September 8th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

From Kurt Warner’s wife to ‘Christian famous’

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) – In a stadium filled with 8,000 evangelical Christian women, one person near the stage stands out.

Sporting short salt-and-peppered hair, broad shoulders and a high-collared shirt, the man sits calmly as ballerinas flutter across the stage, women tell jokes about menopause and the event’s emcee announces that almost all the men’s rooms at the Verizon Center in downtown Washington have been converted to female restrooms for the night, provoking a round of applause.

For Kurt Warner, former quarterback for the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals and two-time National Football League MVP, this is about as far away from the testosterone-driven world of the gridiron as you can get.

Onstage is the reason Warner’s here: Brenda Warner, her angular face and close-cropped blonde hair radiating in professional lighting, telling the audience about God’s plan for her life.

For years, Brenda was known as Kurt’s uber-supportive wife – a woman whose unflinchingly defense and championing of her superstar husband sometimes made news in it its own right.

Today, two years into Kurt’s retirement, those roles are changing.

My Faith: What people talk about before they die

Brenda has become what some call "Christian famous" - a renowned evangelical speaker who tours the country with the likes of the 2012 Women of Faith tour, which will reach tens of thousands of Christian women with a message of hope and faith. As one of the tour’s headliners, Brenda will travel the country each weekend until November to tell her story – one of heartbreak, love and growth.

Through much of it, Kurt will be there with her, sitting in the audience as his wife does her thing before throngs of adoring fans.

“Brenda Warner is no longer Kurt Warner’s wife,” one awestruck woman says after listening to Brenda’s story at the Verizon Center. “Kurt Warner is now Brenda Warner’s husband.”

‘We need each other, we all have a story’

Brenda Warner’s story is a tear-jerker, whether or not you accept the God part.

When she was 18, she joined the Marine Corps, a job that took her from her hometown of Parkersburg, Iowa, to bases in Japan and in Virginia Beach, Virginia – where she would marry another Marine and give birth to a baby boy.

When Brenda begins to explain her life to the crowd in Washington, women applaud for the lines about joining the Marines and having baby Zachary.

Then the story takes a dark turn.

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While working one day in Virginia Beach, Brenda got a phone call that changed her life. Her husband had dropped Zachary on his head, an accident that would leave their toddler legally blind and developmentally disabled. Speaking in Washington, Brenda recounts the scene at the hospital.

“Zachary had a seizure – they worked around him trying to stop it,” she says. “I did all that I knew to do – I called out, ‘Jesus, Jesus, let this be the last seizure.’”

A hush has fallen over the stadium. Women wipe tears from their cheeks; one has pulled her pink T-shirt over her eyes.

She and her husband struggled to make things work with Zachary, Brenda continues. She got pregnant again, she tells the audience, but when she was a month from her due date her husband told her he had feelings for another woman. “I got out of bed, I called home and said mama come get me,” she says. “He doesn't love me, after all that we have been through.”

Brenda became a registered nurse, largely to learn how to better cope with Zachary’s condition. To make ends meet, she stood in line for food stamps and moved out of her parent’s basement and into low-income housing.

Then, another bombshell.

One night in 1996, Brenda’s sister called to report that their mother and father, who had retired to a cabin in Arkansas, had been killed in a tornado. Their house had been wiped off the map.

“They were always my soft place to fall,” Brenda tells the crowd.

At this point, the woman with her head in her T-shirt is a sobbing headless body. But as quickly as she has just dropped the mood, Brenda builds it up by telling the women that God brought her through it all.

“I married that football player,” she says, gesturing toward Kurt. “He adopted my two and we have five more.” Tears are giving way to applause.

Kurt and Brenda Warner first met when Kurt was playing college football at University of Northern Iowa.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

Near the end of the speech, Brenda brings Zachary out to say hello to the crowd.

“If you have ever felt like life has cheated you, stand up with me,” Brenda says. “If you have ever felt disappointed in life, stand with me. If you have ever received a call that changed your life forever, brought you to your knees and took your breath away, look around, we are all in this together, we need each other, we all have a story.”

Afterward, many women say they saw themselves in Brenda’s story.

“She is just a normal everyday mom raising a family just like everybody,” says Sena Hohman, her two daughters accompanying her to the event. “Hearing these stories, you find out she is just like me, with ups and downs in life, with peaks and valleys.

“To be able to see somebody has overcome” what she has, said Judy Gerlitz from Centerville, Virginia, “shows me that I can do it.”

Super Bowl champion, philanthropist

When she’s offstage, Brenda and Kurt often operate as a team in their faith-based work.

On the recent Friday morning before Brenda addresses the Women of Faith conference, the couple find themselves in a small, bland conference room in downtown Washington.

Kurt takes notes while Brenda’s eyes stay fixed on the architect who’s briefing them. The topic: plans for a multi-apartment home for developmentally disabled young adults that the Warners want to build in their hometown of Scottsdale, Arizona.

The project is inspired by Zachary, now a 23-year-old high school graduate.

“Zach has probably impacted more people than all of us combined because there is something unique and special and honest about these individuals that see it like it is and call it like they see it,” Kurt says.

Zachary lives in a group house in St. Louis. The Warners are modeling the group home they’re building in Arizona, called Treasure House, on the St. Louis Life concept for independent living for those with special needs.

At the meeting in Washington, Kurt is very much in control, with the architect and a consultant urge the Warners to use Kurt’s celebrity to help raise funds. “Leverage your history,” the consultant says, looking at Kurt and talking football.

Kurt’s story, like Brenda’s, includes some letdowns. After going unselected in the 1994 NFL draft as a quarterback out of University of Northern Iowa, Kurt became a Hy-Vee grocery store stock clerk to make money. While stocking shelves, he signed with the Iowa Barnstorms, an Arena Football League team in Des Moines, Iowa. With his big arm and accuracy, he became an AFL star.

After a short stint with NFL Europe, Kurt became the third -tring quarterback for the St. Louis Rams for the 1998 season. In 1999, after an injury to the Rams’ starting quarterback, he got his chance. Leading the Rams to a Super Bowl XXXIV victory, Kurt won both the league and Super Bowl MVP award that year.

Kurt Warner drops back to pass in Super Bowl XXXIV, a game his St. Louis Rams defeated the Tennessee Titans, 23-16.

Brenda was there through all of it, from AFL to NFL. She and Kurt met while Kurt was attending college in Cedar Falls, Iowa, at a country bar where she was taking line dancing classes. She worried he wouldn’t be able to handle the fact she was divorced with two kids.

When he showed up the morning after their first date and said he wanted to meet her kids, Brenda says, “I feel in love with him before he fell in love with me.”

When Kurt led the Rams to their 1999 Super Bowl victory, not only was Brenda there - she became part of the story.

Brenda was vocally defensive of her husband when he had a bad game, even calling into radio stations to criticize the Rams coaching staff. That zeal and her on-camera postgame kisses for the star quarterback had some fans calling her the Yoko Ono of football.

Throughout his 12-year NFL career, Kurt was known for both his skill and overt faith. “Well, first things first,” Warner told a reporter after his first Super Bowl victory. “I've got to thank my Lord and Savior up above — thank you, Jesus!”

The interview provided a name for Kurt’s foundation, First Things First, which is “dedicated to impacting lives by promoting Christian values, sharing experiences and providing opportunities.” The group raises money, taking advantage of Kurt’s NFL connections, and organizes events for ill and developmentally disabled children.

Today, Kurt spends much of his time on such work. It’s why he’s talking building schematics instead of defensive schemes.

“My retirement isn’t quite like what people think about with retirement,” Warner says. “I am very busy and have a lot of things that I am active in. It is not a complete 180 from being gone every day to being home every day.”

But talking about civil engineering in a drab hotel conference room is a long way from the National Football League. The common thread: Brenda and their religious faith.

Bonded by faith

Kurt says he had wanted Brenda to pursue her speaking career for years. But while he rose to superstardom, Brenda was a stay-at-home mom.

Now that Kurt is home more, he says, Brenda is free to pursue her dreams.

“What we have realized is there are seasons in all of our lives and dreams take sacrifices but they become family things,” Kurt says. “Dreams are family dreams.”

Brenda and Kurt now work closely together planning the couple's newest philanthropic venture – Treasure House.

Armed with her story and the star power that comes with her last name, Brenda has carved her own path on the Christian speaking circuit. Asked about the Warners at the Verizon Center’s Women of Faith event, only a few of the attendees know about her famous husband.

The tour is marketed to evangelical women to “celebrate what matters,” and also features appearances by female evangelical authors and media personalities. The tour is like a conference, with sessions on different challenges women face.

Kurt and Brenda see their changing professional seasons as part of God’s plan for them. “I don’t think that is the way that I would have written it, but I see that God has worked it out for good,” Brenda says. “I can see how he has been faithful. I can say now I am grateful.”

Telling her story has become second nature for Brenda. She has become expert in pitching God as the cure to heartache.

“He called me by name, he loves me and he won’t leave me,” Brenda repeats in her speech. “God was true to his word that he wouldn’t leave me.”

And neither, it seems, will Kurt.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Sports

soundoff (1,654 Responses)
  1. icon package

    You topic read?

    October 8, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
  2. Jesus is the most powerful figure known to mankind (Fact)

    Ok i challenge all atheist/non-believers to a simple small short mature intellectual debate. I claim that there is a GOD, Higher Power, Intelligent Designer/Engineer, and Creator. You claim that there isnt a Creator and everything is a coincidence. (If what i say about your claims are wrong please correct me) Here are the rules: No THEORIES and no BIBLE VERSES. Proven known facts ONLY, none requiring faith. I simply ask that you consider my facts as i will yours. I will provide 10 facts in defense to my claim and you can list as much as you will.

    1.The perfect unseen order of our solar system.
    2. The accurate and precise distance of our sun and it's perfect compatibility with our moon. Its unfailing rising and sustaining power.
    3. The engineering of the earth in every aspect.
    4. Nature, it's power, beauty, and contributions.
    5. Natural law.
    6. Creatures, all of their different abilities, bodies, and behaviors.
    7. The extraordinary and intelligently designed human body and mind.
    8. My user name. Jesus indeed had the most influence and biggest impact on this world than anyone in all of time.
    9. Due to how orderly and precise creation is, the chance of the big bang theory or coincidence happening is statistically 0. Scientists have come up with approximate numbers that far exceed the trillions, but these numbers are made up from their theories which is why i didnt paste the number. As of right now the chances of life forming from nothing is statistically 0.
    10. Time & Life (consciousness)

    Please be respectful and list your facts.

    October 7, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
  3. Stephen

    I am the Way, the Truth, and the LIfe; no one comes to the Father, but by Me. ....Jesus Jn. 14:6 Sound narrow? It is. "Enter through the narrow gate"....Jesus Mathew 7:13

    October 3, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
  4. Elaine Rice

    I read Kurt Warner's story the year the Cardinals won the Super Bowl. I watched the game just to see if he would acknowledge Christ if they won. It was wonderful to hear him give thanks in his very first sentence! Since then, if I know the quarterback or other players on a team are Christians I root for that team. This has allowed me to get behind some great teams when I never would have watched before. Now i support the Jets simply because Tim Tebow is there and is not afraid to be vocal in his love for Christ. I have gone to NFL games I never would have gone to before. So the love of Christ and now football has allowed me to have a common bond with people from many sides of life. I sat beside a man at a preseason Jets game who cursed every other word. When he asked who I was for and I said the Jets he said, "Oh, you're probably a Tebow fan." I said that I was and it was because he was such a great role model for our children. I told him to look down on the field to the little guy who was physically challeged who was beaming as he was getting his picture made with Tim. I said, "This is why I support Christian football players. Not for winning games but for what they are able to do for others because of their celebrity." The man never said another curse word and we had a great team cheering for our teams. I think Brenda and Kurt are the "Real Deal" and I so commend them for what they are doing for others in Christ's name.

    September 27, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • bneasy

      cardinals didnt win that year pittsburgh did

      October 8, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  5. Atheism is Great for Kids and Grown-Ups Too!

    It's really best for all people including children to have an agnostic approach to god, and an atheistic approach to all religion. It keeps things simple for kids, and lets them be all that they can be. They just need to be taught that some things, like all religion, were just made up by salesmen and politicians from long ago. (Yes, charlatan folklore and spam started long before the Bible; what would make you think they hadn't?) And they need to be taught that other things, like God, we really don't know a damn thing about.

    Atheists have strong minds and don't need a religion. Many religious folk have the best intentions. But too often, religious folk run and hide their misdeeds within their religion (and by doing so, they disserve society). And too often, religious folk are easily offended when someone mocks their make-believe characters – and, as we can see they can get really CRAZY!

    Although there are many religious folk with good intentions – some selflessly helping others, religions and religious organizations are, as a whole, just big old clubs – each trying to out do each other and inspiring hate and division (often disguised as love) along the way. The problem is that people too easily buy into religion and don't realize how unfounded it all is. And when they buy into it, they buy into a lot of really old, really weird tenets that are nothing but harmful for the human species.

    Take Christianity, for instance. Just look at all the things that Christians argue about amongst themselves today – abortion, men's and women's roles in the church, celibacy, contraception, acceptance of gays, etc. Most of these issues have their roots in the conflicted, unfounded tenets of early Christianity. Non-Mormons harp on Joseph Smith these days. But we really don't have any more proof at all to believe that Paul, the self-proclaimed "apostle" was anything more than an ordinary man who needed to make up religious "sales literature" to survive and spread his own personal beliefs. And yet a good chunk of the NT is attributed to Paul and accepted by many Christians. And a lot of what he wrote about has to do with many of the issues I mentioned above that have Christians fighting amongst themselves hundreds of years later. It's way too unfounded to argue over.

    Get a good cup of tea, and sit down and collect your thoughts. If you find it helpful to pray to a god (something you know nothing about), fine. But it is really healthier for the mind to leave behind all the characters that people over the centuries have invented or given powers to, for which there is little or no foundation. Because with those invented characters and powers – that's where division and hate join the little party in your mind. That's where, in your mind, you are inheriting the division and hate from ordinary politicians, lobbyists and salesmen from long ago. My goodness.

    mama kindless

    September 20, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • cerrolinacole

      Such a nice story at here, i am fully impressed by your story which gives very nice thoughts and invisible memories in our mind. Your story is very fine to read, and we are appreciating you your courage to express your life in word at here.. keep enjoying your life..

      School Admission Mumbai

      September 21, 2012 at 7:14 am |
    • Pinewalker

      STOP SPAMMING! You COPY/PASTE this same comment in every Faith article. These sections are for comments about the story, NOT YOUR ATHEISM BILLBOARD – CNN TAKE NOTE!

      September 26, 2012 at 9:36 am |
  6. BU2B

    Just another high profile vector for the most contagious disease on Earth: religion.

    September 20, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • Paul

      Interesting that you as a non believer are drawn to an article that is clearly about religion. I believe God is bringing you this site in an attempt to bring light into what must be a dark life.

      September 20, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
  7. skinnymulligan

    Kurt Warner's wife is soo ghetto hot.

    September 20, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  8. Anthony John Purich III

    God Bless you Brenda and Kurt. Hope you are supporting President Obama.

    September 20, 2012 at 11:35 am |
  9. Anthony John Purich III

    God Bless you Both, nd I hope you are supporting Obama.

    September 20, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  10. Anthony John Purich III

    The Mormon claim that the Book of Mormon is "another testament of Jesus Christ" is false. It is a book that contradicts the Bible. (Mormanism – Book of Mormon vs the Bible by Jack H. Williams copyrighted 1999.

    September 20, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  11. saggyroy

    The christian part is just a tax dodge.

    September 20, 2012 at 6:12 am |
  12. stan


    September 19, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  13. stan
    September 19, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  14. Greg Halverson

    Wow, to think at one point, single mother and food stamp recipient Brenda Warner, was, according to Mitt Romney just a person who depended on govt. and that he could never convince to take personal responsibility for herself... nice work Mitt!!! Good thing your not part of the whole dividing the country, class warfare approach!!

    September 19, 2012 at 1:35 am |
    • Derp

      Yeah, just have to marry a professional football player that makes millions.

      There's also winning the lottery, that's more likely for the males out there.

      September 20, 2012 at 9:39 am |
  15. smk

    In Quran God speaks to the whole humanity ....

    “Proclaim, He is the One and only GOD. The Absolute GOD. Never did He beget. Nor was He begotten. None equals Him." [112:1]

    “They even attribute to Him sons and daughters, without any knowledge. Be He glorified. He is the Most High, far above their claims.” Quran [6:100]

    “The example of Jesus, as far as GOD is concerned, is the same as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him, "Be," and he was.” Quran [3:59]

    “No soul can carry the sins of another soul. If a soul that is loaded with sins implores another to bear part of its load, no other soul can carry any part of it, even if they were related. ... [35:18]

    It does not befit God that He begets a son, be He glorified. To have anything done, He simply says to it, "Be," and it is. [19:35]

    God will say, "O Jesus, son of Mary did you say to the people, `Make me and my mother idols beside God?' " He will say, "Be You glorified. I could not utter what was not right. Had I said it, You already would have known it. You know my thoughts, and I do not know Your thoughts. You know all the secrets.[5:116]

    The Messiah, son of Mary is no more than a messenger like the messengers before him, and his mother was a saint. Both of them used to eat the food. Note how we explain the revelations for them, and note how they still deviate! [5:75]

    (they are condemned) for disbelieving and uttering about Mary a gross lie. [4:156]

    Subsequent to them, we sent Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming the previous scripture, the Torah. We gave him the Gospel, containing guidance and light, and confirming the previous scriptures, the Torah, and augmenting its guidance and light, and to enlighten the righteous. Quran [5:46]

    Thanks for taking time to read my post. Please take a moment to clear your misconception by going to whyIslam org website.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • Solitairedog

      Sorry, I didn't read it. Too long. I don't like lectures in the comments.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • Brian

      Really... I saw the comment below. I didn;t read it either.... Too long, CNN needs to fire the people writing these stories. OK, she went to school to care for her kid. Any other mother would do what she could for her kid. To top it off, she is a NFL QB wife. it isn't like she has anything else to do but watch FB games. To boot, I guarantee she danced with the devil to get where she is, so stop making her an angel. She's just another holier than thou , television evangelist who wants praise for doing the good work. If I had millions of dollars, I'd be helping all kinds of people... Not just my kid.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
  16. Madmax

    How can you not Admire THAT couple....! God Bless them.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
    • Brian

      After watching the video... I take back what I said...Still a gold digger, but, you came up with the gold. She served in the marines... as long as that isn't a lie... I'm ok with whatever she does!

      September 19, 2012 at 12:11 am |
  17. Motherof2

    Wow sounds like the Warners are amazing Christians and an amazing couple! They are doing great work for disabled people and they have God at the center of it all! Wish she could reach all the women in this world.

    September 18, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  18. Sdgman

    Very good people. The story of how they met is wonderful.

    September 18, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  19. Jesus Christ

    What kind of life service are they doing? Do they feed the poor, do they work in the soup kitchens? Are they housing the lepers? I think you have all forgotten what Christ-like service is. It doesn't involve enormous amounts of money gained through getting on a stage, crying and sobbing while you tell everyone about your suffering. Sounds like the money makers need to be WHIPPED out of the Temple again...

    September 17, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • Zacchaeus Shortt

      Hey! You – saint "j.c.!"

      Read the story again. But first remove your head from insideof yorebutt!

      Funny, but I don't recall running into you on Molokai or at the Hansen Disease center in Carville, Louisianna. Just where is it exactly that YOU do your allegedly great humanitarian service?


      September 18, 2012 at 8:36 am |
    • Zacchaeus Shortt

      After reading the post I just posted to Jesus Christ, I had to step back and take a look...

      It's evident that I'm a typical, mean, bullying christian. I call people names, I ridicule them and I know that Jesus said not to do that.

      Most of the reasons I do things like that is because my "member" is so small that it makes me feel insecure with the ladies. To fell like a "big" man, I have to attack and hurt people. I wish Jesus had given me a bigger "member" but you know how it is...prayers are never answered by a man/god that never really existed. I guess I need therapy and medication.

      September 18, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • kiera

      I lived iN STL while the Warner's were there. They did great community service there and still do. Coat drives in the winter time etc and causes to help the disabled community. They are a great Christian couple and provide a great example to others. Our country needs more people like the Warners' who are caring, giving, and loving to name a few

      September 19, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • Derp

      @kiera: Our country does have plenty of people like that. Actually Americans are the most giving people on the face of the Earth, these are actual statistics. The problem is more and more people have nothing to give these days. It's the bold new economy, full of temp jobs, McJobs, debt and despair.

      You've got to take care of yourself before you can help others. This is a fact of life. With the way our greedy banks, schools and loan companies, not to mention the government, have mortgaged the entire middle class and the young, I'm not sure I want to see what will happen in the next 10 years.

      Before going to school I used to donate 2.5% of my paychecks to charity. Sure I didn't make much and it was a piddly sum, but every little bit helps I think. After school, I tried that but found myself falling deeper and deeper into the hole of student loan debt, which accrues daily at 7% interest rates, higher without consolidation (up past 8%!). If you've got 6 figure student loan debt you are finished from charity or participating in the economy. You can also thank the retarded tax code, which at best gives you money back at the end of the year that is devalued.

      September 20, 2012 at 9:51 am |
  20. chupacabra

    Curt, you did well. good story, I loved it.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.