Liberty University’s Football Team Wants to Win for God

This is a guest post by Jessica Kirsner.


Whether it’s coaches leading their teams in prayer or players being baptized on the field after practice, sports and religion seem to be frequently entangled. However, what Liberty University is trying to do crosses a line.

The Christian institution founded by Jerry Falwell is trying to build its athletic department — specifically its football team — into a proselytizing machine. They are calling themselves “Champions for Christ.”

If only this was one of the goalposts…

It’s not like Liberty is unique in merging the two worlds. There are plenty of religious schools with prominent athletic programs, the obvious big name being Notre Dame, a Catholic school that has its football team ranked third in the nation, its men’s basketball team a preseason top-twenty team, and its women’s team in the top ten (for those who don’t speak the sportsball: the media thinks they are doing really well). Beyond that, Brigham Young University, Texas Christian University, Baylor University, and Creighton University all have excellent sports programs. So what makes Liberty University different?

It isn’t their strict “moral code of conduct” that could be devastating to recruiting efforts; BYU has a similar policy. (In fact, BYU suspended one of their star basketball players during last year’s March Madness run for breaking their conduct code by having sex with his girlfriend. He was reinstated the following year, probably because the team couldn’t win without him.) Their code demands one to “live a chaste and virtuous life, participate regularly in church services, use clean language and abstain from alcoholic beverages, tobacco, tea and coffee.”

It isn’t the mandatory attendance at a convocation service three times a week. Students — all students, not just athletes — know what they are getting into when they attend a religious school. I grew up in Texas, and I had a Muslim friend who turned down a scholarship from Baylor so she wouldn’t be forced to go to chapel. These schools understand that they will lose recruits, on the academic side and the athletic, because of their policies.

Liberty University is different because their football program is first and foremost a tool for conversion. When Notre Dame plays a secular university, they don’t try and tell them their beliefs are wrong. When BYU has non-Mormon players fighting for their teams, they respect their beliefs. But the fact that Liberty’s coach Turner Gill is motivated by the notion that “God has called us to be examples and to change the world…” tells me something about what this program will and won’t be about.

It won’t be about bringing joy to the students. It won’t be about strengthening a community. It won’t be about sportsmanship and respect and giving people an opportunity to better their lives — all things that college football does.

It will be about spreading the word of their god. And that has no place in sports.

About jkmiami89

Jessica Kirsner is the Development Associate with the Secular Student Alliance. She graduated in the Spring of 2012 from the University of Miami with a BA in biology.

  • Holytape

    Considering that Liberty beat the Presbyterian College 56-7.  We know that God’s not a presbyterian.  However, since Liberty University lost to Wake Forest, we know that God’s a demon deacon, which is some sort of satanic catholic of rank between a globin friar and a hellion father.

    The third rider

  • Andre

    When Liberty’s mens soccer team (The Flames) came to Charlottesville to play UVA while I was there, they always lost handily. My friends and I always wanted to chant “Where’s your god now?” when UVA scored or the game was won. We refrained out of respect (for the religious at our school, not the Liberty players/fans), even though the Liberty student section loved to refer to UVA as UV-gay because UVA is a “liberal” school. My friend at William & Mary heard Liberty students chanting “William and Gary” at a soccer game down there, too (you know, because gay people are evil). 

    They’re really good at spreading god’s message.

  • TychaBrahe

    I’m not sure what you’re complaining about.  

    All of the students who attend Liberty University and play on their football team do so with the knowledge of what Liberty University is about.  The whole point of religious freedom is that if they want to play football on behalf of God, they get to.  If the kids want a less religious college experience, they can go play for a different school.

    It seems to me like you’re complaining that Catholic schools make their students attend mass.  The parents who send their kids to Catholic school *want* them to attend mass.  

    You can’t force people not to be religious if they want to.  The point is that they shouldn’t try to force us to be religious when we don’t want to.

  • Jessica Kirsner

     For me, it’s that they want to use their football team as a way to spread their faith, and that has no place in sports. As I mentioned, a multitude of religious institution require students to go to services and create a religious atmosphere. But it is troubling, to me, when it goes beyond making it a religious atmosphere for students and towards an atmosphere of spreading the faith.

  • Walkamungus

    BYU has always used its athletic teams as part and parcel of Mormon/LDS recruiting efforts; it is owned by the Church, after all. Athletes go on missions like everyone else. BYU’s argument that athletes weren’t participating in organized sports for two years, so a mission didn’t create a competitive advantage, has always sounded specious to me; not only do they have two more years of emotional/intellectual maturity on return, they never seem to be physically rusty. My dad used to mutter darkly about how “there’s always a basketball court around.” Coming across as squeaky-clean (not to mention very, very *white* in the 60′s/70′s) AND successful on the playing field, in pretty much all sports, has been a strong sell for conversions. Not a whole lot of non-Mormons go to BYU, and those that do (as undergrads anyway) are likely very much in favor of the campus climate. Provo’s not a real hoppin’ place on Friday and Saturday nights.

    As the NY Times article points out, Notre Dame has built a lot of its following by assuming the role of flagship Catholic university, but back in the 1940′s, 50′s and 60′s, Catholic colleges and universities had national-powerhouse basketball programs (St. John’s, Xavier, Canisius, etc.) built on the strong farm system formed by Catholic high schools across the country, which traded on their reputation as places for discipline and hard work. Lots of priests had gone through the same system just a few years earlier, so there was good coaching to be had at all levels. 

    The difference between Notre Dame and BYU on the one hand, and Liberty on the other,  in my view, is that Notre Dame is a direct beneficiary of the strong intellectual tradition of the Jesuits in Catholicism, and both Notre Dame and BYU (to a lesser extent) work hard to be excellent academic schools. 

    Liberty knows its audience: God and football.

  • Anna

    It will be about spreading the word of their god. And that has no place in sports.

    What else is to be expected from a highly evangelical school founded by Jerry Falwell? They put their god into everything they do, sports included. I have no problem with it, and I don’t think they’re crossing any lines. The students and players are all consenting adults. No one’s being forced to do anything here. This is a private college, and they can put as much (or as little) religion into their football as they wish.

  • Greg Gay

    BTW, that Touchdown Jesus got struck by lightning and burned to its steel skeleton, a few years ago. The Facepalm Jesus in OKC is still there. What does that tell us?

  • Nick Matthaes

    Starting my first year of law school here at the University of Montana, the only game I’ve watched on TV this season is when we stomped them.  They have some money though, and they spent some of it on almost every commercial.

  • rich h

    This makes me sad. I used to have a lot of respect for Turner Gill and what he did for the University at Buffalo football program.

  • rich h

    Hey… I just saw the schedule… RAH VIRGINIA MIL!!!!

  • A3Kr0n

    I’m not sure what Butter Jesus has to do with this (pictured) but I have a question: If they’re trying to win for God and they lose, do they get to go to Hell, or does effort count? 

  • TheExpatriate700

    Are they using taxpayer money to do this? And are they really that prominent a team? This sounds like much ado about nothing.

  • pagansister

    Gee!  I didn’t know that god was a football coach or that it knew what football was!   Wonder if they play the Duke Blue Devils in their schedule??  

  • Baby_Raptor

    Tea and coffee? Why?

  • JWH

    So, what, exactly, is the problem here?  Liberty University is a private Christian school.  If the football program cares more about souls saved than touchdowns scored, that’s entirely within the school’s rights. 

    Can you show that the school has misappropriated public money?

    Can you show that the team has proselytized in violation of the bylaws of any athletic league to which it belongs?

    If not, then I see no problem.   

    Your language — about “crossing a line” and that proselytization “has no place in sports” — is an attempt to appeal to a universal precept, but I’m afraid that it speaks only to your personal preference.  

  • Go Flames!

    Liberty is on the move …..

    “there will not be a better designed, equipped, or more technologically advanced medical college in the United States than what we’re developing”

    “As Liberty University continues to make strides in its quarter-of-a-billion dollar campus transformation”

    “While the campus transformation at Liberty University is in full swing, several projects will enhance athletics and recreational activities for students when they return this fall.”

    FBS ready?  “Since 1990, Bill Carr, the principal of Carr Sports Consulting of Gainesville, Fla., has advised and counseled more than a dozen major universities on the transition from lower-level football to the top tier. Of Liberty, one of his latest clients, Carr said: “They are a quantum leap ahead of any other school we’ve worked with. Liberty is the best prepared and has, by far, the most resources. It’s simply a matter of time until they get there.”

  • LifeinTraffic

    I agree with JWH, and I live in this backasswards place. I may really detest LU and everything it stands for. I may be scared shitless at the prospect of them churning out poorly-educated doctors who are taught to be “conscientious objectors” by indoctrination and misinformation instead of science (my only hope is they fail their accreditation) . Their nursing program already turns out nurses that are, according to every doctor I’ve ever known who has worked with them that isn’t also a fundie, woefully inept at best (and are more often referred to as “useless” and “detrimental to patient care” ). I may hate that every waking moment in this fucking place is about religion because of LU. That they all but outright rig local elections, and use their money to sway local policy regularly (and do it all via legal loopholes, because what they are really good at is training sketchy lawyers).

    But, it’s their team, it’s their money, and it’s not coming from taxpayers (well, at least not directly, but that’s a whole different conversation). There’s no hidden agenda–anyone who goes there knows it’s a highly evangelical fundie school. So, I don’t see the problem.

    I’m far more upset that so many students are fooled into thinking they’re getting a good education, especially in the sciences.

  • Go Flames!

    Most gay men and women dislike LU and Christians in general, because they reject new testament scripture. The Christians I know love everyone ?? For the most part Jews and Christians get a long very well …. and enjoy discussing the old and new testaments. Some religions put gays to death ….. pays to stay in the closet if you live in Iran!

    As far as UVA -vs- Liberty soccer …… wrong!

    Last meeting …

  • Bryan

     “Most gay men and women dislike LU and Christians in general, because they reject new testament scripture.”

    Or it could be because, you know, your Yahweh says teh gayz deserve hell because of who they love.

  • Steve Frank

    Interesting take.  Turner Gill was the head coach at the University of Buffalo near where I live.  I don’t remember 

  • rich h

     Dammit. VMI lost….

  • Anna

    What’s wrong with them trying to spread their faith? Of course we may think it’s obnoxious, but how is injecting Jesus into football any different from other missionary work? I’d rather they keep it confined to sports than target random strangers. They’re not going door to door or preaching in public places. No one has to be exposed to Liberty’s brand of religion unless they choose to attend one of the football games.

  • Mark W.

    I just had an image of a bunch of prissy blonde evangelicals spouting off at the opposing team.  Then the opposing crashing through their front lines, obliterating the QB and a 400 lb linebacker kneeling on the QB’s head screaming “Where is your God NOW!!!”

  • guest

    I always find it interesting that people are so offended by the gospel of Jesus Christ. The schools and institutions that I have attended from grade school to University all had an agenda…secular humanism and universalism. Now, I never drank the Kool-aid and went a different path, but what interests me is that people don’t see that the world already pushes and preaches a gospel of it’s own. Why is that world so offended and threatened by a belief system that is different than their’s?

  • Anna

    Actually, I didn’t see any of the commenters on this thread say they were offended by the school’s actions. Jessica is certainly entitled to her opinion that proselytizing and sports don’t mix, but I have no problem with it when it involves a private, evangelical college.