ESPN nails it

jon kitnaThis may be one too many sports-related posts for some of you (and a good start for others), but after reading ESPN The Magazine‘s profile of Detroit Lions quarterback Jon Kitna I couldn’t let it pass. Thank you to all of you who sent us this story, and I agree with the most recent submission that this is one of the most substantive attempts to look at faith and football in a very long time.

Reporter David Fleming uses Kitna’s story as a launch pad for discussing many of the religion issues that have cropped up recently in professional football, and he does so in a thorough and evenhanded manner that allows readers to draw their own conclusions:

Like many athletes who are outspoken about something as personal as faith, Kitna — with his ubiquitous cross hats and constant biblical references — is often dismissed as a loon. But his impact in Detroit is undeniable. He is part of a team prayer group on Friday afternoons and hosts a Bible study for teammates and their wives at his home on Monday nights. …

By combining two of the most fervent elements of society — faith and football — a previously anonymous journeyman quarterback has catapulted himself into the zeitgeist.

“People feel football is too trivial for God to care about, especially with so many bad things happening in the world,” says Tim Pitcher, a spokesman for Athletes in Action, which uses sports to push Christianity. “For a lot of people, the worlds shouldn’t mix.”

Yet they do, sometimes with uncomfortable results. After the Colts won the Super Bowl last February, Tony Dungy asked his team to kneel and recite the Lord’s Prayer.

While everyone complied, several players looked at each other in disbelief at the request, which forced them to interrupt their celebrations and interviews. To reporters in the room, the moment appeared awkward and forced.

Such discord isn’t limited to NFL locker rooms. Last June, New Mexico State settled out of court with four Muslim football players who had accused coach Hal Mumme of religious discrimination. Among other things, the athletes said Mumme made the team recite the Lord’s Prayer after each practice and before every game. When they objected, he labeled them “troublemakers.” “Being a coach doesn’t give someone the right to make a football team into a religious brotherhood,” says Peter Simonson, executive director of the New Mexico chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Read the entire story, even if you don’t enjoy sports or professional football. It says a lot about out society, what is acceptable in a professional workplace and how we deal with pressure and criticism.

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  • Chris Bolinger

    Fleming’s story isn’t perfect, but I give it an A, and I am a tough grader. The story is uneven until the second half and really doesn’t hit its stride until the exchange between Williams and Kitna near the end. I appreciate the fact that Fleming uses the Kitna profile to raise a lot of questions about what types of behavior, religious and otherwise, are acceptable and even embraced in the locker room and on the field.

  • David Rupert

    Amazingly, faith in the workplace is on display as perhaps no other environment. Something about men of faith who are drawn to the game.

    Is God on My Team” is a great post at the Red letter Believers blog. It asks the question, “Does God Care about Sports?”

  • Patrick Clifford

    We’re trying to convince the Green Bay Packers to become the first team in the NFL to win the Nobel Peace Prize so we can get the devout Vince Lombardi canonized the Patron Saint of Football.

    The Nobel Peace Prizewinning President of East Timor has helped us campaign for it, and the story was covered by “Green Bay Press-Gazette” columnist Tony Walter.

    We plan on setting up a petition drive on My Space and Facebook.