Atheists Not Welcome in the Indianapolis Colts Locker Room, Says Coach

When you merge the worlds of football and religion, the intersection of that Venn Diagram is Tim Tebow and whatever those cheerleaders are doing in Texas.

But that’s it, right? When it comes to the NFL, anyway, you would think skill is all that matters.

So you might be surprised to hear the interim head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, Bruce Arians, say this regarding the kind of player his general manager wants to bring onto the team:

“A high quality person who has passion for football and cares about faith, family and football.”

Indianapolis Colts interim head coach Bruce Arians

At the outset, I’ll say I don’t know if Arians (or GM Ryan Grigson) would kick a player off his team or fail to recruit one who was an atheist. He was probably just saying the Colts wanted someone with good character… but that’s the problem.

Arians equated a religious person with a good person.

Those two things are not synonymous.

Quick: Name five religious people who preach hate. (It’s an easy game. Everybody wins.)

Let’s play another game: Guess Michael Vick‘s religion. (Hint: He’s not an atheist.)

Sportswriter Mike Florio takes a much more hardline stance against the statement:

why is it relevant to care about faith? Is there any legitimate connection between belief in a Higher Power and the ability to demonstrate the kind of speed and/or power that makes a guy a pro athlete?

Then there’s the fact that Article 49 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement prohibits discrimination because of “race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or activity or lack of activity on behalf of the NFLPA.” Though it would be very difficult if not impossible to prove that a player has been not signed or released by a team like the Colts based on his religious beliefs (or lack thereof), a public comment from the coach that the G.M. factors faith into his decision-making process is the kind of thing that could fuel a grievance, especially if the player has other evidence supporting possible discrimination.

As author Tom Krattenmaker noted years ago in his book, many NFL teams have their own chaplains.

It’s not easy to be an atheist on a professional sports team, but it shouldn’t matter. You’re there to do a job and you’re kidding yourself if you think God is going to guide that football into the endzone. To further alienate atheists like he did should warrant at least some sort of verbal reprimand from Roger Goodell‘s office.

You know the phone would be ringing if Arians said his team was looking only for godless players.

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.

  • Ed L.

    Someone should remind Arians that Pat Tillman was an atheist who walked away from a multi-million dollar contract to actually do more than give lip service to his country. I don’t see any of those high quality players with religious faith (Christians) lining up to follow his example.

  • Katherine Lorraine

    See… I don’t like Michael Vick cause of the whole animal abuse thing. But he is my quarterback, consarnit.

  • jediofpool

    I’m sure he’d be fine if his players were of Islamic faith, too. /sarcasm

  • David Benjamin Patton

    “You know the phone would be ringing if Arians said his team was looking only for godless players.”

    Or if Arians say his team was only looking for black players because they’ve been bred since the days of slavery to be physically faster, stronger, better. Just imagine the uproar over THAT.

  • Michael

    Robert Smith of my Vikings was an “out of the closet” atheist when he was a player- VERY RARE.  It may have helped that he was, up until recently, the Vikings all-time leading rusher so he had a large amount of talent.  I proudly have a signed jersey of his up on my wall in my den.

  • Tomasek_chem

    He is interim coach for a reason….the head coach is suffering from a life threatening disease. Bruce has been a long-time assistant coach, and these guys rarely get a microphone put in their face (many organizations bar the coordinators/assistants from talking to the media). He’s an old guy doing a job that is more responsibility than he was expecting and was likely quoting his college coach circa 1965. You go 25 years of doing your job with only a handful of media presence to daily radio and newspaper folks in ypur business and we’ll count your gaffes. There is a time to have a throw down, and there is a time to roll your eyes and chuckle. This event falls into the later.

  • PDBA

    Nice to see Christians wanting to back on the floor of the Coliseum 

  • pRinzler

    Pass me the popcorn, this is gonna be good.

  • Honorius Balzac

    He may be referring to any kind of faith, such as “faith in one’s abilities.” 

  • Stev84

    And of course everyone knows what “family” is code for

  • Groucho Barx

    This is perhaps the most misleading and ill worded title of a blog I’ve ever seen on this site :-/ Coach says he wants players who are passionate about their faith and you put out a blog entry claiming the coach says atheists arent allowed on his team? Come on guys we’re supposed to be better then that

  • David Christy

    Sportspeople are notoriously superstitious. Desmond Morris examined this in The Soccer Tribe (1981). Still worth reading.

  • Gus Snarp

    I have to agree. I certainly don’t agree with the coach equating religious faith with being a good person, but that headline is simply wild and inflammatory speculation.

  • Gus Snarp

    If the headline were accurate, I’d say so what, let the Christians suffer the traumatic brain injuries instead of the atheists.

  • curtcameron

    Did someone change the headline? The one I’m looking at now says “Atheists Not Welcome…”

    That headline is completely supported by the coach’s statement.

    If it said something different when you saw it, what did it say then?

  • Gus Snarp

    “Atheists not welcome in the colts locker room, says coach.” is not supported by the article, because it’s not what he said. The article itself makes that clear when it says: “At the outset, I’ll say I don’t know if Arians (or GM Ryan Grigson) would kick a player off his team or fail to recruit one who was an atheist.”

  • Douglas Einer

    The ancient Romans accused christians of being atheists for not worshiping the Roman deities.

  • curtcameron

    I don’t get your objection to the headline. It’s a paraphrasing of what the coach said. “Atheists not welcome” does not mean the same thing as “atheists not allowed.” It means “you’re really not the kind of person we’re looking for.” And that’s right in line with what the coach said.

  • Arthur Bryne

    There’s also the paper (doi:10.1177/019372357900300203) where M. Kenneth Brody compared sports and religion.

  • Gus Snarp

    What part of “he didn’t say it” don’t you understand? I don’t think you get to make up your own words and put “says coach” after them unless they’re the ACTUAL WORDS the coach said.

    Plus, it has a very different meaning from what the coach actually said. “You’re not welcome here” is a very nasty thing to say, and it very much does mean “not allowed”, not “you’re not the kind of person we’re looking for”.

  • Stev84

    This is called a “dog whistle” in politics. He is saying something potentially offensive and/or negative, so he is using code words to make it sound nice and positive

  • Gus Snarp

    Not everything is a dog whistle. Do you really think he’s even thinking about atheists? He’s just thinking about what he thinks makes a good person. He’s completely wrapped up in his own blinkered world view where he doesn’t even know we exist, but it’s not a dog whistle.

    But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that it is a dog whistle. Mitt Romney, in my opinion, engaged in pure dog whistle politics with an ad in which he falsely attacked Barack Obama for ending the work requirement for welfare. Now let’s say that I write an article about that ad with the headline: “Barack Obama wants to steal your money and give it to no good, lazy, shiftless coloreds like him, Romney says”. Would that headline not be false and inflammatory? I think it would. At the very least I’d better make it very clear in the article why I think that headline is appropriate and that it’s somewhat satirical, but even if I do that, I’m guilty of the worst sort of yellow journalism tactics.

  • AmyLou

     That’s what I’m thinking will be his “save your ass” statement when this blows up.  Didn’t specifically say religious faith, could be faith in your teammates, faith that doing the right thing is rewarded, faith in the concept that perfect practice makes perfect…
    Nope – his statement was purposely vague.

  • Nope

    Autism speaks. Its time to listen.

  • curtcameron

    Sorry, I just don’t see the problem with paraphrasing someone in a headline.

  • Gus Snarp

    Yes, what is it?

  • Cecelia Baines


    What a craven and yellow title to this entry. This coach never said “atheists” are not allowed in the locker room. You could actually be held for libel on this one.

    It is this type of stuff that gives us reactionary and “angry” connotations.

    You can do better than this.

  • Chajado

    Maybe a “person of faith” should abstain from a sport that involves brutalizing other human beings.

  • Justin Vacula

    The letters ‘Colts’ are not so atheist friendly :)

  • Groucho Barx

    The only problem is that it’s misleading… the coach, whom isnt even the real coach BTW, so there is false statement 1 in the title, is an asshole no doubt, but he never indicated apparently that atheists are in fact NOT welcome to play for the team, or that they would be kicked off the team for coming out as atheists etc.  All he said was, in different words, that he wants christians on his team…. douchey for sure, but not nearly as controversial as it would have been if he would have actually said what the title of the article leads you to believe he said.  It’s a “gotcha” headline for sure, because “interim coach for the colts wants faithfully passionate players on his team” is pretty boring and probably not something we should waste our time worrying about IMO.  I love this site, the fact AND opinion pieces I was just personally a little distraught at what I perceived to be purposefully misleading words

  • Minneapostate

    Has Chris Kluwe gotten wind of this yet?

  • Tomasek_chem

    This headline smells like Fox News, if Murdoch were a non-believer. I expect a bit more from progressive outlets.

  • Nope

    Quick, let’s all care what the concern troll has to say.

  • Jake

    Where exactly did the coach say atheists were not allowed in his locker room? I can not seem to find it.

  • 3lemenope

    Ah yes, the go-to for shutting down criticism on the Interwebz. “Concern Trolling”. I read the headline and expected something entirely different than what I got in the article as far as factual matters are concerned, so at least to my mind the criticism is apt, and is not by any stretch trolling of any sort.

  • Marco Conti

    This time I agree too. This is like a negative version of a Fox News headline.
    We ARE better than this. 
    I’d like to think we are atheists because we are truth seekers. Meaning we seek the truth regardless of whether we like it or not. We prefer truth even if it is contrary to what would make us feel good. 

    At least, the reason I am an atheist is because I am truth seeker. If god or jesus or any other prophet would appear to me tomorrow and I could in good conscience evaluate the phenomenon and decide there is a god after all, I would not longer be an atheist. 

    That’s because truth is more important to me than my ideology. 
    When I see articles on other news sources that either outright lie or misrepresent the truth, it makes me sick.  

    I know this blog has similar values. Headlines like this one take away our high ground.

  • Freemage

     The point of the headline is not that the coach necessarily MEANT to convey the idea that atheists are not welcome, but rather, that regardless of what he meant, the message that they are not wanted was conveyed by his phrasing.

    If, in a job ad, I see the phrase, “We are looking for someone who can type 75 WPM”, and my best is around 40 WPM, I’m going to assume that they aren’t looking for me.  This guy is management, from that perspective, and so what he says is going to carry meaning with potential recruits.  And yes, if I was an atheist football player, my assumption would be from that quote that Iwas not welcome there.

  • Freemage

     Again, if someone in charge of recruitment says, “We are looking for these traits,” then it is reasonable to believe that people without those traits would not be welcome.  An atheist, by definition, does not have “faith”.  Ergo, they aren’t being looked at as potential recruits.

    It’s not a direct quote; it IS a reasonable conclusion from his wording.

  • JohnnieCanuck

    Is it too late to substitute the word ‘Implies’ for ‘Says’ in the headline? It would make for a more honest approach.

  • The Other Weirdo

     I thought the Romans didn’t care what you believed, so long as you believed in something god-like.

  • The Other Weirdo

     Though I’m no lawyer, I’m pretty sure that a case can be made that, given all the other speeches by talking heads about people of faith and how they are the moral ones while those with no faith aren’t moral, it is certainly a reasonable interpretation of his  words  that “atheists not welcome”. Sure, he didn’t say it, but given the climate out there, the implication is clear.

    Note that “not welcome” not the same as “not allowed.”

  • Marc Mielke

    Romans didn’t care what you believed as long as you believed in the divinity of the Emperor. 

  • Baal

     I don’t agree but think “craven and yellow” are within bounds.  “You could actually be held for libel on this one.”<–this is just drama.  For something to be libel, it not only has to be wrong but also defaming.  Even assuming the statement is wrong, I don't see how it's defaming.  If Hemant has said the coach was a bigot and was found guilty of illegal discrimination under some law (and those weren't true) there might be a case.  Lastly, the coach was speaking as a coach.  That might be enough to get him into being a public figure.  This is why fox news can lie their collective assess off about the president.  The Pres is a public figure and in the US, those folks more or less don't win on libel cases (which is a good thing).

  • Baal

     yeps, ” (many organizations bar the coordinators/assistants from talking to the media).” <–good policy.

    Even folks who are nice and decent (not saying the coach is) tend to say un-wise things in public when asked about issues they have not prepped.   Talking to a mike isn't hard but it does take some thoughtfulness on how your words could be spun.

  • curtcameron

    I’m confused – did Hemant say that the coach said atheists weren’t allowed? I don’t see that anywhere in the article or in the headline. The headline says that the coach and/or general manager does not welcome atheists. The direct quote from them says that they’re looking for a person of faith.

    If you’re not the person they’re looking for, then you’re not welcome there. To me, that’s saying the same thing.

  • Ken

    What an ignorant idiot.  This kind of mindset is what is so wrong with America.

  • Trickster Goddess

     I’m an atheist and I have faith… in humanity.

  • Bernie

     But it’s not a good paraphrasing. It’s an alarmist lie.

    “I’m looking  for A” does not directly imply “B is not welcome here”.

  • Jake

     No, its not.

  • Amakudari

    You know, this honestly sounds like the coach doesn’t understand exactly the implications of his statement. “Faith, family and football” is just an alliterative, down-homey play on “faith, family and friends” to illustrate that he wants someone respectable, stable and dedicated to his career.

    That doesn’t make his phrasing fine. But it means the appropriate response is to say, “hey, look, there are some very good people out there who are great at the last two.” Let’s wait until it’s clear that his intention is to exclude non-religious ballplayers rather than to say he wants good players without off-the-field drama.

    IMO we should be respectful unless it’s abundantly clear the other side won’t reciprocate.

  • Coyotenose

     He doesn’t have to be, you know.

    Ugh, I’m so tired of the Vick apologists I run across who say that it’s OKAY now, he doesn’t DO that anymore, he’s a better PERson now. If a *Wikipedias* 27 year old didn’t already know that dog fighting is cruel, he didn’t learn it just because he got in trouble. All he learned was to avoid doing something that got him in trouble. Now he’s just a serial animal abuser who has to get his entertainment elsewhere.

  • Katherine Lorraine

    He doesn’t have to be my quarterback? But I root for the Iggles!

    I’m not a Vick apologist, I think the man is cruel and deserved more than he got. I just hate having to root for a team headed by an animal abuser, but I have to, cause it’s my city!

    Philadelphians are proud of two things: their food and their sports teams.

  • Rob Rennie

    Hermant, I’m curious. When exactly did you decide to become an atheist? Were there a series of events that led up to this decision? 

  • Nope

    You come across as really pretentious. 

  • Hemant Mehta

    About 15 years ago. No big series of events. Just starting asking questions and religion crumbled in the face of them.

  • Rman44

    Of course, there isn’t much more a person can do to prove his faith than to absolutely  knock the piss out of people for a few hours at a time – and to hope that the whole nation clicks on the TV to witness said demonstrations of piety every weekend for several months.

  • 3lemenope

    Coming from someone like you (who, among other things, uses “autistic” as an insult), that’s downright laudatory. To be considered pretentious by an idiot really hits the spot.

  • Digitalking8

    I don’t get the point of this article. It’s not making a valid point at all. 

  • Douglas Einer

    Since the christians didn’t acknowledge the validity of other gods, and therefore dis-believed in all other gods they were treated as atheists for not believing in the roman gods.

  • Douglas Einer

    Which the christians certainly did not.