Are the New Orleans Hornets a Christian Team?

If you like going to basketball games or watching them on TV, you’re used to hearing the national anthem.

But if you’re a fan of the New Orleans Hornets, are you aware of what happens before the anthem is sung?

According to Joe Gerrity at Hornets247 (an unofficial fan site):

Before each and every Hornets game for as long as the team has been in existence, a Christian invocation is done at half court before the national anthem, in which everyone is asked to rise. George Shinn, a devout Christian, began having this done long ago in Charlotte and then brought the practice to New Orleans. For the many years, he remained the only NBA owner in the league to do such a thing. Now that he’s gone and the league controls the team, the question should be asked- Why is a league owned team in clear support of one religion over any other?

It’s a great question. Joe updated his post to add that a Rabbi conducts the invocation “once in a blue moon,” but I don’t see the need for any prayer at all at an NBA game. Still, I’m used to hearing about professional sports teams having chaplains and pre-game prayers (if that’s a surprise to you, read Tom Krattenmaker‘s Onward Christian Athletes: Turning Ballparks into Pulpits and Players into Preachers).

Gerrity adds:

I can’t help but think that if the religious prayers spoken before games were Muslim or Hindu that somebody would have said something about it already, but here we are dozens of games into the NBA’s first team ownership and they have yet to address this very unique aspect of the team’s home court experience.

The NBA is a private organization, but this is a very select way to advance religion. My guess is they’re either unaware of the practice (unlikely), want to keep a tradition going (possible), or they are aware of the practice but are too afraid to say anything (my money’s on this one), but why keep it going when it might alienate many of the fans?

Even if Christian fans balked at the thought of the prayers being stopped, it shouldn’t matter. The NBA could just say it’s adopting standard practices or that it’s not a league defined by any particular faith and getting rid of the practice would allow the team to cater to all of its fans instead of a select group of them.

It seems like an easy fix. Why would the NBA keep this practice going?

Hey, NBA Commissioner David Stern, what are you going to do about this?

  • Verimius

    David Stern is Jewish, but he knows which side his bread is buttered on.

  • Alex

    Funny that it was started by George Shinn, whose sex scandal ran the Hornets out of Charlotte, and led his lawyer to coin the term “If she ain’t bitin’, she ain’t fightin’” when discussing the consensualness of oral sex.

  • http://pinkydead.blogspot.com David McNerney

    In the comments, someone mentioned that the Pastors paid for the privilege of giving an invocation.

    Don’t know how true that is… but it’s certainly bizarre.

  • Todd

    They did this in Oklahoma City last year when I was there. I don’t remember for sure if it was specifically Christian, but I believe it was.

  • http://AppreciateYourMind.podomatic.com Brian Magee

    For those who live in the area, maybe an organized trip of atheists to a game–buying a whole row–in order to not stand up during the prayer would be an idea to consider.

  • deong

    but why keep it going when it might alienate many of the fans?

    This would seem to be rather obvious, but since the question was asked, the people who this might alienate are (a) a minority compared to the overall demographics of the fanbase, and (b) halting it would alienate (if you want to call it that) a very large percentage of their fan base.

    In other words, it avoids dealing with the “persecuted Christian” complex that would inevitably follow as soon as a public Christian figure announced that the team had *gasp* banned prayers.

  • Rover Serton

    wonder what % of people stand just due to peer pressure. Anyone have an idea what they do when someone doesn’t stand?

  • Tyris

    Meh, as long as my tax dollars aren’t funding the prayer, let’em keep it. If it makes them feel like better players because they think Jesus is taking their free throws for them, I’m not gonna lose any sleep over it.

  • Brad

    Honestly, who cares? If you’re bored enough to attend a Hornets game, you have bigger problems than a pre-game invocation. To say nothing of being bored enough to blog about it.

    This is a waste of bits, IMHO, as are an increasing percentage of posts on the blog lately. I’m voting with my virtual feet and unsubscribing. See ya.

  • Sheila

    There is a prayer at halfcourt before every Oklahoma City Thunder game as well. I don’t think the “pastors” or whatever pay to do it though; there is probably a long list of them who are dying to do it for free just to get themselves into the spotlight.

    I have noticed that the prayers are always ended with just “amen” instead of, “in Cheesus’ name, amen.”

    That’s probably how they get around the idea that it’s a “Christian” prayer.

    I only attend a few games per season, but next time I go I’ll stay seated and see what happens. Nothing is my guess; people are anxious for the game to begin and really don’t give a whit about the prayer, as far as I can see.

    Until somebody like me complained about it; then they would be all up in arms. That’s why I just let it go.

  • Claudia

    Meh, don’t really care too much. As for this:

    getting rid of the practice would allow the team to cater to all of its fans instead of a select group of them.

    It’s a simple calculation really. Which of the two is likely to cause a greater firestorm and make more people angry?:

    - Keeping the prayer
    - Getting rid of the prayer

    We all know getting rid of the prayer would piss off a greater proportion of the fans. These fans probably don’t even notice the prayer right now, but if it’s brought to their attention that it’s gone in the name of inclusiveness, or worse, because some atheists complained, they’ll go from zero to outraged faster than you can say “missplaced victim complex”.

    Private organization. No tax dollars involved. I’m not a fan. I don’t see how this causes undue harm or pressure on fellow non-Christians. Given all the above, I don’t care.

  • Anonymous

    We’re just not happy until we stuff religion into every little corner of public life, are we? And how distressing that it occurs to no one that it’s a bullying assertion of one ideological view.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if pastors paid for the privilege; I’m sure it’s great exposure for megachurch business.

  • Rich Wilson

    I could give a flying eff about pro sports. I think this just gives me a great counter when they come calling for my tax dollars for a new stadium.
    You know Arco arena (Sacramento Kings) I’d going to be renamed PowerBalance arena? Yeah, those hologram enabled wootastic scams.

  • Norm

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned this common practice seen before every NASCAR race, where a Chaplain from the local “Raceway Ministry” gives the race invocation. Always good for a laugh, they mostly begin by thanking the lord for bringing such great weather (unless it’s cloudy that day).

  • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

    If this idiotic behavior is what the NBA chooses to engage in, you can always vote with your dollars and write (as a private individual) to the NBA powers-that-be to express your disapproval. However, meddling in private affairs on an organized larger scale may dilute the more important messages we want to put out there and make atheists as a whole look whiny and petty. This may be a good example of how individual initiative might work out better than group action.

  • David H

    I say leave it alone. It does make us look like we’re trying to keep them from doing their thing. If it isn’t government action, what is there to object to? I won’t stand up for it, though.

    Truth be told, I’m more concerned about the forced patriotism of everyone being expected to stand for the national anthem. Hell, they expected me to do it before the freakin’ Roller Derby!

  • Flah the Heretic Methodist

    Glass half full: if the overtly Christian team does NOT have fabulous winning seasons, miraculously healed athletes, and the Most Morally Upright Team in the history of the NBA, then it’s a nice empirical data point for you.

  • Darwin’s Dagger

    Well all we need to do is buy our own team and have our own ceremonies. A Flying Spaghetti Monster as the mascot. Costumed characters to act out the evolution of life. We could have a Richard Dawkins night where the 1st 500 fans get a free copy of The God Delusion.

  • Ibis

    Forget the fans. The basketball players are employees. They shouldn’t be subjected to have a hostile workplace environment that favours one religion or makes belief in another religion or no religion unwelcome. Isn’t that against the law down there?

  • Nakor

    My guess isn’t that the NBA doesn’t know, is scared, or wants to continue a tradition. It’s more likely that they simply don’t care one way or the other and see no reason to bother stopping it. It wouldn’t occur to most religious people that such a thing could even be a problem.

  • http://www.unmails.com Tyler

    I can’t help but not care about this one.

  • http://eruditehypocrite.blogspot.com Jesus

    Do you people really need to post that you don’t care? Save some bits yourself and don’t post anything if you don’t care. I’m interested and I’m glad this was posted. I say drop a letter to the comish and at least make sure he’s aware that it’s going on and that it’s alienating fans. Sure it doesn’t take up taxpayer dollars but not doing anything about it is like encouraging it and do we really want to encourage MORE public prayer? There are kids in that stadium, do you want them to think it’s normal to pray when you want something petty like a win in a basketball game? These are terrible lessons. Think of the kids man! Thanks Hemant.

  • Anonymous

    Right on, Jesus!

  • mingfrommongo

    I’m sure the invocations have happened more-or-less on auto-pilot since Shinn’s departure. The NBA has its hands full with trying to find another sucker to buy the team – it won’t bother with this small matter.

    The New Orleans Arena is owned by the State of Louisiana, but as long as the xtians pay full freight to rent the place, there’s no church/state issue.

  • Anna

    They won’t get rid of the prayer because this is the south and there would be a large number of angry christians making a big stink about it which would have a much larger financial impact than a handful of atheists and non-christians who just want to watch a damn basketball game.

    And while it is not a government institution, I do think there are concerns of worker harrassment and religious discrimination, not just for the players but all the other people who work there as well. It would be like going to your office everyday and having to sit through a prayer led by your boss.

  • Squidy

    I live in New Orleans and have been to multiple Hornets games…I never realized that we’re the only team that does this. I usually just sit and drink my $8 beer and ignore the prayer. I thought it was an NBA thing…who knew. I don’t know how you’d force a private organization to change, though…they are private ticketed events. Me…I enjoy going to the games, and probably still will, and still sit and drink my beer during the prayer. Maybe just less of it.

  • Jake

    For one, it is not just christian. They do have a local Rabi that speaks. And think of it this way, New Orleans is a predominately Catholic city. It has been that way for hundreds of years. You don’t see many Muslims at the games. The hole thing maybe takes 30 seconds. They ask you to rise for the national anthem, then the prayer is said and they go on to the announcements. Its not like you have to get on your knees and pray for gods blessing so that the hornets win. And its not even about that, the whole idea of it is to ask god to keep everyone safe and to have a good game. (I personally say a prayer before every game to ask that the refs don’t screw it up!)We really need to be spending more conversation on how bad the referees are in some of these games, then what happens before it.


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