Former Boxer Eyes Heavenly Prize as an EWTN Regional Marketing Manager
Spencer Swope overcomes drinking and drugs, embraces Divine Mercy and 11 children.
When he was too hungover to attend Easter Sunday Mass in 1995, Spencer Swope looked like he was at the end of his rope. Yet, despite the messy situation he had gotten himself into, he sensed that he was being thrown a lifeline.
Swope had a partying past that had prevented him from reaching his potential in football, boxing and the insurance industry. Now that he was unable to enter a church on the holiest day of the year, he was deeply stirred to live a better life — one centered on God.
This turning point in Swope’s life led him to work at Seton Home Study, the Knights of Columbus, and then EWTN, where he is now the Southern regional marketing manager. Swope is helping to expand the reach of EWTN, all while raising 11children with his wife, Liz.
Swope, now 57, recently spoke of his inspiring conversion, increasing the number of EWTN media missionaries in his region, how this is the perfect time to transition to home schooling, and other things relevant to the Catholic faith.
Were you a cradle Catholic or a convert?
I was a cradle Catholic — the youngest of five children — from a family that made sure to go to Sunday Mass but didn’t live out the faith during the week. My parents were deeply affected by the loss of my two older brothers who died in a car accident on Good Friday when I was 10. I kind of saw it like we went through the motions, but my parents were continually in shock about the loss.
Football, boxing, girls and partying were my real religion in high school and college. I was QB for our football team at Vanguard High School in Ocala, Florida, and even set single-game passing records. Those were later broken by Daunte Culpepper, who went on to become a three-time NFL Pro-Bowler.
I was talented, but was competing more for my own personal glory rather than for the team. I loved football but was also interested in drinking and dabbling in drugs — and I suffered some injuries — so I didn’t get any college scholarship offers.
At Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., I was an awful student, caring only about partying. Drinking and marijuana use was pretty much an everyday occasion. I stopped going to Mass and ended my freshman year with a 0.8 GPA. I had a moment of clarity shortly thereafter and realized that I had to start taking life seriously, so I went to another college, Brevard College in Brevard, N.C., and studied like I should have the first time. I ended up with a 3.5 GPA while majoring in psychology.
What did you do after that?
I moved back to Florida and started working in the insurance industry. That went very well in the short term, even to the point of being an office sales manager at age 24 and having a secretary and six insurance agents under my supervision. However, my personal life was not as stellar as my professional life. It was actually quite dark. I started using cocaine often. I was truly living a double life!
I decided to stop being a manager and decided I just wanted to sell insurance, which would give me time to play semi-pro football. I loved the game, but with all the partying I was doing I truly was in no shape to play football. I even smoked cigarettes and sipped whiskey from a flask during games while on the sidelines, when our defense was on the field.
How did you get back to boxing?
In October of 1990 I had really had it with life, was in a very dark place and decided to make a change. I went up to North Carolina, where my parents were living, to clear my head and decide what my next move was. Two days after I arrived, someone quit at their restaurant, so I volunteered to help them out while I was there.
This was God’s way of protecting me, as I had no drug connections there and it gave me the opportunity to sober up. I decided to get in shape and realize my childhood dream of becoming a professional boxier, even though I hadn’t been in a ring in over six years at that point. It required more discipline than football, so I wasn’t as interested in partying. Despite its own set of problems, boxing was what God used to steer me to him.
I think the discipline that it takes to be a fighter is analogous to the discipline that it takes to be a good Catholic. In either arena, there are many times you just don’t want to do the work. With boxing, it’s the early-morning runs, gym workouts and dieting; and with Catholicism, it’s the Rosaries, chaplets, works of mercy, and so on.
Having an objective standard outside yourself that you strive to meet is a huge help toward becoming a better person. It’s not about your own self-invented ideals, how you feel, or what you want people to do for you; it’s about the mark you are supposed to be reaching. Because of that, I was growing spiritually — even asking my pastor about possibly becoming a priest — but at this point I still wasn’t in a state of grace, as I hadn’t gone to confession since I was 12.
It is still good to go to Mass even if you’re not in a state of grace, but my mistake was receiving Holy Communion. I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I received Holy Communion, it was unworthily. I should have stayed in the pew until having gone to confession.
Then I suffered a back injury while training for a fight in May of 1994, and since it would take quite a while for the injury to heal, I went on an all-summer drinking binge; and in the early months of 1995 I even did cocaine again once. It would be the last time, thank God. I think the enemy was trying to prevent me from seeing the good things that were just about to come.
What were those?
I had a huge wake-up call spiritually, when, on Easter Sunday, I was too hungover to make it to Mass. This stirred up quite a motivation within me to do better, and I found myself on the following Sunday — which was not yet officially designated as Divine Mercy Sunday — committing my life to Christ. I promised him: “From this day forward I will live every day for you.”
After this renewal of faith, I was starving to learn more about Our Lord. I began reading the Bible and went to Bible school classes with my good ol’ Southern Baptist friends and would attend their services as well as Mass.
I was seriously thinking of abandoning Catholicism, and probably would have, had it not been for a little voice inside which said, “Don’t leave what you don’t know.” God, in his providence, put a Catholic couple into my life who placed Scott Hahn tapes and good Catholic books in my hands. Surprised by Truth was one of those books; it’s a collection of stories of Protestants who converted to the Catholic faith.
What sealed the deal and brought me fully into the Church was the book Rome Sweet Home, in which Scott and Kimberly Hahn explained why they became Catholic. I abandoned my Baptist aspirations and began living the Catholic faith in all its sacramental splendor. I went to confession for the first time in decades and got rid of all my sins.
I would be fighting a different fight from then on — a fight to do my very best to live each day of my life for Jesus, who in his mercy saved a wretched soul like me! This meant no more attending Mass and receiving Our Lord unworthily; it also meant living the rest of the week well, too.
I was still right in the middle of my boxing career and wanted to do my part to evangelize while I was in that arena. I did that by the Christian messages sewn onto my boxing trunks, as well as writing “Jesus” on my mouthpiece.
How did you get to work at EWTN?
After my big conversion I worked at Seton Home Study in Virginia, with former MLB player Chris Nyman, among others. I really liked how the home-schoolers were taking full responsibility to teach the faith to their children. They were not, like so many did in the ’70s and ’80s, relying on the schools to be primary teachers of the faith.
Right now, by the way, is the perfect time for parents on the fence to move forward with home schooling. If their public or private school is not opening up, or if they are doing so with too many restrictions, Seton and the other Catholic programs would be happy to help them begin a traditional education for their children from home.
Home schooling can be more challenging than shipping kids off to a school, but it is worth the extra effort, in my opinion. It helps to form family bonds that just can’t happen if the kids are away all day. It makes Catholicism grow from inside the home to outside in an “organic” way, where the faith can permeate everything, rather than being a Sunday-only thing. It helps to make our faith a way of life, which is how it’s supposed to be, right?
Then from Seton you got to EWTN?
Actually, I worked for the Knights of Columbus as an insurance agent after Seton, but that didn’t work out as I had planned. Going to EWTN was another providential thing, in that I had a friend who worked there contact me one day asking if I might be interested in a position. The night before, on a drive home from an insurance appointment, I was praying the Rosary and thought I should contact this very individual about anything available at EWTN.
In October of 2000, Liz and I took off for Alabama, along with our almost-1-year-old daughter, Philomena, and our second child, who had been in the womb for seven months.
During my first four years at EWTN I worked in marketing support, and I’ve been the Southern regional marketing manager since December of 2004. This position requires me to travel a lot — or it used to, anyhow, before all the COVID-19 shutdowns — to 37 dioceses in 11 states.
I also assist in overseeing the media missionaries program for my part of the country and stay connected to the cable industry — a relationship that is still important but not quite as vital as it used to be, since EWTN is available on so many more platforms now. That’s part of the reason why our slogan is true: EWTN is indeed everywhere.
I also visit with local radio affiliates and dioceses to keep relations good and make them aware of our many resources. Some of those resources are taken to conferences where EWTN has a table. We display an assortment of fliers, such as TV and radio schedules, as well as rosaries, pens, bumper magnets, t-shirts, tote bags, samples of the National Catholic Register, and more.
What is the best part of your job?
The best part is helping others get to heaven. There are many things I could be doing, but what a joy it is to do something directly related to our eternal destiny. It’s fitting, then, that EWTN stands for the “Eternal Word Television Network.”
There are so many conversion stories from EWTN viewers, but one of my favorites was about a man who was in a state of sin and living a horrible life. One night when his wife was watching Mother Angelica, he heard her say from the TV, “You’re going to hell” as he was about to leave the house to engage in his sinful ways.
Mother Angelica couldn’t see that man; her comments were about someone else. Yet that man realized that God was talking to him personally, so he repented, watched the entire episode of Mother Angelica Livewith his wife, and asked her to set up a time for him to go to confession. She was able to make sure he got to confession that very night and was so blown away by the experience that she died of a massive stroke the next morning, having gone to bed with the knowledge that her husband was back on the highway to heaven.
How many media missionaries — volunteers who place EWTN fliers at parishes four times a year — are there?
We have about 11,000, which means a little more than half the parishes in the country have one. We want to get to the point that there is at least one per parish, so readers are encouraged to go to EWTNMissionaries.com to find out more, or call (205) 795-5771.
You have 11 children. What would you say to couples afraid to have more kids or to have any at all?
Don’t be scared! You’ll never regret being open to life. Being open to having kids is the primary reason to get married in the first place. The family is where God blesses a couple with children, who are celebrated for who they are. It’s where love is found — love which should be strong enough for children to be formed into souls worthy of heaven.
It is uncommon to have 11 kids these days, so I understand the questions about it, but would someone ask Tom Brady why he has six Super Bowl rings and suggest he should have stopped at two? The same thing can be said of Roger Federer and his eight Wimbledon trophies.
If it’s looked at that way — children as blessings to be accepted with more gratitude than a Super Bowl or Wimbledon trophy would be — then each new child is not just tolerated, but celebrated. No athlete would set out to strictly limit his victories, so why would a father set out to strictly limit the number of his children?
That’s a good sentiment, but it might strike some people as odd to hear from a boxer, who they might not think of as being the ideal family man.
When people tell me that boxing is a tough sport, I agree and tell them that it’s pretty tough inside the ropes too! I’ve met some pretty shady characters in the business of boxing, outside the ropes, but inside of them, I knew what I was getting into, and the boxers I faced were always gentlemen.
In my opinion, the real value in boxing is the commitment needed to get into proper condition, not just physically, but mentally too, and the discipline it takes to do it. Even if someone never stepped into a ring to fight someone else, but did the training needed to do that, he would be in great shape. It’s a workout I continue to do at age 57, and I have no plans to stop anytime soon.
Thank God I’m now in a very moral environment — not only at work and home, but the general area where my family lives in Hanceville, Alabama. There are many good options for worship. There’s Mass at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, which can be seen on EWTN occasionally, a Benedictine monastery close by, and our parish, Sacred Heart, in Cullman. There’s even a Latin Mass available at Christ the King Monastery, also in Cullman.
Your story sounds perfect for The Good Fight, the show hosted by Barbara McGuigan on EWTN Radio.
In all my years at EWTN — almost 20, in fact — I’ve actually done very little on-air speaking. My family was on At Home With Jim and Joy a few years ago, but most of my speaking has been in person. But yes, with its boxing theme, The Good Fight sure does sound like a good fit for me.
I meet people who often tell me of their favorite EWTN shows, which include The Journey Home, Kresta in the Afternoon (which is produced by Ave Maria Radio), More 2 Life (also produced by Ave Maria Radio), Women of Grace, Living Right With Doctor Ray, etc., and I get to share all of them by promoting EWTN in general.
How cool is it to be able to share, all day long, programming about the most important thing we need to focus on? When you consider what I’ve been through, I feel tremendously blessed and fortunate that this was made possible only by the awesome power of God.
Register correspondent Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.
His book Fit for Heaven (Dynamic Catholic, 2015)
contains numerous Catholic sports interviews,
most of which have appeared in the Register.
His latest book is Apostolic Athletes.
Editor's Note: The phone number for the EWTN Missionaries was corrected after posting.