He’s just not going to help your team win.
Hand to heaven, I wish I could assure you otherwise. Still, a good many people believe it. A recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 27 percent of Americans think God “plays a role in determining which team wins” at sporting events. More than half of those polled believe “God rewards athletes who have faith with good health and success.”
The institute’s CEO, Robert P. Jones, attributes that sentiment to Americans’ belief in God’s active role in their lives.
Minority Christians and white evangelical Christians, he told CNN, “have a very personal view of God, a God that is very active in their daily lives and very concerned about the things that matter to them. So far as sports are one of the things that matter, it stands to reason that God is playing an important role.”
In journalism school they tell you never to hang your hat on just one source. So I tugged at the vestments of the Rev. Michael Lubinsky. He’s one of the parochial vicars at St. Mary on the Hill Catholic Church in Augusta.
Does he think God influences the outcome of sporting events?
“NOT REALLY. God’s love and caring and influence is all about giving him thanks and praise for the good He achieves in our lives,” the Rev. Lubinsky said. “I do not believe God is changing any outcome of any sports event, as God is hoping that the teams play fairly and well. God is hoping no one gets injured, and God cares about their souls. So in a nutshell, God is pulling for all to play their best, but He has no part in influencing the outcome, in my opinion.”
Former pro baseball player Mike Sweeney feels the same way. He’s a devout Christian. He played for the Kansas City Royals from 1995 to 2007 – which, given their record in that span, should qualify him for sainthood.
Point is, you shouldn’t count on your faith to help you win – or abandon it if you lose.
“It’s easy being a Christian when you’re hitting .345, but you let me know who you really are when you’re hitting .245 and going through the valley,” Sweeney told CNN in 2010, just a few months before he retired.
When exactly did sports and faith get so intertwined? Time was, you wouldn’t even stage a pro sporting event on a Sunday.
Amateur events, even. On Christmas Day 1621, Plymouth Colony Gov. William Bradford rebuked sportsmen on the Sabbath, “in ye streets at play, openly; some pitching ye ball and some at stooleball, and such like sports.”
Now we have pro sports on Sundays – and “Hail Mary” passes, which date at least from the 1930s.
Notre Dame, arguably the best-known intersection of faith and football, has its “Touchdown Jesus” mural.
IT SEEMS LIKE everywhere you turn, you see an athlete in a postgame interview thanking God for something or other.
And remember NFL defensive end Reggie White? His on-field skill and his ordination as a preacher earned him the nickname the “Minister of Defense.”
And, of course, there’s New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow, whose conspicuous displays of contemplative kneeling on the playing field are simultaneously admired and mocked, and described as “Tebowing.”
But even Tebow doesn’t think God sways games. Broadcaster Bob Costas said as much during an NFL telecast a little more than a year ago: Tebow, “whose sincere faith cannot be questioned, and should be respected, also has the good sense, and good grace, to make it clear he does not believe God takes a hand in the outcome of games.”
The Rev. Lubinsky said athletes are sincerely glorifying God “when they turn to God and ask God to bless their efforts and their play and their contributing to fairness and excellence and dignity, and give Him glory for their health and their abilities and their skills.
“I believe that it is disingenuous to pray to God that one team wins. God is for all to win and not a particular ball team,” he added. “God enjoys the fact that all come out to compete with every intention to play by the rules and achieve goals (that) are larger than themselves. Amen!”
Wow. “Larger than themselves.” That is big. I mean, have you seen that left tackle for the Baltimore Ravens?