You can hear the pundits prattle
Over Denver and Seattle
As they set off to do battle
In the Super Bowl today
And I’m left a bit befuddled
Cos the logic’s gotten muddled—
As I see the players huddled
Not for football, but to pray
Seems a strange thing in this setting,
But I think what I’m forgetting
Is, the Super Bowl means betting
So they’re working on the odds
We can’t tell at the beginning
Which team’s virtuous, which sinning,
But they’ll show us all, by winning,
So we’ll know which team is God’s!
As we approach game time, and every conceivable bit of trivia has been milked for its own 2-hour sports-TV retrospective, one of the variables examined is the role religion plays among the players. Yesterday’s NJ.com article “Super Bowl, 2014: Religion runs deep for many NFL players and teams” examines the phenomenon:
Each Friday afternoon, about 10 players from the Seattle Seahawks gather around Karl Payne in a room deep inside the team’s headquarters in Renton, Wash. They come carrying Bibles, notebooks and pens, dressed in their team-issued blue-and-gray sweatpants and T-shirts for an hourlong Bible study.
Payne might lead a discussion on the Book of James, outlining lessons about controlling what you say, how the price of your soul is the same as the next man’s and how challenges can either bury people or spring them to success. Or he might open a discussion, inviting the men to share their thoughts and talk about the issues they are confronting.
I have heard fairly often about the strong role of religion in sports–from controversy over prayers before games at public high schools, to a recent article on a very religious college coach in Connecticut, to Tim Tebow–but it seems to me a subject with more popular than scientific writing. The above quote, for instance, describes what the article calls a team where, in particular, several players are driven by their religion. But in a nation of 80+% Christians, the 10-player bible study group represents under 20% of the 53-player roster. Naturally, more players are Christian than attend the study group, but is having a couple handfuls of very devout players unexpected? Or simply reflective of the population from which players are drawn?
Clearly, not all NFL players are Christian, or even religious. Tebow’s requests for others to join him in prayer have not always been welcome, for instance. I have not been able to find, in any journals of sport, psychology, & religion, any information as to actual numbers–are professional (american) football players any more religious than anyone else? (Vyse reports that superstition is more prevalent among better athletes–more chances to pair success with a superstitious behavior, so no surprise there–but there are good reasons to suspect that athletic superstitions are quite different from institutionalized superstition.)
I have written before about this silliness. At least, I always assumed it was silliness to think that praying about football would matter–especially when fans and players on opposite sides desire opposite outcomes–but no less than William Lane Craig assures us that nothing is too trivial for God:
I think the overriding thing I want to say is God’s providence rules all of life, even down to the smallest details. Nothing happens without either God’s direct will or at least his permission of that event. That includes every fumble, every catch, every run. All of these things are in the providence of God, and therefore, we should not think that these things are a matter of indifference. These are of importance to God as well even though they seem trivial.
And I don’t want to hear about praying for everybody to be safe and uninjured, and to do their best. If you wanted them safe and uninjured, enough to do more than to pay lip service, there are real world things that can be done. As is, the very hits likely to be cheered the most also happen to be the ones most likely to cause brain injury.
Which cannot be treated with prayer.