt like it was a blessing that he could be recruited by BYU and be able to go on a mission because BYU didn’t just tolerate him serving, they encouraged him to do so,” Jaimee said.
Chris said that seeing Nate follow in his footsteps by serving a mission and playing for BYU has been a dream come true for both of them.
“I always wanted one of my kids to play for BYU,” Chris said. “He is having wonderful experiences on a mission right now but I’m really excited for him to come home and have the BYU football years that I loved.”