God and pro football

football prayersAs I get hyped up for this weekend’s Colts vs. Steelers game, The Indianapolis Star managed to remind me that NFL players are as human as any of us. They make mistakes, they have problems and they need guidance from above.

The Colts unpaid chaplain Ken Johnson finds himself in tough situations, travels with the team and even prays for the team’s success on the field. We’ve already addressed the issue of religion in football and apparently most NFL teams have some form of religious leader:

Chaplains fulfill a basic need: They provide church services to people who work many Sundays.

But in an era when professional athletes are frequently paid like kings and worshipped like idols, and when fleeting glory falls on the young shoulders of men in their 20s and 30s, the chaplain’s job goes beyond weekly church services.

“With all the pressures of an NFL or a professional lifestyle, it helps the guys to have someone they can talk to without their business getting out in the street,” said Corwin Anthony, the director of pro sports for Athletes in Action, which provides chaplains for about half the teams in the NFL.

There was no mention of the fact that some Christians view NFL football as unholy because it violates fourth commandment by playing games on the Sabbath. Maybe this is an old issue and nobody that plays in the NFL these days thinks about, but remember the conundrum presented in Chariots of Fire? Just curious if anybody thinks this is still an issue.

Overall, the testimony that slips into the story from players is powerful, especially since the team is dealing with the recent suicide of the coach Tony Dungy’s son, who was close to the team. This all makes a story like this even more relevant a I’m sure there are many in Indianapolis who wonder how the team and the coach is cooping with the loss. I found it interesting that Dungy has asked Johnson to come by the practice facility, which speaks loudly of the importance of faith in his life:

From that pulpit, he has the chance to share his faith and what he has learned from life — although not every player is receptive. Green Bay Packers chaplain Joe Urcavich said developing trust is vital when it comes to serving pro athletes, who tend to live in a closed, protective circle. But he said gifted athletes frequently yearn to be recognized for who they are off the field.

Colts offensive lineman Tarik Glenn is among those who have developed a trusting relationship with the chaplain. Glenn asked Johnson to preside at his wedding after the two grew close through Bible studies.

“He is a big reason why my foundation in the Lord is where it is and why my maturity is where it is,” Glenn said.

I know I’m biased because I read the IndyStar on a daily basis, but they have had a prolific number of religious stories in the last week or so.

First we have the same-day recap of the “scandal of particular prayers” with lawmakers shouting “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” followed by an excellent next-day story by reporters Robert King and Bill Ruthhart. The article is thorough and while it is driven by the events of the day, it reflects well on the reporters’ understanding of religion.

And finally, Ruthhart follows up with a story that is somehow related because it is a Statehouse issue and will certainly involve some of the same actors as the particular prayers story:

For the second straight year, Rep. Woody Burton, R-Greenwood, is pushing for creating an “In God We Trust” license plate. The House passed the bill in last year’s session, but it stalled in the Senate.

“What I want is exactly what it says on the dollar bill,” Burton said. “Nothing more.”

He is more optimistic this time around, mostly because Senate President Pro Tempore Robert D. Garton, R-Columbus, said the bill would reach a Senate committee this session…

That doesn’t satisfy Lindsey Mintz. As director of government affairs for the Jewish Community Relations Council, she testified against the license plate at Thursday’s committee hearing.

“There is still a line between religion and government, and it is actually being crossed,” Mintz said. “There are still tax dollars being used to create a plate that invokes a particular deity.”

So there you go, the IndyStar, while not known for its religion coverage, isn’t afraid of the occasional religious story, especially if it’s a relevant local issue. And for that they deserve credit from us here at GetReligion.

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  • John Hotchkiss

    Thanks for the wonderful article and kudos to the Indianapolis Star for running pieces that treat Christianity fairly. We have a great deal of trouble with that in the Massachusetts press.

    As Jesus said, the Sabbath was made for man and not vice versa. It is what we do that is of greatest importance, not so much when we do it. Likewise with the food and drink we take in – the things that go in our mouths are not nearly as important as the words that come out of our mouths.

    Here’s hoping for a well-played Colts-Patriots rematch.

  • http://www.urbanangel.net andy chamberlain

    Slightly at a tangent from the main piece here, but an interesting thought (I think!)

    Daniel you mention the issue of playing sport on the sabbath and said:

    There was no mention of the fact that some Christians view NFL football as unholy because it violates fourth commandment by playing games on the Sabbath. Maybe this is an old issue and nobody that plays in the NFL these days thinks about, but remember the conundrum presented in Chariots of Fire? Just curious if anybody thinks this is still an issue.

    Now I don’t want to address the particular issue rather the process by which something becomes an issue. Is it percentages? And if so percentages of what group? If 1% of Christians object to playing sport on the sabbath, is it an issue? What about if the figure was 2% or 5%, or 20%?

    What if it was an issue that impacts nationally, like abortion or the death penality? Is it the proportion of the whole population that makes it an issue then?

    “Where’s this going?” I hear you ask. Well, this just got me thinking about whether there was a ‘critical mass’ in terms of the number or percentage of people thinking a thing that makes it into an issue I am guessing there are a number of factors at play here, like:

    – The percentage of a population who think soemthing is important

    – The view of a much smaller number of opinion formers

    – The morale of the group whose opinion is being judged.

    As a piece of amusement, here is a little 15 second test for anyone who cares to take it. For each of the following (farily random) topics state whether you would class this as an issue you feel strongly about.

    1. Harry Potter books are a bad influence on children, and Christians should avoid them

    2. Abortion is an offense to God and should be outlawed or severly curtailed in this country

    3. Christians should not play sport or go to the cinema, and avoid work,on a Sunday

    4. The churches in this country should do a bit less moralising and a bit more to fight social and global injustices

    5. Christians should be concerned about the spread of Islam and do all they can to counter its influence.

    Clearly, these statements would need more careful wording if you wanted to do a carefully defined study; but it would be interesting to understand the process by which opinions on these issues are formed.

    And a belated Happy New year to you all!

  • http://dpulliam.com dpulliam

    Andy, you raise a very good question. I really don’t know if “honoring the Sabbeth” is an issue in this country anymore. I don’t see mainstream press coverage of it but that doesn’t mean some people aren’t still concerned.

  • Chad

    this is a good article. Does playing on sunday actually mean anything other than they are playing on sunday? Yes it maybe work to some but what if it is enjoyfull to the players on the field? Is that really work?

  • http://dpulliam.com dpulliam

    Some comments have been deleted from this post. Allow me to point you to our “Civility in this space” permapost. Valid email addresses are required for postings on this blog.

  • dk

    Hey, I’ve been waiting for a followup story on the misplaced faith of the Indy Star. Is that who was bribing those refs?

  • http://dpulliam.com dpulliam

    Thanks DK for rubbing it in. Actually, what the Star was doing was pretty cool. And amazing, considering the age we’re in with newspapers cutting expenses like crazy.