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.