Culture

The Ridiculous Movement to Take God Out of Football

Florida State Seminoles players pray before a game. (Maddie Meyer/Getty)

Over the weekend, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers fired a not-so-subtle faith-based shot at fellow Christian QB Russell Wilson. After his Packers beat Wilson’s Seahawks on Sunday night — partially avenging their devastating loss in last season’s NFC Championship game — Rodgers, suppressing a smile, said “I think God was a Packer fan tonight, so he was taking care of us.”

Rodgers’s words echoed back to Wilson’s statements after the Seahawks’ dramatic, come-from-behind victory over the Packers in January, which sent them to the Super Bowl. After that game, Wilson, who played terribly before leading his team’s comeback, credited God for the outcome. Referring to his four interceptions, Wilson said, “That’s God setting it up . . . to make it so dramatic, so rewarding, so special.” Rodgers, himself a devout believer, was slightly miffed by the remarks. “I don’t think God cares a whole lot about the outcome,” he said at the time. “He cares about the people involved, but I don’t think He’s a big football fan.”

Over at The Nation, sportswriter Dave Zirin has used the spat to applaud those who are “getting God out of football.” He claims that college and pro football are “religious spaces controlled by a very political strain of Christianity, one that demands that its adherents use their athletic platform to praise Jesus at every turn.” Zirin is not alone in his disgust for Christian expression in college and pro athletics. The trolls at the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) have lately made a habit of attacking college football teams’ chaplains, claiming their access to players violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

Essentially, Zirin, the FFRF, and their ilk want big-time sports to be as religion-free as the rest of pop culture. And they’ll seize on the flimsiest pretexts — the fact that stadiums are “funded by the government” or that the “network airwaves are — allegedly — for all of us” — to accomplish their goal.

Thankfully, to get God out of football, the anti-religious crowd would need to get the football players out of football. The same goes for basketball (where Andre Iguodala famously thanked the NBA’s chaplains after being named NBA Finals MVP), baseball, and every other sport that draws its athletes from the vast portion of America that’s still Christian and proud of it.

#share#When one lives in one of the coastal, secular bubbles that generate far more screenwriters and actors than they do cornerbacks and point guards, it’s easy to forget exactly how religious the rest of America is, how they give glory to God for every good and meaningful thing that happens in their lives. As the old saying goes, if Sweden is the least religious nation in the world, and India is the most, then America is often a nation of Indians ruled by Swedes. In the upper echelons of the media and pop culture, that is certainly true. It must come as a bit of a shock to see how the other half lives.

To get God out of football, the anti-religious crowd would need to get the football players out of football.

Rodgers’s original distaste for Wilson’s comments highlights an underacknowledged truth: The role of God in our personal and professional successes (and failures) is a matter of no small controversy in even the “political branch of Christianity” that Zirin so dislikes. But Christians from across the Evangelical spectrum can read, and when the book of James declares that “every good and perfect gift” is from God, it’s easy to see why athletes effusively praise Jesus in their moments of triumph. To do so is not to declare God a Seahawks fan or to presume that He cares about football at all — He’s surely got much bigger problems on his mind. Instead it echoes back to the “chief end of man” described in the Westminster Shorter Catechism: to “glorify God” and “enjoy him forever.”

I’ll close with a confession. I’m as guilty as Russell Wilson of seeing God’s hand in the highs and lows of my professional life. Scripture teaches that God is the “author and finisher” of our faith — that He is writing our story — and I would simply be dishonest if I didn’t give Him the full credit for “my” accomplishments while understanding that God works through our trials as well. Anyone with Christian friends on Facebook will see a steady stream of thanksgiving for promotions and the academic success of their children, and requests for prayers when life gets hard. That’s simply the way Christians talk.

I appreciate Wilson’s effusive declaration of his beliefs. I also appreciate Rodgers’s more understated perspective. But if Zirin, the FFRF, and others want to get God out of football, I’d suggest they make a serious investment in the athletic programs of high schools on the Upper West Side or in Hollywood. Until then, big-time athletics will be dominated by athletes from big-time high-school programs, the overwhelming majority of them in flyover country. These kids — flawed, as we all are — tend to love Jesus. So, if you don’t like to hear His name, you might have to go elsewhere on the television dial. The godless have ample programming to love.

— David French is an attorney and a staff writer at National Review.

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