When we hear that current or former athletes have suffered a significant loss or come down with terminal disease, most people would agree that praying for the players and their families is appropriate. Does God heed our prayers for athletes and their success in games? Of course, I think that God prefers that players avoid injury and cares for them as individuals, but what about their success or failure?
Praying for Teams or Athletes in Competition
As I was leaving Mass one Sunday, I ran into the mother of my daughter’s friend and fellow soccer player, Angela. She informed me that she had had the priest bless her daughter for the big game between her daughter’s team and my daughter’s team. (I would not have thought to do this.) She suggested that her daughter’s team now had an edge over my daughter’s team because of the blessing.
My daughter’s team did lose but I think it was a matter of superior talent and decision-making by the opponent’s players rather than a miraculous intervention. But I could be wrong.
Tying Myself in Knots Over Prayer and Athletics
I have held some comical internal conversations about praying for my favorite teams. When I was younger, I used to think that a Christian college’s team might be one God would favor over a public institution. (If I had considered this conclusion in greater depth, however, I might have realized that plenty of religious students attend public colleges and universities.)
I moved from thinking that God favored Christian colleges only to come to a predictable roadblock. If two Christian colleges were playing each other, would God favor one over the other? I was stuck.
In recent years, my alma mater’s basketball team has had several losing seasons. Of course, I want the team to win, but the players have not worked together well enough to do that. I altered my prayer for them and other teams I follow from asking for a win to one that asked God to help the team’s players do their best. I read a quote yesterday that suggested something like this: one team can be the winner in a loss while a second could be the loser even though the team won the game.
Following Professional Teams
Some of my internal conversations have dealt with the relative importance of sports to other events happening in the world. Why would God be concerned about a baseball team, for example, when there is war in Ukraine, Israel/Gaza, Ethiopia, and the Sudan? Certainly, wins would unite our community, make players happy, and energize the fans but I would think that God would have more pressing matters to address.
When it comes to professional sports, another issue that can rub me the wrong way is money. While there are players who use their easubstantial rnings for people in need or at least some of their income this way, many live in 4-million-dollar homes and pollute the air with private jet flights. Some sports have pay ceilings to try to keep the extraordinary salaries in check, but others do not.
The other side of the argument is that if there are, in fact, so few people who can throw 100 mph pitches, why should we not pay them very well to recognize their extraordinary talent? I still think they could lower their salaries and the world would keep turning.
Torn About What to Do
When I follow a professional or college-level team closely, I learn more about the players and come to like them. So, I am back to praying that they play their best or that they stay calm under pressure. I am likely talking to myself if God is busy addressing important issues such as poverty and illness.
If God shares my concerns about these games, perhaps he gives my team’s players the grace to use their skills to glorify him. Plenty of players thank God as they come off the pitch or arrive at home plate. They realize that God gave them athletic gifts. In interviews, players will often give God thanks.
In the end, I still have mixed feelings about praying for athletes and teams. I recognize that winning games is not the most important aspect of sports and that sports are not an essential part of human life. Still, I pray that God gives my team’s players a nudge that allows them to do their best. My gut reaction to people in need is a quick prayer so at times, I cannot stop myself.
The truth is, likely, that I need to spend more time in prayer about the issues that are most important to humankind.