I must start by saying this is not a bash piece, it is not a hype piece. This is a story about how intertwined sports and religion are. For as long as I can remember whenever I watched a sporting event you would hear this; “First, I would like to thank our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” As a person who attended Church I never really thought about that phrase at all. But for many ( a friend of mine for one) chastise them when they say it. Either way, religion plays a big role in sports and always has.
The Early Years
I don’t want to go all the way back to the early years of saying the Greek times. They played games for the Greek Gods. But rather, I want to stay mainly in recent to current times and players.
If one goes to the Baseball Hall of Fame you see upon entering the Hallowed Grounds of Yankee Stadium. As it was called when the original was there, as are many sporting venues called across the world. Even the creation of the YMCA or Young Men’s Christian Association was of mixing sports and religion.
Founded on the principles of muscular Christianity. Local YMCAs deliver projects and services focused on youth development through a wide variety of youth activities. Including providing athletic facilities, holding classes for a wide variety of skills, promoting Christianity, and humanitarian work. In other words to make Christian boys into men, or just manlier.
Religion and Sports have been visible and ongoing in the college realm forever and still to this day. You have Notre Dame, Brigham Young, Texas Christian to many many others. The idea that you can go to a college of your choice and play athletics as well as participate in your religious preference is a luxury for many.
Todays Athletes Spread the Word
Today the practice of living through your religious preference and playing a sport may be more common than not. It Transcends all sports. Some of the biggest names in the world of sports and hero’s to many. If you think about it sports and religion seem to promote a lot of the same values. Helping one another, coming together for a common goal, sportsmanship, rules, it goes on and on.
Probably one of the biggest most high profile names is Patrick Mahomes;
“Faith is huge for me,” says Mahomes, who became a Christian during middle school. “Before every game, I walk the field and I do a prayer at the goalpost. I just thank God for those opportunities, and I thank God for letting me be on a stage where I can glorify him.”
He is just one of the QBs in the NFL that practice what they preach. Phillip Rivers and his wife have been together a long time and have dedicated a vast amount of time and money to their beliefs. As well as waiting to get married to be together they have long practiced what they preach.
Ryan Tannehill is another QB that has lived a life of the Lord.
“I’ve always kind of viewed the locker room as my mission field,” he said on a recent Sports Spectrum podcast. “Wherever God calls you, that’s where God calls you to be a missionary for God and impact the lives around you.”
Such inspiration to see those that do not live by others yet put their faith above all. It is these men and women as we will see, that inspired me to write a piece I know will not be taken like the other articles I have written.
It does not matter what sport either, there are great players in baseball, football, and even basketball. Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors sat in with Russell Wilson and Tauren Wells on a talk about just this subject. Curry had this to say;
“Being able to have a perspective that’s refreshed in terms of the people in our lives that need prayer, that need that phone call, that text. To be honest, there is no more excuse of ‘Oh, I’m busy,’” Curry said. “It’s about being truly selfless in a way that Jesus would have us. And to be able to be that village for whoever needs us.”
Again some of the biggest names in sports. In these times of COVID and all that 2020 has thrown at us, is this not refreshing? I spoke of women in sports as well, as men are not the only athletes that live a life of faith.
LPGA star Morgan Pressel is only 17, but one of the best golfers on the tour. She is Jewish and says faith plays a major role in her life. American track and field phenom Allyson Felix whose father is a Christian Pastor says living a Christian life means more than anything else. All these athletes have a lot in common and it is the belief in a higher power. And it does not matter what religion it is or what sport. It has not always been met with enthusiasm either.
The Ugly of the Good
We all know the story of some of the most famous athletes to meet resistance when it comes to their religious beliefs. Who cannot forget when Cassius Clay changed his religion and his name to Muhammad Ali. In the middle of growing in the sport of boxing, he loved so much. In 1966, Ali refused to be drafted into the military for the Vietnam War for religious, social, and ethical principles. He was then indicted and convicted of draft evasion. Faced five years in prison, and was stripped of his boxing titles. He appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which overturned his conviction in 1971. Went on to be the greatest to ever put on gloves.
You can say what you want but that man stood his ground, on his beliefs, and WON. Then we have Lew Alcindor or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He played basketball at UCLA under Lew Alcindor, his given name, and then changed in the Pros to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar because of his religious beliefs. The move as well was not taken positively and he endured a lot of hate for his decision. Even people who refuse to say their name, or give any respect to their decision to do so.
Even as recent as the 90’s we had Chris Jackson. He became Mahmoud Abdul Rauf while a member of the Denver Nuggets of the NBA. Even after the Trail blazers that came before him he still paid a high price for his beliefs, his career. Abdul-Rauf chose to not stand for the National Anthem and even after compromising and standing in his own way he was blackballed by the NBA and never got his career back on track. He nows plays in the BIG3 and does very well at the age of 50. Small consolation as he was one of the purest shooters the game ever seen.
Jonathan Isaac of the Orlando Magic is one of the few players in sports today that went out on his own during a time when most in sports were going in a different direction. The Black Lives Matter movement has made an impact in today’s society and in the world of sports most noticeably. The NBA had logos on the floor and when the NBA Bubble started they had taken the Anthum as a time to sit and show solidarity. Isaac to the surprise of many did not sit and log arms. He stood by himself and held to his beliefs despite what others may be doing or thinking.
“I believe that my life has been supported through the Gospel, Jesus Christ and that everyone is made in the image of God,” he said. “Each and every one of us each and every day do things that we shouldn’t do. We say things that we shouldn’t say. We hate and we dislike people we shouldn’t hate and dislike. Sometimes, it gets to a point where we point fingers about who’s evil is worse. And sometimes that comes out with whose evil is most visible.”
He walks the walk more than most others. Being an ordained minister he practices every day what he preaches. He took massive criticism from some and praised by others. The Team stood by him and the fans? Well, that is my point I guess with this. Should it not be okay to have both an athletic career and still be as religious as you want to be. Let’s be honest none of them, even the ordained minister, pushed their beliefs on any of us. And there are far worse things I want to hear than a guy thanking his savior for a win.
The Bottom Line
Here it is. Religion has always been a factor in all parts of life so why would sports be any different? It is merely a job these people are doing. I get it they have a pulpit to speak from and more eyes and ears are on them. But all religions no matter which ones encourage you to pass on the word and get others involved so when they speak the little they do it should not seem overwhelming.
The positive vibes and words they spread at a time when negativity is the overwhelming emotion around is a good thing. So take a moment and listen to some of these men and women and maybe just maybe an era of positivity can come around. As religion and sports have a long history and I do not believe it will go away any time soon. So whatever religion you believe in enjoy the peace.