Just after the final note of the Star-Spangled Banner is hit and the crowd erupts into cheers, many players jog towards the nearest end zone for what has become a weekly tradition across the National Football League. A few players from the opposing teams will kneel side-by-side in a pre-game prayer.
With the mass hysteria caused by Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, whose late-game heroics seemed nothing short of God-sent, the issue of how much religion should be in sports returned to the forefront of sports talk radio. The child of Baptist missionaries, Tebow has become known for his pious devotion to his faith. He even went as far as to include verses from the Bible on his eye black during games. His antics have been mocked on Saturday Night Live and the Jimmy Fallon Show, where his devotion has been portrayed outlandish and unnecessary.
There have been many sports analysts who have completely bashed Tebow, saying that there is no need to show an abundance of faith on the gridiron.
“There’s almost a faith cliché, where (athletes) come out and say, ‘I want to thank my Lord and savior.’ “The greatest impact you can have on people is never what you say, but how you live.... You set the standard with your actions. The words can come after,” says former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner.
Faith has always been an aspect that people like to publicize. From Academy Award speeches to pre-game pep talks, religion and God are tools that many use for pure publicity. But in some cases, those who have the public eye on them have made themselves role models and spokespeople for their respective religions.
One of the most notable of these cases is that of former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax, a practicing Jew. Koufax, the ace of the Dodgers pitching staff, was scheduled to start Game 1 of the 1965 World Series, which happened to coincide with Yom Kippur, the most important day in the Jewish calendar. Koufax decided not to pitch, but to instead attend High Holiday services. The decision garnered national attention as to the conflicts religious athletes face.
Omri Casspi, the first Israeli-born NBA player, wore the number 18 during his first two seasons in the league. The number 18 has special value within the Jewish faith, as it is an acronym for the Hebrew word “chai,” meaning “life.”
So what is the real reason behind the need of athletes to bring religion with them into battle?
The late Rev. Jerry Falwell said, “I think God wants you to be a winner in life, and that spills over into athletics.”
When a lot is at stake, such as a sporting event, people like to believe that someone has their back; that someone is looking out for them and helping them perform well. Consider the divinity, perhaps, as some sort of spiritual performance-enhancing drug. That’s one way not to get caught.
So in these days of steroids and multi-million dollar contracts, let’s step back for a minute and try to appreciate those who find solace not in their paycheck and antics, but in their belief in a greater meaning and being.
Religion and Sports