I’m always thrilled when Super Bowl Sunday arrives because that means it’s only a short while before pitchers and catchers report to spring training.
It’s also the annual Souper Bowl of Caring, which is a Good Thing. (Yes, canned food drives are clumsy and inefficient, and cash donations to your local food pantries are much, much better. But canned food drives also introduce and inspire new members of the community to pitch in and to learn about the work of the pantries and to move closer to being the kind of people who will write a check and not just offer a dusty can of tuna, so it’s all good.)
I’m neither a Ravens fan nor a 49ers fan, but I’ll be rooting for the Baltimore Ravens today.
Let me be clear that I don’t think God is taking sides in this, or any other, sporting contest. Yes, I’ve seen the Public Religion Research Institute poll about God and sports:
While only about 3-in-10 (27 percent) Americans, believe that God plays a role in determining which team wins a sporting event, a majority (53 percent) believe that God rewards athletes who have faith with good health and success, compared to 42 percent who disagree.
… Majorities of all religious groups disagree that God plays a role in determining which team wins a sporting event, but there are differences in intensity. Roughly 4-in-10 minority Christians (40 percent) and white evangelical Protestants (38 percent) agree that God does play a role in the outcome of a sporting event, compared to less than 3-in-10 (29 percent) Catholics, less than 1-in-5 (19 percent) white mainline Protestants, and approximately 1-in-10 (12 percent) religiously unaffiliated Americans.
Unlike many of the folks responding to that survey, I’m not embarrassed that 38 percent of white evangelicals think God plays a role in the outcome of the Super Bowl. As a born-and-raised native of the evangelical subculture, I’m actually pleasantly surprised that the figure is that low. The survey shows that 62 percent of white evangelicals don’t believe that God plays a role in the outcome of the Super Bowl. That’s better than I’d have guessed.
And while this is dismaying:
Two-thirds (67 percent) of white evangelical Protestants agree that God rewards athletes who have faith with good health and success.
It’s also not as bad as I feared. Only two-thirds of white evangelicals think that Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar are the true heroes of the book of Job, agreeing with their argument that God always rewards virtue with success. Count me among the minority who agrees with Job.
So, no, God is not taking sides in the Super Bowl. But I will be. I’ll be cheering for the Baltimore Ravens.
Here are my four reasons why:
1. Brendan Ayanbadejo: A fierce linebacker on a team that’s famous for fierce linebackers, Ayanbadejo has also been a fearless and outspoken advocate for LGBT equality. On a personal level he doesn’t abide anti-gay slurs, and on a public level he has used his platform as an athlete to champion equal rights and marriage equality. He’s a mensch.
Ayanbadejo’s uncompromising commitment to fairness for others provides a stark contrast to some of the ugly/stupid things we’ve heard in recent days from members of the 49ers — guys apparently not bright enough to understand the words “San Francisco” on their uniforms. To the extent that their comments have turned this into “The Big Gay Super Bowl,” I’ve got to side with Ayanbadejo’s team.
2. Joe Flacco: I worked for the newspaper of record in Delaware during Flacco’s years as a University of Delaware Blue Hen, and he was probably the second-best local athlete we covered. The thing about following college sports — even big time college football — is that you’re constantly reminded that you’re also watching very young college kids. And after you’ve followed an athlete when he’s still a kid, you feel kind of invested and hope to see him succeed as he gets older. Flacco gives me a “local kid makes good” rooting interest in this game.
3. Baltimore vs. San Francisco: When I don’t otherwise have an interest in the outcome of a sporting event, I tend to cheer for whichever team’s fans probably need it more. I’ve been to San Francisco — it’s a spectacularly beautiful place with gorgeous weather year-round. I’ve been to Baltimore — it’s Baltimore. Win or lose, 49ers fans will still live in San Francisco. Win or lose, Ravens fans will still live in Baltimore. I’m not sure which team is the underdog in this game, but I know which city is. And I always root for the underdog.
4. The Wire. I think it was the greatest show ever on TV, and possibly also the Great American Novel. And the main character of that story was the city of Baltimore. So I’m rooting for the Ravens because a Ravens win would be good news for my old friends Lester Freamon, Bunk, McNulty, Bodie, Omar, Wallace, D’Andre, Stringer, Bubbles, Bunny, Prez, Snoop, Kima, Frank Sobotka, Slim Charles, Prop Joe and all the rest. All of them are fictional, and half of them are dead, but still. Go Ravens.