Though very few things in life can be stated with absolute certainty, this one's a pretty good bet: Todd Cunningham
is the only Minor League Baseball player whose offseason prominently featured a bejeweled jock strap.
Not just any bejeweled jock strap, mind you, but one imbued with the power to free spirits, open minds and protect the body. And though this magical athletic supporter is in Cunningham's possession, it is not something that he's jealously hoarding. Rather, he wants to share it with the world -- just Google "Rock Yo Jock" and watch. You won't even need to turn off the parental controls to do so.
Spearheaded by Cunningham, "Rock Yo Jock" is a music video project in which the 22-year-old Atlanta Braves prospect's night at the club is turned into a journey of discovery (one culminating, perhaps inevitably, in an exuberant display of his rap "skills"). It's a thoroughly ridiculous production, and purposely so, but one motivated by Cunningham's desire to apply, as he puts it, a "fresh approach to an age-old topic": Remaining celibate until marriage.
Cunningham, an outfielder drafted in the second round in 2010, missed much of the 2011 campaign due to injury. While rehabbing, he began to think about "who I was as a person and how that fit in with my career. To perform you have to be totally healthy -- mentally, physically and spiritually."
"In thinking about this, the topic of purity jumped out at me," said Cunningham, who has done extensive work with youth groups in his native Alabama. "Everybody deals with that awkward stage, where suddenly girls don't have cooties anymore and you're trying to learn how society really functions. And purity isn't always a relevant topic when it comes to all that. There's that fear that you're missing out on all the fun stuff."
"Rock Yo Jock," then, is Cunningham's attempt to "reshape the message of purity, to make it relevant again." And if that means producing a fantastical video featuring the divine intervention of a rapping angel, then so be it.
"[The video] is a way to connect, and I figured a blinged-out jock strap would get people's attention," said Cunningham. "It's been cool to see people's reactions, especially being from this area, where there are real Deep South, Bible Belt conservatives. There have been some double takes."
One such double take came from the Braves' front office, which contacted Cunningham after the video first went online.
"I'm sure it was awkward for them, seeing this clean cut, small-town boy with good grades wearing a jock strap on a chain," said Cunningham. "But once they heard the message they went on to say that they liked that aspect of who I was, someone who strove to be about more than just baseball."
The video may be a bit perplexing when taken out of context, but Cunningham looks at it as a piece in a much larger puzzle. "Rock Yo Jock" is the introduction to what will be a far more substantial production, one featuring devotional testimony from a biblical perspective, as well as man-on-the-street interviews. Taken as a whole, this is the first endeavor of Cunningham's REVo project (REVo stands for "Restoring Every Vogue," with the intent of "taking trends of contemporary faith and returning [them] to [their] more original purpose.")
For Cunningham, the importance of preaching the message of purity became more pronounced once he joined the professional baseball ranks in 2010.
"The Minor League lifestyle is a group of guys, who, for the most part, are pretty young. Baseball has provided them with some financial opportunities, and they're removed from family and friends for the first time," he said. "It's not necessarily a bad lifestyle, but it's easy to get caught up [in negative behaviors]. That led to an internal struggle for me, where I had to wrestle with who I was."
Here, he pauses.
"I know that sounds hokey and dramatic, like I should be saying this in a dark room with a spotlight on me."
But though Cunningham has no problem poking fun at himself, he says that his teammates have come to respect his contrarian clubhouse stance.
"There are definitely some guys that don't agree [with the purity message], but there's no one who is straight hating on me. It comes down to earning your own respect and not rubbing people's noses in it," he said. "Loving all people -- that's what's at the core of my message."
And whether aided by bejeweled jock straps or not, it's a message that he'll continue to preach for a long time.
"I've been given this platform [as a professional baseball player] to impact lives, and now it's up to me to figure out what to do with it," he said. "One day my baseball career is going to come to an end, and if I'm not a solid person as a whole, then it will be hard to function once baseball is gone. What I'm figuring out now is how to use baseball to become a whole person."