How the Pre-Game Prayer at Penn State Should Have Gone

If you were watching the Penn State vs Nebraska football game yesterday, you witnessed the scene before the kickoff:

That was a pre-game prayer for both teams led by Ron Brown, an assistant coach at Nebraska.

Lord, we know we don’t have control of all of the events that took place this week, but we do know that you have figured in it all. And we give you the glory that you’re going to protect this stadium, and this town, and these universities for us, and these students. And you would give great sense to all of them..

There are a lot of little boys around the country, today, who are watching this game. And they’re trying to figure out what the definition of manhood is all about. Father, this is it right here. I pray that this game will be a training ground of what manhood looks like…

May the truth be known, may justice be known. May you protect the victims…

Yeah, that was helpful…

God, I know those little boys getting anally raped and blown by an old man was part of your Master Plan, but can you please make sure they learn what being a Man is like by watching our teams beat the shit out of each other?

The Moment of Silence that went along with the prayer wasn’t only useless — it sent the wrong message. The last thing Penn State should want right now is more silence. They need a Moment of Complete Bedlam.

Why bother with the prayer in the first place? What purpose did it serve other than to let a bunch of people who feel helpless pretend like they’re doing something that’s making a difference?

Because that’s all this was. A chance for the teams to take the pressure and spotlight off of themselves, instead of rallying around the cause of trying to stop this sort of child abuse from ever happening again.

(Side note: What would’ve happened if any of those athletes were openly non-Christian and didn’t take part in the prayer out of principle? Would that have been portrayed as a rebuke against the victims?)

Here’s what Ron Brown could’ve said to the teams — and the crowd of over 100,000 — that would’ve made a real difference — instead of the worthless tripe that came out instead:

We’ve been through a lot this past week, but it’s nothing compared to what Jerry Sandusky’s victims have been through. We can never let something like this happen again.

If any of you ever sees abuse taking place — on the field, off the field, after you graduate — it doesn’t matter who the abuser is, go to the police immediately.

If you’re ever the victim of such abuse, please tell someone you trust what happened. It doesn’t matter what you think about the person who did it to you, and no one will ever think less of you for turning them in.

If you had nothing to do with the situation but you still want to help, well, we need more people like you. Please encourage your fans, friends, and family members to make a donation to a child abuse prevention organization.

That will do more for these children that our god ever can.

That would’ve taken real courage to say, so I’m not surprised we didn’t hear anything even remotely resembling that before the game.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • David Brown

    If the people associated with Penn State had any honour or even comprehended what has been done to these children they would wear blue and wear the shame.

    • Npittman82

      That’s exactly what they did, dumbass.

  • Anonymous

    Obviously your wording would be best, but even without that there are a bunch of alternative wordings that would still be a religious prayer that would be a LOT less tone deaf.

    Lord, we know you are in all places and in all hearts. We know we always ask for you to be with us in the game, to be with the fans, but we aren’t asking that today. We ask you Lord that you be with the victims of child abuse, to comfort and heal them. We ask you Lord to be with members of law enforcement, that justice come quickly to those who harm children. We ask you Lord to be with the volunteers of child advocacy organizations, who honor your name by helping your most beloved, the children. We have so much Lord, we humbly ask you to give to those who have not. Amen.

    So you can keep your prayer, but you can at least have the tiny decency to not make it all about you, “the game” and what your group of priviledged sports stars have “been through” but about the actual victims.

  • http://politicsandpucks.blogspot.com Mike Brownstein

    This is why I can’t watch football. Of course, No football star or coach would ever do anything wrong, and why should we question them? It’s that along with the hyper-religious people who get a platform that keep me away from it anymore.

    Btw, I think the Dead Kennedys put it best in the song “Jock-o-rama”: http://www.metrolyrics.com/jock-o-rama-lyrics-dead-kennedys.html

    • Npittman82

      You’re a loser. Go cut yourself or whatever you do to make yourself feel better. And by the way, dead kennedys suck.

      • http://politicsandpucks.blogspot.com Mike Brownstein

        My point is not about how I like the Dead Kennedys. The point is that football’s hyper-religious culture is obnoxious

  • Reginald Selkirk

    RE the Twitter quote from Jeff Greenfield:

    1) Pithy!  I love it.

    2) Who is Jeff Greenfield? Sorry, but I’ve never heard of him. Is he often this good? Is there something he has written I should read?

    • Labradogs1

      He used to be a news director on CNN. then was an on air personality for a short stint. Don’t know what he’s up to now.

  • http://twitter.com/jcravens42 Jayne Cravens

    “Here’s what Ron Brown could’ve said to the teams — and the crowd of over 100,000 — that would’ve made a real difference” You are *exactly* right. That is EXACTLY what should have been said. No one seems to be trying to change the culture of silence there!

    I’m not only outraged as a human being by what has happened happened – I’m outraged as a PR consultant, watching the ongoing, ridiculous missteps.

  • jamie

    give me a break.

  • Joe The Mayor

    I was at this game and let out an exasperated “c’mon!” when it became obvious that there would be a pregame prayer. What was it going to accomplish? Nothing, of course. But I have to take issue with a few things in this post. 

    First, a moment of bedlam got the students of the university in trouble this week when they decided to use the firing of the coach as an excuse to tip over a news van and smash some windows. What the Penn State community needed, and still needs because of a ravenous news media, is some calm rationality.Second, the athletes and coaches were very vocal all week and at the game in their support of the victims. They were in no way trying to “take the spotlight off of themselves.” They have been using the spotlight to help. The Penn State students, who already have the world’s largest student-run philanthropy, helped organize an effort that has donated over $300,000 dollars to RAINN, the organization you linked to in your reworded “prayer.” That’s $300,000 in the past week alone. Third, to commenter David Brown, the game was a “Blue Out” to raise awareness of child abuse. That, too, was organized by the students. Even though I haven’t been a Penn State student for well over a decade, I am proud to be a Penn Stater. I take to heart the words of our alma mater – “May no act of ours bring shame, to one heart that loves thy name.” Unfortunately, not all Penn Staters do the same. However, you can’t expect the entire Penn State community to bear the shame for the actions of one horrible (accused) child rapist and a handful of people that didn’t do enough to prevent that (alleged) rapist from committing those horrible acts. 

    That football game on Saturday, while it included a pointless prayer and a useless moment of silence, was very important to my University. It affirmed that we do have a common purpose and a strong commitment to doing things the right way. The togetherness of that sea of humanity was palpable, and it made this atheist proud to be part of the Penn State community. We are…Penn State!

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anthony-Okafor/1759887752 Anthony Okafor

      more like Pedo State…

      • Joe The Mayor

        Right. Because everyone that is associated with the University either is or supports pedophilia. Anthony, you are an idiot.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anthony-Okafor/1759887752 Anthony Okafor

          did i say that EVERYONE was at fault. I’m saying the university let a known pedophile run amok on campus, just like the Catholic church does on a larger scale. 

          • Joe The Mayor

            By labeling the University as “Pedo State,” yes, you implicate everyone at the University. The University is an institution that is bigger than its leadership, just as the Catholic Church is an institution bigger than its leadership. In both cases, the leadership failed epically in their moral and legal responsibilities, but that does not mean that all Penn Staters or all Catholics support pedophilia or are pedophiliacs. Change your wording or be more specific in your writing if you don’t intend to implicate all Penn Staters. Until then, your implication is just plain wrong.

  • Binbook

    the prayer wasn’t pointless. There are players who are Muslim on the Nebraska squad and Brown is friends with them. The prayer was about being able to stand up and speak out against the tide when such things happen–that is what being a man is, not in being a coward and not defending the innocence of the young.  Okay, so the prayer was pointless to you, but it wasn’t pointless to the players. How do you know they won’t stand up realizing this is about more than football, as Coach Pelini says? 

    • barker

      Were the players required to attend the prayer or was it voluntary? And if was a moment of silence, why was coach Brown talking?

      • Joe The Mayor

        It seemed spontaneous, although I suspect that there was some discussion among the players during pregame warmups that they should do it. The prayer at midfield followed the moment of silence.

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WYDUEA3OICSP5BCK6KZV5Y5Q6A Sk8eycat

          NOT spontaneous!

          The coaching staffs of both teams instituted the prayer. Nebraska’s Ron Brown said in his post-game press conference that the prayers were scheduled by both schools’ Directors of Football Operations and that Penn State coach Tom Bradley “thought it would be a great idea.” The Daily Collegian also reported that Penn State assistant coach Larry Johnson informed the team they would be joining Nebraska in prayer.

          • Joe The Mayor

            Like I suspected. Watching it happen live and in person, and without prior knowledge that it would happen, it *seemed* spontaneous. I’m not happy that I had to stand there and wait for several minutes while the Nebraska coached barked his useless prayer at the players, especially after I already had to stand there silently for a useless moment of silence. 

    • Volunteer

      Nothing in the prayer mentioned standing up and speaking out “against the tide”. The first paragraph was about absolving responsibility and the second was about being popular.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WYDUEA3OICSP5BCK6KZV5Y5Q6A Sk8eycat

      Since both teams repreesent STATE colleges, or universities, sectarian prayer at any of their public events is unconstitutional.  Period.

      As for those who take talking to an imaginary friend seriously, praying before a sporting event(or before eating a Big Mac and fries)  trivializes the nature of prayer. (Unless one actually believes that the creator of this vast universe, IF there is such a critter, gives a rat’s patoot about football.  Or any other game.)

  • The Infidel

    the game should have been cancelled and the penn state athletic department closed

    • Joe The Mayor

      Why punish athletes that had nothing to do with this? And I’m not talking about just the Penn State football players. There’s the players for the opponents and the hundreds of non-football athletes at Penn State such as the four-time defending national champion women’s volleyball team and the national champion wrestling team. That game was necessary to help the University and the community begin to fix this situation and should most definitely not have been cancelled.

      • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

        I have to agree with this. Canceling the game or closing the department would unfairly punish the students. Fire those who are involved in the scandal, but don’t take it out on students who had nothing to do with it.

  • Anonymous

    Why is a public prayer so offensive to everyone who does not believe?  When I was a child, my father (an educated and spiritual fellow) took my family to a Buddhist temple.  Although it was uncomfortable at a cultural level, I enjoyed the experience.  I also visited a Hindu temple while studying other religions at a historically evangelical Christian institution.

    What I read above from “The Friendly Atheist” was not friendly at all. It was a rude and down right mean at some points. Whatever path you are following, I know I do not want to take it. I’m not sure I believe that God is omnipotent and in some other way limited. There are more of us out there than you think.

    Why are you so angry at the idea of their being a personal higher power of some form or another?  Some people I know, some of them ex-atheists, give some credit to a higher power for their recovery from addiction.  There is a huge variety when talking about the conceptions of this higher power, but the view is that the power has a personal aspect at the very least.

    • ACN

      Congratulations, you’re the very first commenter to think up the pithy “friendly atheist isn’t very friendly, amirite?”

    • http://politicsandpucks.blogspot.com Mike Brownstein

      It’s not that public prayer is offensive. It’s unnecessary and kind of arrogant from an outsider’s perspective.

      • Sdorst

        Actually, I found this particular public prayer, at least, to be offensive. Specifically, the speaker’s use of the word “we” instead of “I” is totally out of line. Those who lead a group prayer seem to feel that they have the right to act as if they are speaking for everyone present. Even if I agree with the speaker, I resent that presumptuousness. 

    • Sdorst

      Attending a Buddhist temple, which is clearly identified with a particular religion, is quite different than going to a non-religious setting and being expected to participate in a religious activity.  They are not even remotely similar situations. If I go to a religious setting, I expect the people there to behave according to the tenets of their religion. I don’t expect that in a public, non-religious setting.

      Personally, I am not angry at the idea of there being a personal higher power. I am unaware of any evidence that there is such a being, and I dislike living in a world where the majority of the people are living in a delusion. Delusion leads to bad decision-making, and being surrounded by people making bad decisions does not feel particularly safe, and can make me angry at times.

      In this particular example, the assumption that “God figures in it all,” which I suppose means that He had some larger purpose for what happened, makes me angry because it takes us off the hook. After all, we’re just stupid little sheep, and we need to follow the shepherd in order to be safe. If it looks like he’s leading us off a cliff, just keep following. It’s those sheep who try to think for themselves who wander away from the safety of group think and get eaten by the wolves out there. So, let’s close our eyes and let someone tell us what we think (“we know…,” and “we give you the glory”). 

      As far as your claim that we are “holding God morally responsible for specific human-caused evils” goes, you are missing the point entirely. How can you hold someone to blame for something if you don’t believe that person exists in the first place? The whole point is that there is no God who is either keeping us safe, or who is at fault for the bad things that happen. God gets no blame and no glory, because there is no such being – it’s just us people here, and we have to do the best we can.

      • Anonymous

        Obviously, we see the world quiet differently.  I see an abundence of evidence for a personal higher power and would go as far as saying I know that one exists.  No human knowledge is absolute, of course, so I could be mistaken.  I do not think atheists are delusional, simply mistaken.  Words like “delusion,” have very strong connotations.  It implies I have a mental defect of some form.  A good friend in college was (and probably is) an atheist; I never detected any mental defect him (as traditionally understood by many schools of thought).

        I understand fully well what “The Friendly Atheist” was doing when I said he was holding God morally responsible for human-caused evils.  Behind his remarks is a thought experiment of sorts.  He supposes their is a benevolent personal God with a “Master Plan” which includes a whole lot of bad things happening to humans.  What if a personal higher power is not even able to prevent bad things from happening?  The image of God planning out all of history like a fiction author does not match with any major theological position I’m aware of.  I agree that some of them sound like divine determinism in the end, but that is a different problem.  It is a fringe view.  

        The thought experiment is meaningless for me, because I would be an atheist too if that was the only image of God given.  I do not strive to retain belief at all cost either.  I listen, I’m open, and I seek to understand all positions put in front of me.  However, I continue to see Jesus’ teachings proven in my life again and again.  Someday, I may find a better way…but I have nothing to fear because Jesus (alive or not) would tell me to take that path.  

        Just preaching against theism (or religion) fails to address the human condition.  

        Question: What is an ideal human being and how do I become that?

        If you say, stop believing in higher powers.

        My response is:

        Insufficient answer.

        If you are a Maoist, Marxist, or Nietzschean  - that really is something.  

        Those are real ideologies that address my question and other very important questions.  I’m well aware secular humanists have written extended responses to these types of things, so point me to it. 

    • Donalbain

      Going to a Buddhist temple, you enter into a space which is set aside for particular religious behaviour. The members of the community who use that space are defined by their religion and their participation in religious ritual. A football game is not defined as such. The community that attends a football game will include people of many religions and none. For a prayer to be said in their name is arrogant and rude. It ascribes to people a view that they may not hold. That is the first problem. Then there is the actual content of the prayer. From what was quoted, there was no sense of contrition for the actions that happened, there was no expression of concern for the victims of abuse. Instead there was hope that the people doing the praying would be OK. That THEY would be kept safe. And then there is the pathetic idea that playing rugby with body armour is what defines manhood? That is wrong in and of itself.

       

      • http://www.bblss.org Miki

        Agreed.  Basically, the prayer was both self-serving and self-defeating.  And they want to be the model of manhood?  They emasculated themselves with their well-timed “no control” disclaimer and abdication of their protection to something that ain’t there.

    • Wundergy

      We are not angry, just annoyed as hell. 
      2 Main religious preferences of Americans
      2.1 Christianity2.2 No religion / Unaffiliated2.3 Judaism2.4 Islam2.5 Buddhism2.6 Hinduism2.7 Baha’i Faith2.8 Sikhism2.9 New Thought Movement2.10 Native American religious practice2.11 Others2.12 Major denominations and sects founded in the U.S.I have never seen any of the non christian ones being given any time at sporting event.  Christians act as though they have “special rights” to intimidate all others because they are a majority in the U S.  World wide only a third accept christianity, two thirds reject it in favor of other faiths.

  • Vince Winkler

    The moment of prayer was more about showing solidarity than for any particular religious reason (despite being led by the very Christian Ron Brown). Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska running back) is Muslim, but attended the prayer, too, as did several atheist players on the team.

    Speaking as a current student at Nebraska.

  • GodVlogger (on YoutTube)

    Isn’t this a church-state violation? 

    Penn State is a public university and so is Nebraska (where coach Ron Brown is from). This was a pro-Jesus prayer, by a public employee, imposed on players/fans/viewers who may be Jewish, Muslim, non-believers, Hindus, etc. 

    Isn’t pre-game prayer by public school officials a violation of the U.S. Constitution? 

    • Dsdonat

      I hope everyone on here realizes this prayer stuff happens at almost every football game post game both in college and the NFL.  NO ONE and I mean NO ONE ever makes a player, coach, assistant, etc walk to the middle of the field to give praise to THEIR almighty GOD.  It is their choice in making that act.  As a previous post mentioned, there were many non-christains that particpated as well.

      • Parse

        Apparently you’ve never heard of peer pressure.  You don’t HAVE to take part.  You just need to be willing to live with the abuse and harassment  if you don’t.  

      • GodVlogger (on YoutTube)

        BUT… if it is a PUBLIC (state) school, and the person endorsing/promoting/leading the prayer is a school employee acting in their official capacity as a school/state employee, then the prayer is government-sponsored speech. 

        That’s a problem since the government is NOT supposed to be in the business of endorsing some religions (e.g. “in Jesus’ name we pray) over other religions (or over non-religion). 

      • Wunderguy

        The NFL is a private organization, state supported colleges and universities are not private organizations they are part and parcel a part of government and government is prohibited from supporting one religion over another.    Christianity because of it’s numerical dominance in the U S, practices intimidation even though most christians are unaware of it while many are determined to see that it continues to be allowed.

  • SeanL

    Yeah a bunch of guys prancing around in tights and slapping each other on the ass is really manly.

  • Happy Spider

    I don’t know much about this scandal and I know nothing about college football, but the behavior here is really unlike what I expected from the news articles I’ve seen. Maybe my understanding is off? Where is it off?

    My understanding is that the scandal is not the horrible things Sandusky did. Tragically. If things had gone the way they should have 15 or whatever years ago then it would have all been about Sandusky and a prayer of sorrow about the horror that had befallen the community would have been appropriate.

    The scandal is that the coach Paterno and the college president, who were completely uninvolved in any attacks on children, were fired. They were fired for, at best, closing their eyes to troublesome reports and pretending that the reports never happened. They didn’t want to find anything bad so they carefully avoided the subject. At worst, they had full knowledge and covered it up.

    Let’s assume the best interpretation. Well, this is a terrible scandal. A monster in the community, fine, that can happen anywhere, but a whole bunch of people covering up for the monster is something for the community to be ashamed of. See, rare events happen. But they don’t happen in clumps over a long period of time (in a short period of time you might chalk off the involvement of lots of people as crowd madness). And these weren’t some isolated cult of people–football people are very important to the community and Paterno in particular is a leader. The riots show that lots of people really identify with the football community. And the prayer was held at a football game, an event you can reasonably assume is attended by people who identify with football.

    So, I expected a prayer of shame and repentance. The quote you gave sounded as if they had been hit by a tornado or something: “Lord, this is hard for us but we know it is all according to your pan and we particularly pray forbthe victims.”. They should have sounded ashamed. They have been disgraced: “Lord, it is hard to be good. Help us have the moral courage to do the right thing when the trial comes upon us. Help us recognize the right thing a d not let us deceive ourselves into taking the easy materialistic path. Let us never again be so lacking in compassion and so failing of our Christian duty to protect the weak nd helpless. We wish football to strengthen manly qualities, do not forget that the most manly qualities are protection and courage.”

    Something like that. Praying that “God, we know this is all your plan” is outright offensive in this situation because that’s a prayer for passivity. If it’s just Gods plan then you endure and can’t do anything about it. But passivity is the whole point of the scandal. The problem was that people stood by passively instead of actively helping the children. They should be praying for the courage to be more active.

    I don’t know. I don’t understand religious people at all. The religion I’ve thought about so carefully and have completely rejected isn’t even the religion people practice. I thought Christans were supposed to be all into imperfection and repentance and trying to be good.

    So the conclusion is that I expected a prayer of shame an

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WYDUEA3OICSP5BCK6KZV5Y5Q6A Sk8eycat

      Yes. 

      Saying, “We know this dreadful, disgusting thing is all part of your plan,” is SO unbelievably arrogant that it makes me want to hit something.  How can anybody claim to know the “plan” of a creature that no two people have ever agreed about, much less seen or heard?

      (I also wonder if there are Jewish or Muslim football players who have any qualms about praying over, or playing with, a “pigskin.”)

  • Anonymous

    Prayer is never too late, it is always appropriate, and it is always a good time.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anthony-Okafor/1759887752 Anthony Okafor

      it is a waste of time, does absolutely nothing, and looks self serving at best

      • Wunderguy

        YES!

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WYDUEA3OICSP5BCK6KZV5Y5Q6A Sk8eycat

        It was a blatant PR stunt. They should change the team’s name to the Nittany Hypocrites. (I also wonder how many people in that stadium were non-xians, or non-believers.  Why didn’t any of them object to that empty ritual? Loudly?)

        “Nothing Fails Like Prayer.” Anne Nicol Gaylor

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anthony-Okafor/1759887752 Anthony Okafor

          i’m pretty sure they facepalmed their brains out

  • Jd51

    It makes no difference what you do, somebody is going  to whine about it. to GodVlogger, It is my prayer that you may someday actually read the constitution, maybe even you will realize how easy it is to brainwash a fool.

    • Wunderguy

      Why Jd51, your name wouldn’t be Antonine Scalia would it?


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