Thoughts on Faith and Sports

Right now, many of you are gathered around the TV, surrounded by bowls of dip and chips, platters of wings, and other tasty treats as you watch The Game. Are you getting your Superbowl on? Some people watch mostly for the commercials, and at least one spot has already generated a lot of controversy because of an athlete’s pro-life stance in it.

Most guys like sports, and Christians aren’t any exception. In fact there appears to be a real influence of faith in sports, and even (for good or bad) sports in faith. There’s even a new book covering the subject (with a negative view).

We’ve all seen teams pray before the game, players credit God with the win, and many athletes openly talk about their religious convictions. I know it’s cool these days to dump on celebrities and athletes when they “thank God.” Newscasters, and even many Christians, roll their eyes. But the truth is many athletes who wind up in the spotlight believe such opportunities must be taken to publicly give God thanks or even tell others about Jesus.

Look, you can’t ask for someone’s thoughts and expect them to leave out their core convictions that determine how they interpret the events (or games) of their lives. Even if the press doesn’t get religion, they have to know enough to cover the motivation of these athletes. Sarah Pullman Bailey has written a good article on this in the Wall Street Journal.

…reporters have found it hard to ignore Jesus-professing athletes like the quarterback Kurt Warner, who retired on Jan. 29. Mr. Warner, who went from stocking shelves at a grocery store to winning two MVPs, is outspoken about his faith. When a reporter attempts to separate the high-caliber athletes from average ones, they begin to look for some intangible qualities, and faith is sometimes a part of that. “There is dishonesty in telling his story if you ignore what drives him, especially if you accept its role in one of the NFL’s great success stories,” the Arizona Republic’s Paola Boivin wrote before last year’s Super Bowl.

Sports journalism often lends itself to lengthy profile-driven features. Sportswriters have some of the best opportunities to tell human-interest stories, and in some cases that means connecting the religious dots for people. But when you look closer into what it means to be religious, it usually involves divisive opinions on matters like heaven and hell, and, in some cases, abortion.

One of the funnier moments I enjoyed was the shock that a nationally known athlete would live different because of his faith. Tebow’s response to a journalist’s question is priceless.

Now, this has to apply to all. If an athlete wants to thank Allah, Vishnu, Mother Earth, or the power of Grayskull, so be it. If you don’t like it, quit making athletes into role models and interviewing them. When you ask them, they just might tell you what they believe.  

by Ed Stetzer
Ed Stetzer has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches. He has trained pastors and church planters on five continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Ed is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine and Catalyst Monthly, serves on the advisory council of Sermon Central and Christianity Today’s Building Church Leaders, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. Ed is Visiting Professor of Research and Missiology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Visiting Research Professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and has taught at fifteen other colleges and seminaries. He also serves on the Church Services Team at the International Mission Board. Ed’s primary role is President of LifeWay Research and LifeWay’s Missiologist in Residence.
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