Football star Bill Glass used prison ministry to change numerous troubled lives
Patty Hullett | Daily Light correspondent
Mr. Bill Glass, a former Baylor All-American and NFL All-Pro defensive end passed from this life into the open arms of his lifelong friend, his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on Sunday morning, December 5, 2021.
His declining health problems had landed him on hospice care recently. Glass was 86 years old at the time of his death, but what an amazing jam-packed life this man lived – and most of his latter private years were spent in Ellis County. His ministry and involvement within the local communities where he worked and lived, created close ties to the cities where he and has family called home. For years he raised his family in Duncanville until his 3 children graduated from high school. Then, they moved to a large ranch house on Shiloh Road in Midlothian. Upon his semi-retirement, he had a home built at Lake Waxahachie, and in his latter years he moved to a smaller home in the northern part of Waxahachie to be near to his sister Linda Horn and her husband Mike.
This outstanding man of God not only played the game of football at the highest level, but he became a fiery evangelical minister, a widely-read author, and a sought-after motivational speaker (both in the secular and Christian world). Perhaps his crowning glory was his successful 50-year prison ministry that he was so proud of.
William Sheppeard Glass was born August 16, 1935 in Texarkana, Texas. The family moved to Corpus Christi when their boy was age 5. He was primarily raised by his mother Mary, as Bill’s father died of cancer when he was a young teenager. This profound loss would later impact his future ministry efforts and also shaped him into an influential “father figure” and mentor to many over the years.
Glass was particularly drawn to the game of football and he especially liked to spend time in the company of his high school coach who became a second father to him. Football became his sports passion, but at the age of 14 a much more important passion consumed him, as he made his personal decision to follow Christ at his local Baptist church, and he never wavered from his faith from that point on.
A Baylor Bear through the heart
In 1953, Glass became a collegiate student and football player for the Bears. He lettered three years at Baylor University (1954-1956) and was a unanimous All-American guard in 1956. (He later, in 1985, was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.)
During this time, Glass became involved in a rather new organization called the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), and this organization was quickly growing a network of evangelical athletes within the realm of sports, and he became a key player in the rise of this new ministry.
It was during his days at college that he noticed a freshman young lady by the name of Mavis Knapp from Harlingen. She was selected as one of Baylor’s “Beauty Queens” that year, but more importantly, she had been drawn to this football player because she read a newspaper story about him teaching a Sunday school class. Glass was completely smitten with Mavis from their very first meeting, and six months later they were married in 1957. Together they shared a happy marriage for over 60 years, until his sweetheart passed away in 2017. The couple had three children – two boys Billy and Bobby Glass (who later went on to play football for Baylor just like their father) and their youngest was a daughter Mindy.
Glass turns pro athlete and plays football on Sundays
After being drafted in the first round by the NFL’s Detroit Lions in 1957, he felt that playing football on the Lord’s Day (the Sabbath), might undermine his Christian testimony. Instead, he opted to play in the Canadian Football League (CFL), but one year later, he had a change of heart and accepted the Lions’ second offer to play in Detroit as part of the NFL. Glass had felt that his “legalistic” perspective had changed, and he decided to play football on Sundays after all.
In the 1960s and 70s, born-again “professional” athletes were often shunned by the Christian world, as many thought people playing pro sports would entice the players to become money-hungry and seeking self fame and gratification, and then there was still the dilemma of “working” on Sundays.
“I just couldn’t believe,” Glass later wrote, “that God was willing for all pro sports to go without a witness just because of Sunday game days.” So to better equip himself to become a more intense witness for Christ, he enrolled at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, and he faithfully spent six off-seasons taking classes before graduating in 1963.
Glass, however, proved his critics wrong, as he continually grew his faith inside the locker room and he used his sports platform to spread his message of hope onto the football fields across America. From leading Bible study and prayer meetings at the team hotel before games, to eventually becoming a spiritual mentor to many, Glass was the “real deal” when it came to his heart for bringing in the lost and spreading the gospel message wherever he went.
After several successful seasons in Detroit, Glass was traded to the Cleveland Browns in 1962, when he really amplified his faith and gained even more notoriety as a dominating All-Pro defensive end. He became a team leader which earned him great respect from all of his teammates, even those who did not necessarily share his faith commitments.
Glass’ impressive stats as a Brown
Glass was credited with 16 ½ quarterback sacks in 1965, back when they were not recognized as an official stat by the league. Glass finished with 87 ½ sacks, getting 77 ½ in his seven seasons with the Browns. After retiring at the close of the 1968 season, he hung up his cleats for good, but he was inducted into the Browns Legends program in 2007.
As a side note, Glass was quoted as saying, “It was an honor to play on the team with Jim Brown. To me, he was the greatest running back of all time.”
Pro athlete turns to full-time evangelistic minister
After football, Glass envisioned himself as a Christian crusader and witness for his Lord, much like the TV revivals that Billy Graham was famous for. So, Glass set out to travel around the United States and beyond, to host City-Wide Crusades to bring the lost to Christ. He began implementing these orchestrated rallies (or revivals) in outdoor settings (often on football fields or other venues), where thousands would gather to hear Christian music guests perform, and the evening would conclude with Glass delivering a heartfelt invitation to the large crowds. He reached thousands of people over the years.
This soul-winner also had a huge heart for the oppressed and imprisoned. He often said that inmates are often easy targets to reach because they are lonesome, they feel excluded from life, they are a captive audience because they have nowhere else to be, and they often convey a sense of being too bad for God to be interested in them. And that is how Bill Glass would hit them right between the eyes, with his message of truth and hope and inclusiveness.
In 1972, Glass began speaking in prison yards all across the country. He has ministered in thousands of prisons all across the United States, sharing his passion for evangelism. The ministry focuses on training volunteers how to share their faith in Jesus Christ. In over 50 years of ministry, 60,000+ Christians have been trained to share the Good News and over 1.5 million men, women, and juvenile offenders have made decisions to follow Christ.
Memorial services will be held at Waxahachie Bible Church located at 621 North Grand Avenue in Waxahachie at 11:00 am, December 18, 2021. A reception will follow the memorial service.
According to the Glass family, Bill’s greatest wish was for his ministry to continue for the next 100 years. Therefore, in lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to: Bill Glass Behind the Walls ministry, 1101 S. Cedar Ridge Drive, Duncanville, Texas 75137.