God and Football

Feb 9, 2005

Greg Easterbrook, in his always entertaining Tuesday Morning Quarterback column, had something interesting to say about God and His reaction to the results of last week’s Super Bowl. (Scroll down until you see the heading “The Nielsen Ratings Service Was Unable to Determine Whether God Watched the Super Bowl.”) Specifically, he takes a minute to refute Terrell Owens’ claims that God took an interest in whether or not good old T.O. appeared in the big game.

In a column that takes on all manner of subjects, from cheer-babes to the calorie content of chocolate mousse, the issue of religion in sports is addressed with a touch of perspective and more than a touch of panache. First up, T.O.

Whether God intervenes in daily life is a complicated question in theology. But supposing there is divine influence in events, God help us, as it were, if it’s used up on touchdown passes.

He then tackles the general practice of praising God after a victory, questioning — and I think rightly so — the intent or purpose of such a remark.

When an athlete says God helped him win a game, he’s saying that in a world of poverty, inequality and war, the Maker believes the athlete’s touchdown or interception was more important, and thus worthy of divine intervention, than the active suffering or quiet unhappiness of billions of human beings.

Thankfully, Mr. Easterbrook allows for the fact — and, again, rightly so — that a lot of altheletes are sincere, perhaps attempting to express humility in the only way they know how. More interesting, maybe only to me, in this discussion of a line that might be crossed is the line itself. I never really considered it.

Easterbrook also offers some suggestions to help clear things up. With apologies to the author, I hope he doesn’t mind if I reprint what I believe to be his best suggestion, a replacement for the typical victory prayer reserved for the locker room before the game. I’d hate to have resort to plumbing the internet archives to scape up this bit of wisdom whenever the time comes to hand my sons a pair of cleats.

God, let me play well but fairly.
Let competition make me strong but never hostile.
Forbid me to rejoice in the adversity of others.
See me not when I am cheered, but when I bend to help my opponent up.
If I know victory, allow me to be happy;
if I am denied, keep me from envy.
Remind me that sports are just games.
Help me to learn something that matters once the game is over.
And if through athletics I set an example, let it be a good one.

When you are done reading about God, keep reading. There’s plenty of other stuff in there. For example, who thought that The Los Angeles Angels made the term “con queso cheese” seem almost legible in comparison?

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