Why Are So Many High School Football Coaches Preaching to Their Athletes?

The video below, part of The Atheist Voice series, discusses how dozens of high school football coaches in the South are preaching Christianity to their athletes:

You can read more details about the story here.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the project — more videos will be posted soon — and we’d also appreciate your suggestions as to which questions we ought to tackle next!

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.

  • busterggi

    Because god is more interested in who wins the Podunk vs Shitheels game and needs to know who deserves it than all those millions of sick & dying folks.

  • flyb

    Because they suck at real coaching? They think some imaginary jerkwad will take up their sorry slack.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Because they’re wanna-be preachers, but preaching to a captive audience of impressionable kids is way easier than leading a church. And the pay is probably better, since I doubt any of these asholes would go through all the effort required to build a megachurch.

  • kielc

    Because if kids think some imaginary hero will protect them, they won’t be scared of being paralyzed, concussed, or otherwise crippled?

    • Bitter Lizard

      And if they are, their friends and family can rest easy knowing the life-altering injuries were because an invisible dictator inflicted them for his own amusement.

      • kielc

        Indeed! All part of “his plan,” dontcha know!

        • Miss_Beara

          It was “His Plan” because he never gives people “more than they can handle”.

          • Bitter Lizard

            I fucking love that expression. Babies who die from AIDS just don’t want it enough. Wussy little quitters.

          • C.L. Honeycutt

            Ugh, it’s so easy to disprove. It only takes one word: Suicides.

  • KMR

    It’s tradition. The South is huge on that.

    • McAtheist

      Tradition, the tyranny of the dead.

  • billdavis

    in my experience, it’s a matter of I.Q.

  • TiltedHorizon

    Because those who can, do! Those who can’t do, PREACH!


  • TexasParent

    You hit it right on – when the coach of a high school team says that his team prays before a game, that becomes a coercive situation for the players due to the relationship between the coach and players. No student should ever be forced into that situation in a government funded school.

  • C Peterson

    In most schools, athletics- particularly football- is an alternative to education and intellect. A non-academic, largely useless subject elevated far beyond education in social value (an unfortunate idea that extends across American society outside of school, as well). Coaches are selected for their coaching ability, not their teaching or thinking ability. Is it any surprise, therefore, that they are drawn from an uneducated, unintellectual segment of the community? And that is, of course, a segment strongly represented by the religious, especially in the South.

    • The Captain

      Also a rather bigoted statement. Just because someone is into sports, does not mean they are inherently “uneducated”, “unintellectual ” or that their activities have and less value than say actors in a theater group.

      • The Admiral

        One who points out the correlation is not bigoted. One who is a bigot is a bigot.

        I’d say my point is blatant, stupid, and obvious, but you’ve fucking missed it.

      • C Peterson

        I did not say that people interested in sports are uneducated or unintellectual. What I said is that an education system that values sports over actual education encourages the hiring of uneducated (actually, I meant undereducated) coaches, and religiosity is closely tied to a lack of education.

        • The Captain

          But your entire argument is based seemingly on the belief that to be a good football coach means that you are more likely than most professionals to be undereducated.

          First, I don’t think schools that are supportive of sports teams are “valuing” them more than education. But do you think assume that a school that is really proud and supportive of their theater group, or orchestra encourages the hiring of “undereducated” directors? Or do you assume that by the nature of their expertise that theater and orchestra directors or more educated? That’s where the bigotry kinda slips in.

          • C Peterson

            I consider a school that places any extracurricular activity above rigorous education to be a failure. In the U.S., and especially in the South and some rural areas, football is most often the extracurricular activity responsible.

            You are living in a fantasy world if you don’t think that most of the schools where religious coaches are a problem aren’t placing significantly more value on their football than their education.

            Schools shouldn’t even be hiring coaches. They should be hiring teachers, for their academic teaching skills, and then selecting coaches out of that population. Instead, they frequently hire just for coaching skills, and those people end up amongst the worst of academic teachers.

            • The Captain

              Two of my three best teachers ever in high school where coaches. Two of my three worse teachers had nothing to do with sports or any extracurricular activity (and the one who did was not hired as a coach).

              I would agree with you that placing a higher value on any extra curricular activities is a problem (although I do question if you have as large a problem with the national spelling bee as you do sports). And southern high school football seems to fit that on first glance. But it really only does once they school crosses the line of changing grades, or placing kids in easy classes in order for them to remain eligible (perhaps extra spending too, but it would depend on if the spending was profitable or not). But if these are not being done, then I fail to see how they could be placing a “significantly more value on their football than their education”.

              Now on to the more philosophical part… why is learning to play a sport not an “education”? Isn’t an “education” just the accumulation of knowledge and skills regarding a subject? Are sports not a subject that can be learned? Now of corse some subjects may seem more important than others. Reading comprehension for example would defiantly be more important than physical education. But even that is particular to our time in history. This is why I’ve come to the belief that college football players should not be required to “major” in something else. Treat them like any other student and let them major in football. If that’s what they want to learn and try to make a career out of, so be it.

  • Ed Adams

    generally football attracts conformists who want to fit in socially and who find the authoritarian power structures of both football and religion appealing.

    • dweiss3

      Good comment.

    • tubi11

      I wonder how prevalent it is among HS coaches of basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer, etc. We never prayed before games when I was in school, but I went to a Quaker school in Pennsylvania, so not a good data source. And my kids are only in 1st and 3rd grades, so haven’t been exposed at that level.

      • Spuddie

        I think community diversity has a lot to do with it. I sincerely doubt you see much of this in urban HS’s or in places with large numbers of people of minority religions.

        I grew up in a town which was heavily religiously mixed. Public school staff avoided this kind of sectarian nonsense because it would result in insulting 30-40% of the students.

    • The Captain

      This is entirely a straw man based on poor stereotypes of athletic people. It is no more accurate than me saying the reason atheism is so popular among the math team is because they are introvert shut ins who read all the time.

      • Ed Adams

        lol. i’m afraid the straw man is yours. there’s a large body of research on the socialization process and conformity among student football players. different kinds of athletics draw different kinds of personalities.

        • The Captain

          Thought experiment time! Lets change one word: “here’s a large body of research on the socialization process and conformity among west african immigrants” now had you used this sentence in making any inference about west africans in general I think you and most people would have recoiled from your position. Somehow though within the atheist community it’s accepted to be bigoted towards athletes in some geek snobbery way.

          • Ed Adams

            lol. another fail. you don’t seem to understand the significance of population studies and inferential statistics. there’s a large body of research that evangelicals are more opposed to same-sex marriage than catholics por that conservatives tend to have a more authoritarian authoritarian personality structure than liberals do. that increases the probability that an evangelical will be anti-gay marriage or a conservative will be authoritarian, it doesn’t mean that every evangelical will be, etc. i guess that makes us bigoted to point that out. to hell with social science and psychological reserach!

            • The Captain

              As I said, stop using “evangelical” or football player as your examples as just “pointing that out” and use population studies of west africans and employment, or jews and income and see if everyone agrees with your innocent “just pointing out” then. Those studies exist, innocently point those out too.

              Also starting out every comment to me with “LOL” make you sound exactly like the snobby ass hat the atheist community has a bit of a problem with.

              • Ed Adams

                roflmao! a course or two in inferential statistics might save you from making such foolish rants. your level of ignorance is sort of embarrassing.

                as a gay man, it’s not insulting to me to know of the valid studies showing gay men in the us are much more likely to engage in behaviors leading to hiv infection than the general population; nor do i recoil at epidemiological studies showing the higher incidence of depressive and anxiety disorders among gay men. all that even though i myself always practice safe sex and suffer from neither anxiety nor depressive disorders.

              • Reality

                American Jews hold a wildly disproportionate level of influence and wealth in the U.S. It’s empirical fact.

                Football attracts a certain personality type. It’s empirical fact.

                I don’t understand how your argument is relevant, anyway. You’re not disagreeing with him. You’re merely trying ot liken a sound argument to something that sounds unpleasant.

    • Matt D

      Citation needed.

  • dweiss3

    About every four seconds a child will die somewhere in the world. Often a painful death caused by poverty, hunger or easily preventable diseases and these narcissists believe there is god who cares about their football game?

    • Sandrilene

      Exactly. Surely even if you do believe in God it’s insulting and self-centred to believe God cares more about your football game than about children suffering?

    • Spuddie

      Because God loves football more than dying people.

  • LesterBallard

    If they want to preach about Islam, Allah, and Muhammad, that’s just fine.

  • Al Dente

    I grew up in Michigan but I observed coaches leading prayers before games. I have to admit that the prayers were not that offensive, usually along the lines: “God protect these young men from injury and may the best team win. Amen!”
    The real excitement came after the game. After my team won God told the players to burn down the other team’s school and slay the male students and all the female students who have known a man by lying with them but keep the virgins for themselves. No wait, that is what God told Moses to do the Midianites. My bad.

  • The Captain

    A lot of people seem to be missing the larger (and simpler) explanation in order to throw around bad stereotypes of athletes. The reason this is so prevalent in southern football teams is simply because the coaches that are evangelical christians have found themselves in a position of authority over others, and when that happens (in any context) they usually force their beliefs on to those people. This happens whenever these types of religious people get power in government, working environments, or other teaching positions. I think it’s just that since football happens mostly after hours and with much less supervision (along with the implied threat of not getting playing time if you cause trouble) makes high school sports a fertile environment for evangelizing.

    • eric

      That’s nothing but a tu quoque argument. “Hey, non-coach evangelicals proselytize too” in no way mitigates what’s going on here.
      You also somewhat undermine your own argument. If it happens in coaching more than in other professions because of the less formal and less supervisory nature of the coaching position, that’s evidence that coaching DOES have position-related characteristics that make it a specific problem. Either the problem is bigger for this position because of the details of how coaching is done, or there’s no significant difference in evangelism in this position vs. others – but you can’t simultaneously argue the former AND the latter.

  • TnkAgn

    This is overly simplistic, I know, but I would venture that athletics and superstition have had a symbiosis going on for centuries. That would include the warrior classes of ancient civilizations. Coach as chaplain? Not a long reach, IMO.

  • baal

    I don’t think the christian proselytizing coaches is an accident, tradition or incidental. The Fellowship for Christian Athletes (and CRU now fading on college campi) specifically targeted these school positions. The religionists know they need to convert children (much like the tobacco companies) since adult poaching is only mildly successful.

    • Ingersollman

      Read the “Good News Club”.

      • baal

        I have, it’s cringe and rage inducing.

  • Len

    I see praying for God’s help in a sport as a form of cheating. You play the game against another team and the rules of the game clearly state how many players you can have on each team, how many substitutions you can make, etc. Asking for God’s help means you’re trying to get more on your team than the rules allow.

    Praying with high-school footballers instills into them a great lesson: that it’s OK to cheat in order to win.