To Pray or not to Pray, That is the Question!
There are many different beliefs and opinions about prayer in sports. Whether it is football, basketball, soccer or hockey; Professional, college, high school, or club. Many people believe that God is too busy to even bother him with the request for a win. Does God favor one team over another? I’m praying for Iowa to beat Nebraska my friends are praying for Nebraska to beat Iowa, who’s prayer does he hear? After all God has a plan right? The author of the blog “Why Pray” mentioned that after the Broncos got cremated on the field by the New England Patriots, 45-10, you can wonder if Tim Tebow prayed correctly. Was God in favor of New England? Again what is the point of prayer in sports? Does it depend on who prays the longest or the best? The players could be couch potatoes all week, not work out, eat unhealthy and just say it was all up to God on a win or not. The players have to believe in themselves and practice long hard hours and devote their lives to the sport.
There are several reasons athletes depend on prayer in sports. Watson and Czech from the Journal of Sport Psychology, Athletic Insight, came up with six: “prayer as a coping mechanism for uncertain stressful situations; to help live a morally sound life; to sanctify athletes’ commitment to the sport; to put sports in perspective; to establish a strong bond of attachment between teammates; and to maintain social control.” (Watson, Czech). Many athletes rely on prayer when faced with stress in their career. Whether it is because of an injury that forces them into early retirement, or drafted to another team, they tend to look for spiritual guidance for help with their future plans. For example, many sports, such as football, is such a violent sport that prayer enables players to leave the violence on the field and to become respectful role models for children and fans. Prayer also helps to remind athletes of their priorities in life, sometimes a game is just a game. Lastly, prayer can be a means to unify and build a stronger, more trusting team.
However, many players feel pressured into praying with the team. As new comers are being welcomed on the field if you are not part of the huddle to pray you may feel like you are not part of the team. Many players just go with the flow so that they are not shunned by the veteran players on the team. They may bow their heads and close their eyes, but do they believe in God? There is so much hypocrisy that goes on in the world of sports and religion. Wayne Besen from the Huffington Post talked about one coach, Les Steckel, CEO of Christian Athletes, was known for taking cheap shots when he was an NFL coach. Telling the players to go for knee shots when that player is known for having knee problems. Bensen quoted the Bible saying “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle then for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). But how much do the pro-athletes get paid? They live in fancy homes drive fancy cars and eat like a king. If professional athletes want to bring God into sports why not help the homeless, the children who are starving, or the widows. After all, that is Biblical. Matthew 25:40 states “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you are doing it to me!” (Holy Bible)
In an article from The Blaze, author Billy Hallowell spoke of one public school football coach, Gary Weiss, who was fired for refusing to tell his team members to stop praying. He was given a choice, “tell players to stop praying or lose his position.” (Hallowell) He opted to lose his position. “My concern is the rights of the kids to do what is their right to do” (Weiss). Another coach at a different school in the same state was suspended for praying with the team. The school officials said it goes against the First Amendment (separation of church and state). One person spoke out in favor for the coach to pray with his team “Ray Rice gets two games for cold-cocking his fiancé and Coach Brittain gets two games for praying.” (Hallowell). In Rice’s quote we are comparing an act of violence to saying a simple prayer, however, they both resulted in the same punishment.
Many coaches’ philosophies are “pray together play together.” In an article from Washington Post author Roman Stubbs, about the effects prayer had on team building, even for one player that was not Christian. For the high school football team in Suitland, led by Coach Ed Shields, he believes in prayer before practice and after practice. The team takes a knee, huddles together and grabs one another’s shoulders. The team leader, River, leads the team in the Lord’s Prayer. River is a Muslim and is not allowed to pray a Christian prayer. When River first joined the school he refused to pray, he noticed that the team’s spirit started to crumble. The teammates would curse, refuse to kneel, take off their helmets and he did not want to be part of a dysfunctional team. River decided that it was ok as long as they were praying for the right thing. He wanted to show his team that he was a leader and they were a team. River noticed that after he joined the prayer and lead the others to pray the team started to display better attitudes and started to show more positive team work on the field. Head coach Shields believes prayer is one of the few ways the team can come together after playing a violent game, to grab each other’s jersey and accomplish peace. Shields said, “I do think it’s about a positive force, and the fact that we do it every day, before every game, before every practice… it’s about us bringing that positive force to life for the kids.” (Stubb)
There are many different perspectives regarding prayer in sports. From hypocrisy to team building, from separation of church and state to what’s right and fair for the players, and from what to pray for to whether or not to pray at all. Prayer in sports is seen as both a positive and a negative. Many believe it builds team unity while others believe it segregates Christians and Non-Christians within the sport. “…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if here is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Holy Bible, Philippians 4:8)
Besen, Wayne. “Prayer Isn’t a Team Sport.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 8 Feb. 2013. Web. 12 Dec. 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/wayne-besen/prayer-isnt-a-team-sport_b_2639145.html.
Dallas, Kelsey. “Taking a knee: Professional football and its mysterious postgame prayer.” Deseret News National 27 Aug. 2014. Deseret Digital Media. Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <http://national.deseretnews.com/article/2221/taking-a-knee-professional-football-and-its-mysterious-postgame-prayer.html>.
Hallowell, Billy. “Outrageous Reason to Suspend a Coach.” The Blaze. 22 Sept. 2014. The Blaze Inc. Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <http:www.theblaze.com/stories/2014/09/22/its-outrageous-football-coach-suspended-for-praying-with-his-team/>.
Holy Bible: New Living Translation. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1996. Print.
Stubbs, Roman. “Faith and Football Collide on Area Public High School Fields (Posted 2013-10-14 22:19:33); Pre- and Post-Game Prayers Are Tradition at Prince George’s Suitland High, but the Practice Is Far from Uniform across Area Public High School Football Fields.” The Washington Post 14 Oct. 2013. Web. 12 Dec. 2014. <http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-35246095.html?>.
Watson, Nick, and Daniel Czech. “The Use of Prayer in Sport: Implications for Sport Psychology Consulting.” Athletic Insight 4.7 (2005). The Use of Prayer in Sport: Implications for Sport Psychology Consulting. Athletic Insight. Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <http://www.athleticinsight.com/Vol7Iss4/PrayerinSports.htm>.
“Why Pray?” Myths & Nonsense. 15 Jan. 2012. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. <http://mythsandnonsense.com/>.