Father Stephen Gadberry, a priest in the Diocese of Little Rock, joins us to discuss his role on the NBC show “American Ninja Warrior.”
Father Dave asks Father Stephen how he got connected with “American Ninja Warrior.” “I met Sean Bryan, who is also known as the Papal Ninja, a veteran on ‘American Ninja Warrior.’ He was brainstorming with a couple of other Catholic giants with huge hearts, such as Bishop Robert Barron, and they were trying to think of how to get the faith out there. They wanted a new way to do this, and Sean was there. Through meeting him they threw my name out there and said let’s contact him and see if he’s willing to give it a shot.
“The whole mission of this was to put the face of the Church out there as she is: vibrant, energetic, exciting, and willing to take a risk,” Father Stephen says. “And that’s what the Ninja Warrior is about, taking a risk.”
Father Dave asks if Father Stephen wears his collar during the competition. “Yes,” Father Stephen says. “Most of the time, they don’t let people wear black uniforms because they film at night. I told them it’s part of my gig. It’s part of who I am and my identity, and they said, ‘Of course.’ That’s what sells you when people see the clerics they say, ‘That guy’s a priest.’”
Father Dave asks if the show surprised him in any way. Father Stephen answers: “One of the casting producers who called me grew up Catholic. It’s been awhile since he has been to church, but he was so stoked to see a Catholic priest do this. Also, through social media, I’ve been able to meet a number of people, and it’s amazing the walls that are broken down whenever they see a human priest. A priest who is real; he’s not a robot.”
Father Dave points out that Father Stephen coaches a Crossfit class. “I grew up on the farm,” Father Stephen says. “Hard work is who I am. And I love teaching. Through these Crossfit classes, it’s another avenue where I can encounter people who are usually not very well evangelized. And having that common language or exercise allows us to start a conversation, which then leads to a deeper one, and then to conversion. There are so many parallels between the spiritual battle, growth, and discipline, and the physical aspects of growth and discipline. People who know the exercise language, it’s not a big slip to say, ‘Ya know, replace the word exercise with prayer, and our last conversation is still applicable.’” (Original Air 5-29-18)