On Faith and Football

Sunday morning, I awoke to the soft light of dawn with a contented smile on my face—not because it was the second Sunday of Advent, not because the ground glistened with a lovely morning frost, not because the greatest guy in the world lay beside me—but because on Saturday night, Alabama won the SEC Championship game against Florida.

It’s hard to describe the level of fanaticism to which we Bama fans are accustomed.  I share a similar experience to that of Warren St. John, who wrote in his bestselling book, Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer:

“I grew up in Alabama—possibly the worst place on earth to acquire a healthy perspective on the importance of spectator sports. If you were a scientist hoping to isolate the fan gene, Alabama would make the perfect laboratory… A recent poll by the Mobile Register found that 90 percent of the state’s citizens describe themselves as college football fans. To understand what an absolute minority nonfans are in Alabama, consider this: they are outnumbered there by atheists.”

Saturday night was the night Alabama fans had been waiting for ever since last year’s fourth-quarter loss to the Gators in the same championship game. On Saturday night, Alabama beat Florida 32-13. On Saturday night, Heisman Trophy candidate Mark Ingram rushed for 113 yards and three touchdowns. On Saturday night, quarterback Greg McElroy led the team to one of its most decisive victories of the season, complete with an 88-yard drive, 239 passing yards, and some sweet ballet-like moves along the sideline. And on Saturday night, Tim Tebow cried.

It’s that last bit that bothered my mother a little, as Florida quarterback Tim Tebow has a reputation within the evangelical community for being a strong Christian witness A missionary-kid, he gives credit to Jesus after every win, wears Bible verse themed eye black under his eyes, and, to his credit, is well known for his charitable efforts on and off the field.

However, I’m more cynical than my mother, and during the game couldn’t help but make a few snarky comments to the effect of, “I guess that pass was intended for the Holy Spirit.” Just to push her buttons.

The truth is, I have mixed feelings about the integration of faith and sport.

It seems to me that thanking Jesus for a win has the potential to make Him into little more than a good-luck charm, and assuming that God intervenes to alter the outcome of a sporting event shows a lack of sensitivity to the millions of hungry people around the world who cry out to God each day to no avail. Furthermore, I’m pretty convinced that when Jesus told his disciples ,“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world,” he was not referring to tribulations brought on by the Alabama defensive line, as Tebow’s face subtly implies.

On the other hand, I respect Tebow and other players who use their platform to give generously and share their faith. They have the ability to reach people who might not otherwise be inclined to think about spiritual things, and I actually think it’s healthy to acknowledge the fact that our talents—be they athletic, academic, musical, entrepreneurial, or whatever—are gifts from God  that compel us to be good stewards who give glory to Him.

Both Alabama players and Florida players have been known to thank God for their success on the football field. But I can’t recall any of them thanking Him for failure, acknowledging that He is good despite the largely inconsequential ups and downs of a football game. 

Of course, this comes from the girl who woke up on the second Sunday of Advent thinking not about Jesus, but about football. I guess it's always easier to make calls from the sofa.

What do you think about players thanking God for wins?

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