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Jun 03, 2006

Gaming Sunday


A cultural topic that has been getting increased attention lately is the encroachment of Christian fundamentalism into professional sports.  Recent stories have appeared, for example, in Salon, the NYT, Mother Jones and even The Washington Times.  Although primarily a minor league phenomenon to date, the movement is hitting the big time this summer as several major league baseball teams have put "Faith Night" on the schedule.

There are many dimensions to this story, including: team-supported proselytizing and conversion of players; the exploitation of publicly funded assets, such as stadiums, for religious purposes; the merger of athletics and faith with radical right-wing political activism; the use of religion to deflect serious sport problems, such as substance abuse and domestic violence;  and the intentional alienation of players and fans who don't subscribe to a straight, fundamentalist message.


These photo show two members of the Birmingham Steeldogs of the Arena Football League.  If not for a last minute decision by the league, these players would have actually worn these jerseys in a recent game.

A few takes on the pics:

God is winning.

Wearing religion on my sleeve.

I can put my religion in your face, but I can't look you in the eye at the same time.

Is it a higher percentage of black middle to lower class players who have been mentored by Athletes In Action, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Focus on the Family and Campus Crusade for Christ , who are now being used as walking product placements?

It's like the crusades, only better.  No one gets killed, and you get to enjoy plenty of  brutality guilt-free.

(images: Rainier Ehrhardt;AP.  May 5, 2006.  Birmingham, Alabama.  Via YahooNews)


It's easier to wear a slogan on your Tshirt than to simply behave like a good Christian.

Jesus is just the latest fad for a large part of this crowd.

Jesus is a very personal and private business to others.

You don't need any formal religion to tell you that the Creator is closer to you than the blood in your own heart.

I wish they'd all shut up (Xtians, Muslims,etc.) and get their primitive idea of "god" out of my face.

seriously though,

whatever dignity religion had just died on the turnover.

I just read Psalm 80 in my Bible and it is bizarre that he chose that particular Psalm to represent his team! Here's just part of Psalm 80: "O Lord God of hosts...Thou dost make us the scorn of our neighbors; and our enemies laugh among themselves." Does that guy even read the Bible?

Athletes can be superstitious people. Patrick Roy, former goalie for the Montreal Canadians and Colorado Avalanche, used to do a little hop over the red and blue lines so he didn't skate over them between periods. I used to put on all my equipment in a certain order. For people who are less secular than me, I guess this is their superstition. I have met some athletes, and many talk about it after games when interviewed by TV crews, about how God sees them through competitions. In this regard, I completely agree with your comparison to the crusades. Sport can be like a war with no (fewer anyway) fatalities, so I suppose the team that gets God on its side will perform better.

But it's just like lacing your skates the same way before every game. It's not about God or the way your skates are laced, but if your head is in the game or not. Sports are obviously all about faith: you have to trust yourself and your teammates, otherwise you will fail. Fans cheer because they have faith it will help their team win, even if they're hundreds of miles away watching on TV. Every sporting event is a "faith night," so it is redundant to actually have a "faith night" set aside.

I wonder if the next thing on the way is to have Christian teams play against non-Christian teams, to see if God can teach the unwashed heathens how to play football? Onward, Christian footballers.

I am trying to think about what the individual is communicating when he chooses to put on one of these Christian jerseys.

Certainly, these players are fortunate men. They have strength, health, and an opportunity to earn fame and wealth doing something they love. How to comprehend this good fortune? Wearing a jersey with a religious motif is a way of expressing one's humility: these blessings are from God. "Not me, but thee, O, Lord."

It also could be a form of superstitious or soothing behavior--almost like a child's teddy bear. The jerseys with their words of power are amulets that confer power on the wearer.

I am reminded of something that I observed 30 years ago in a rural village in Nigeria. The houses had little scrolls tacked above their doorframes: Psalms given to the people of the village by missionaries. The Psalms were very powerful juju, I was told, and would ward off evil spirits.

Surely the line from Psalm 80 is meant to be "Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand, the son of man you have made so strong for yourself." Not (in my translation) "you have made us the derision of our neighbors, and our enemies laugh us to scorn." but I haven't seen how the Birmingham Steeldogs season has been going. Maybe scorn, derision and being cast from Eden is apt?

Sorry - I don't really have anything to say about the pictures themselves. But if they want to have a fundamentalist Christian-oriented night, at least they should call it "Fundamentalist Christian night" and not the misleading "Faith night".

Victor F:"...have Christian teams play against non-Christian teams, to see if God can teach the unwashed heathens how to play football"

The unwashed heathens in the rest of the world already play "football", but these guys would call it "soccer". ;)

itwasntme: "You don't need any formal religion to tell you that the Creator is closer to you than the blood in your own heart."

I couldn't help but think of the verse in the Quran where God says that He is closer to you than your jugular vein.

God-Ball already in Major League Baseball, specifically the Colorado Rockies.

We're looking at using the mass marketing technique of product placement to promote spiritual health, underarm deodorant for the afterlife. From a practical perspective why not? Politics has long ago gracelessly slipped this slope; the political issues of today are important only as ad elements.

From a motivational standpoint Christianity seems a poor choice unless one looks past the Christ parts. Love Your Neighbor is not a rallying cry for fourth and goal at the one, either side of the ball.

(On the other hand, Zen and baseball match up pretty nicely. Hand in glove if you will.)

Both players shown appear to be African-American. Right-wing strategists are hoping to exploit the faith of black Christians as a way of turning them into members of the "Republican Majority." Are these athletes aware of how easily their religiosity is being exploited for corporate political gain? Let's hope they're not as gullible as white evangelical Christians have proved to be.

I'm tellin ya, if ya don't wanna spend the game on the bench, WEAR THE SHIRT!

I guess people just weren't paying attention to their little chains with crosses.

I like VictorF's idea of xians against heathens. Even more, two xian teams against each we'll see who's side god is REALLY on. And blackdog's god-ball resembles the old empire's xians vs. lions. How'd that work out for the Romans?

Wasn't there a Texas team in some play-offs last year that made a point of not hiring any black players? They lost. Looks like the god-ball team is going to join them.

Don't think the fundamentalists have thought this one through. The more you tie your religion to anything other than religion, people tend to fall off the train. IMHO, what we are seeing is the republican party being taken over by fundies so people who are not fundies are stepping back. The reality based base is coming out of the closet.

And where are the black Muslims in all this? Is this a pre-emptive strike to blunt their effectiveness in the athletic arena? Remember the Mexico City Olympics?

Ummabdullah - I don't know where I got that phrase, but do have Arab friends (tho mainly Maronite) so I might have heard it and taken it in without realizing it. It's a good description of my feelings tho, wherever it came from. That's the benefit of having no formal religion - you can take the best from all of them.

They might have gotten the jerseys from Christian Throwback Jersey, "a proud sponsor of Jesus Christ." Apparently, "thou shalt not steal" doesn't apply to copyright infringement.


The trend of fundies being parasitically attached to the Republican party started a while back most significantly in the 80s with the Moral Majority and Pat Robertson trying to run for the White House under the Republican ticket.

He lost the primaries to the Gipper.

The fundies are starting to realize that they should work more to control the voters rather than just control the candidates.

God is starting to play an increasing role in international issues, in a story that the media seems to be missing right under its nose. Meanwhile, here in America, logic is being turned upside down on its head as people, including prominent people, argue of "persecution of Christians."

Having played a lot of sports, sometimes fairly competetivly, and believing in God, I never understood why one would pray to God to do well. It always seemed like that was so, well. fill in the blank....I suppose in one way it's like praying before a big test, but it always struck me as maybe a misallocation of request.But then I suppose people can ask God anything they want, right?

wearing these religious jerseys, on the other hand, that starts to cross a fine line of somewhat pushing one's religion upon the unwitting, who, you know, just want to watch a football game. (or, in the above link, have to travel for business witht Their coworker).

I don't have a problem with people displaying their religion in whatever way they please. I do have a problem with them deciding that because they are of a certain faith, they have any right to tell others how to think, believe, or, espcially, vote.

Jesus told you to pray in private, "Christians".

Well, at least this isn't a trend of the American Religious Right that should worry the rest of the world.

As long as it stays confined to sports that noone else plays.


Doesn't it seem rather selfish to pray for victory on a sporting field when there are people, even in this country, going without food, medicine, or shelter? "Oh, God, help me crush and smash and stomp on those unfortunate players from some other franchise" rings a bit brazon compared to a prayer for peace or health or safety for those in danger.

Is a player "evil" because he was drafted for the opposing team? Is he "damned" because the team owner sold him or traded him? Or is it only the Damned Yankees and everybody else suffers perdition?

If this were truly a Christian country, artists and gardeners and poets would be honored, whereas those who bet on sports or profit from wars would be cast in the gutter with those who scavenge from destruction. Isn't setting words to music holier than breaking someone's body or using steroids to distort one's own?

One thing I noticed about the photos is that the bright lights on the field make everything beyond them dark. Perhaps if the goal is a chalk line under one's nose, one loses all perspective?

I think an Onion story is appropriate here:

For a different take on sports - in today's Iraq - check out Baghdad Burning's entry for May 31:

Scroll down for "Viva Muqtada" - fundamentalism here and over there.

But then I suppose people can ask God anything they want, right?

Yep. And God will choose to respond or not or in a way that is different from the original request. Funny thing about prayer, that.

I am bemused by the use of Genesis 1; is this an affirmation of God as Creator or a way of appropriating that creative power to cream the offensive line? The stupidity of humanity is limitless.

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