(NEW YORK – Jan. 30, 2013) Ravens linebacker and team leader Ray Lewis is featured under the headline “Does God Care Who Wins the Super Bowl?” on the cover of the Feb. 4, 2013 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, on newsstands Wednesday.
In a special piece for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, Mark Oppenheimer (@markopp1), religion columnist for The New York Times, tackles the paradox of big-time football: The sport with the biggest Christian presence, most famous Christian athletes and most religious leaders affiliated with teams features a culture that seemingly goes against the values of Christianity.
“Church and pro football both revolve around Sunday, and 50 years into our national experiment of mixing the two, it is not at all clear that faith has won the day,” writes Oppenheimer (PAGE 40).
Oppenheimer notes what has become customary for many NFL players: They point to heaven, pray on their knees and thank Jesus in post-game interviews. This Sunday at the Super Bowl, Ray Lewis will wear his customary black T-shirt under his uniform that says PSALMS 91 and 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, if successful on a big play, will kiss either his tattoo of the words GOD TO GLORY or the one that reads FAITH.
Justin Tuck, New York Giants defensive end and leader of the Giants’ team Bible study says:
“A lot of people rely on the game for their identity. My happiness and joy aren’t based on how well I play or if I get a sack. I should live a life that God is pleased with, not live a life total strangers are pleased with on Sunday.” (PAGE 40)
However, Oppenheimer wonders if the violent nature of the game, not to mention the lifestyle of many wealthy NFL players contradicts what the Christianity stands for. He writes:
“Football brings a level of violence that is deeply at odds with Christ’s message.” (PAGE 41)
He also notes that the Bible is filled with passages that emphasize the weak over the strong and the poor at the expense of the rich, and that it instructs followers to keep the Sabbath holy.
On the contrary, others argue, including many religious leaders, that football builds character and thereby makes a man more of a Christian—a commingling of faith and football now accepted by fans.
“God loves us just the way we are” says Les Steckel, a former NFL head and assistant coach, who now is president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, “but at the same time he does require excellence. And in the NFL, performance is ultimate.” (PAGE 38)
Former Redskins and Cardinals running back Tim Hightower, a devout Christian, understands the dilemma faced by religious football players. Hightower says:
“You have to stop and ask yourself: Am I a football player who is Christian, or a Christian who is a football player?” (PAGE43)