In light of this Sunday’s Super Bowl match-up, the Public Religion Research Institute polled over 1,000 Americans on their feelings on the entanglement of sports and religion. (Note: The survey is limited to sects of Christianity and a broad “unaffiliated” group. I wish they had included other groups, but so it goes.)
As it turns out, 27% of those surveyed think that God plays a role in determining which team will win a sporting event. A majority of those surveyed (53%) also think that God rewards faithful athletes with “good health and success.”
I don’t find any of this too shocking. If you are the type of religious person who thinks prayer is real or that God controls things, it makes sense that you would apply this to all aspects of your life, even the more trivial ones like sports.
For me, the more interesting part of this survey compared people’s priorities on Sundays. Among the people who considered themselves sports fans, only 15% considered sports very important or the most important thing in their lives, compared to 58% who cited religion instead. But when it came to actual behavior, people were more likely to watch sports than go to church (41% vs 37%)!
So while people are less willing to admit that religion is about as important as sports in their lives, their actions speak for themselves.
I have always thought that there are many similarities between sports and religion: your choice of sport and team are largely determined by where you grew up or by your parents’ choice in team (check out this cool map). There is a certain ritual to attending a sporting event: the tailgating, the pregame celebrations, the cheering done during game stoppages. You bond with other fans of your team: I love flashing The U at people in Miami Hurricanes gear when I see them at airports. There is a connection to something that is larger than yourself, and a feeling of belonging. There is even a built in dislike for “outsiders” who think another team is the “one true team.”
For me, it’s unsurprising that people follow sports about as regularly as they are active in their religions — but aren’t willing to admit it. For the most part, people accept sports as an unnecessary part of their lives. It is a hobby, an activity that they enjoy, but it doesn’t have life or death consequences. Maybe more people should carry this attitude into religion along with their actions.