When athletes praise God at the Super Bowl and other sports
The problem isn’t the faith of believers like Drew Brees. It’s the media assumption that every person of faith adheres to a highly traditional version of Christianity.
(Page 2 of 2)
“The Lord Jesus Christ can make a great athlete out of a good one and a winner out of a loser,” declared the squad’s all-city defensive end. “Wouldn’t you rather be a winner than a loser?”Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The prayer-in-sports ritual would migrate upward over the next decade, from high schools to college and eventually to the pros.
The first NFL player to kneel in prayer after a touchdown – a common sight today – was Philadelphia Eagles running back Herb Lusk, following a 70-yard touchdown run in 1977. Fittingly, Lusk became a minister and now serves as the Eagles’ team chaplain. Most other NFL teams have chaplains, too, and most of them – like Lusk – are evangelical Christians.
So are an estimated 35 to 40 percent of professional football players. The rest come from other faith traditions, mostly Christian, and they usually don’t participate in group prayers. Nor do they make a fuss, which might threaten team cohesion.
But there are exceptions. In 2007, when 30 members of the Detroit Lions started praying after practice – and concluding with a shout, “One, two, three... JESUS!” – other players raised their eyebrows. “You can’t bring religion up in most workplaces; you can’t do a team prayer at the office,” explained one player, who didn’t participate in the prayer. “So this is something unique that we have to deal with.”
He’s right. The true victims of sports prayers are in the faith groups that get left out.
Consider the fate of three Muslim football players at New Mexico State University, where a new coach instituted the Lord’s Prayer after practices in 2005. When the Muslims chose to pray on their own, the coach repeatedly asked one of them what he thought of Al Qaeda. He eventually dismissed all three Muslims from the team, calling them “troublemakers.”
But the real trouble was the prayer, of course, not the players. They sued the university, which settled with them out of court.
I can imagine them, heads bowed after the settlement, saying “Allah is great.” But I can’t imagine them doing that before a big game, on prime-time TV, while the announcers commend them for their “faith.”
Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history and education at New York University. He is the author, most recently, of “Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory”
Did this essay make you think? Join the conversation on Facebook!