On the Fourth of July, at the end of an evening he would later call the greatest of his life, Curtis Enis stood in front of 40 friends and family members at the Palm restaurant in Dallas's West End and gave one of the most unsettling wedding toasts in history. Over the next 10 minutes, the 22-year-old bridegroom, whose running skills had compelled the Chicago Bears to select him with the fifth pick in the NFL's April draft, assailed the dinner guests with a harangue that rivaled any fireworks display for explosiveness, leaving his parents and several other guests in tears.
Enis, a powerful 250-pound back with a penchant for hitting holes quickly, got right to the point: He and his pregnant bride of a few hours, Tiffanie, had recently undergone a dramatic religious awakening that had saved them from a life of eternal damnation, and anyone in his inner circle who didn't follow their example would be condemned to such a fate. Enis went around the room admonishing various wedding guests for living in sin and imploring them to repent. Then he turned his attention to his two brothers, 31-year-old Kilven and 24-year-old Victor, and his 20-year-old sister, Alicia, along with their four children—all of whom were born out of wedlock. "I love all of you," Enis told his siblings, "but things are going on in your lives that are unacceptable in the eyes of the Lord. We have these four beautiful babies here who were born out of wedlock. In the word of the Bible, which is the Truth, that's an abomination to the Lord. Tiffanie and I have decided we're not going to make that mistake, and we challenge all of you to make the same stand."
The guests were stunned. Enis, after all, was, by his own admission, a womanizer and an abuser of alcohol who at the time was under investigation for allegedly sexually assaulting a Dallas-area woman. The former Penn State star had not previously informed his family of his newfound devotion to Christian fundamentalism, and his relationship with Tiffanie, a former stripper he had met 15 months earlier, had been rocky. "It was the most inappropriate moment I've ever experienced," one guest says of Enis's tongue-lashing. "Here was a guy marrying a three-months-pregnant stripper telling a roomful of family that they were going to hell." Says another guest, Thomas Hocker, who worked with Enis's agents at the time, "Several people were overwhelmed and had to leave the room, including Curt's father. His entire family had just been called out spiritually, and he was shaken. I know his parents, and they may not be perfect, but they sacrificed a lot to get Curtis to where he is."
Enis, who earlier had privately dressed down his brothers for drinking at the reception, views the event much differently. He says his speech changed the lives of his family members and inspired them to become more devout. (Victor Enis says the speech was a "wake-up call" and that he and Curtis now frequently read Bible scriptures to each other over the telephone.) Says Curtis, "If I tell you what you're doing is wrong, the first thing you're going to do is rebuke me and say, 'How do you know? You're doing it too.' But my family accepted it, because they knew what they were doing in their lives was wrong. People were crying because it was touching them. When things have been sugarcoated your entire life and the truth finally hits you, it's piercing to the heart."
As Enis delivered his piercing words, at least two of his listeners nodded their approval: his best man, Greg Huntington, and the pastor, Greg Ball. Enis had met Huntington, a Bears lineman and former Penn State player, at a minicamp just five weeks earlier. The following week Huntington had taken Enis to a Bible-study session conducted by Ball, a charismatic Christian who is not an ordained minister but who performed the wedding in his capacity as a justice of the peace. A few days after the ceremony Enis fired his agent, Vann McElroy, and replaced him with Greg Feste, a born-again Christian who is one of Ball's best friends and who serves as a financial adviser to a number of NFL players. On Monday, Enis and the Bears tentatively agreed to a three-year, $5.6 million contract, ending several weeks of acrimonious and sometimes bizarre negotiations. However, the controversy continues as Enis's association with Feste and Ball has spawned renewed NFL and media scrutiny of the relationship between football, religion and money.
In Enis's eyes he is a saved soul who has surrounded himself with caring advisers who share his convictions. He views Ball, the head of Champions for Christ (CFC), an Austin-based ministry, as the man who brought him salvation, and Feste as a shrewd counselor who is looking out for his financial and spiritual well-being. However, there is skepticism in some NFL circles surrounding both men, and the league has responded to requests by at least two teams asking for an inquiry into CFC, an organization that, by the estimate of one former disciple, may be receiving donations from up to 10% of the league's players. Though Feste and Ball deny that there is any formal relationship between Feste's company, Malachi Financial Services, and CFC, the belief has taken hold around the league that Ball is guiding players to Malachi, which, according to some players and rival agents, strongly urges clients to donate portions of their income to Ball's organization. One prominent player says he fired Feste as his financial adviser because Feste raised objections to the player's involvement with, and financial support of, a church not affiliated with CFC. Feste denies the charge.
In a wide-ranging, 3½-hour interview last Thursday at Malachi's headquarters near Houston, Feste and Curtis and Tiffanie Enis gave their side of the story. Curtis, who began the discussion with a prayer, cried while explaining Ball's impact on him and Tiffanie. "My life had been a great big lie," he said, "and he basically saved it."
Enis did lie last December after reports surfaced that the suit he had worn to a college football awards ceremony in Florida had been purchased for him by an aspiring agent, Jeff Nalley, in violation of NCAA rules. Enis, who told SI that in fact he received clothing and other gifts from Nalley, initially denied the charge to Penn State coach Joe Paterno—on the advice, he said, of Nalley, who has since pleaded guilty to a charge of unlawful activity by an agent and declined to comment. Enis soon owned up to the transgression and was declared ineligible for Penn State's Citrus Bowl game against Florida, which the Nittany Lions lost 21-6. That incident cemented his decision to leave school following his junior season and enter the draft.
Nalley remained close to Enis and helped steer him to McElroy, a former Los Angeles Raiders safety whose Dallas-based firm, Casterline, Vines & McElroy Team Sports, is among the most respected in the business. McElroy and his associates were concerned about Enis's sometimes rash behavior. "He was extremely impulsive," one member of the firm says. "One day before the draft he walked into a store in New York and dropped $16,000 on jewelry for his mother and Tiffanie." Enis admits to running up more than $500,000 of debt between January and July.
On May 29 Enis drove his new Lincoln Town Car to a suburban Dallas car wash and met a woman who admired the vehicle. According to Irving police sources, Enis followed the woman to her nearby apartment. The woman told police that Enis forced his way in and raped her. Last week Enis denied to an SI reporter that he had any contact with her beyond their meeting at the car wash; however, in a sworn affidavit he gave on June 22, Enis said that the woman had performed oral sex on him, an act he described as "completely consensual." Asked by the SI reporter on Monday why he had lied about his involvement with the woman, Enis replied, "That was the first time I ever met you." On Monday a Dallas County grand jury declined to indict Enis.