DENVER (AP) -Jason Elam's reading list these days includes much more than his new, thick special teams playbook. He's also poring over the Bible and the Quran, among other religious texts.
In his spare time, the Denver Broncos' 37-year-old kicker is studying the world's 12 major religions.
Elam recently enrolled in a distance-learning program at Liberty University's seminary in Lynchburg, Va., where he's pursuing a master's degree.
``That's just kind of a passion of mine and I enjoy traveling and meeting people in different cultures, knowing why people believe what they believe and then just as a Christian defending the faith,'' Elam said.
Elam, who is entering his 15th NFL season, first found himself defending - and questioning - his faith as a freshman at the University of Hawaii in 1989.
``I was just this Atlanta, Southern, country guy and went off to college and I had friends from all over the world and with that diversity came a big diversity in faith,'' Elam said. ``And I had never met a Mormon or a Jehovah's Witness or a Muslim or an atheist or a Baha'i. I had never met those people before.''
Elam, a communications major, soon realized he couldn't defend his beliefs because he wasn't sure why he held them in the first place.
``And that bothered me. I was like, 'Hey, you know what? Maybe they're right, maybe I'm wrong,''' Elam said. ``So, I started from scratch and tried to put all my biases on the shelf and started examining things.''
His education continued when the Broncos selected him in the third round of the 1993 draft.
``There's a diverse crowd in the locker room. You don't ever want it to be a distraction by any teams and I've never gotten into a big argument or anything, but there's times when I'll ask guys, 'What do you think about this? And they'll ask me. It's good conversations more than anything.''
Elam said his faith teaches him to have answers for those who question him, ``but it's supposed to be done in a loving way. I think so many people today just kind of get in peoples' faces and just kind of turn people away from it. I think it should be much more gentle.''
Elam also got his pilot's license when he graduated from college, and his travels to Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Alaska are what really sparked his interest in learning more about the world's religions, he said.
This last offseason, Elam flew his wife and four children to Alaska, then went alone to Turkey and the United Kingdom to study at Oxford University.
Those trips, though, weren't as eventful as the one he took a year ago to visit a Christian minister in Gaza when fighting broke out right after his humanitarian group arrived.
``Israel was bombing and there were shootouts. ... So we were stuck there for a while,'' Elam said.
Elam, who's planning on leading a group of NFL players to Israel next March, is in the middle of the first of 10 classes he'll take to get his master of divinity degree. With football and family taking up most of his energy, he's taking just one class at a time.
``I don't know what exactly my niche will be,'' he said. ``But I can see me doing something in ministry.''

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