DR. BENNET OMALU is well-acquainted with gruesome deaths. “Some people wake up in the morning, put on their suits, go to offices, and to do things associated with life, with living. But me,” Omalu says from behind the office desk in his Sacramento-area home, “I dress up, I go to work to do things associated with the greatest weaknesses of [humanity].”
A forensic pathologist and neuropathologist who earned degrees in his native Nigeria and in various schools across the U.S., Omalu was most recently in the news for performing an independent autopsy on Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man killed in his own backyard. Omalu’s work confirmed that Clark was shot in the back six times by Sacramento police.
Omalu is best known, however, for the startling discovery he made after performing an autopsy on former NFL player Mike Webster. As chronicled in the 2015 film Concussion, with Will Smith starring as Omalu, the then-medical examiner in Pittsburgh found Webster had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated blows to the head—the kind of blows to the head you ought to expect when playing tackle football.
But despite his daily proximity to death, Omalu, a committed Catholic, has nothing but gratitude. “I am blessed because I encounter death every day ... I came to the world naked, cold, and lonely, and I will leave the world alone, cold, and lonely,” he explains. “When you realize that, you begin to think of powers, realities, dimensions that are beyond you.”
Omalu is precise and careful with his words. When he says, “I let the Spirit of God percolate into my being,” I half expect to hear his celestial brew bubble. “Everything I do, I do through the eyes of faith.”
Omalu doesn’t seem to be exaggerating; his Christian beliefs and morals permeate his outlook on everything. Early in our conversation, he asks if I’m a Christian writer, and I try to say I’m more like a Christian who writes, but Omalu isn’t one to thread the needle between competing postmodern definitions of Christian vocation. The Bible on his desk is as important to him as any medical textbook—and based on its proximity to his laptop, he might use the Bible more often.
And it’s with this same precision that Omalu offers an uncompromising assessment of the sport running U.S. recreational life each Saturday and Sunday (plus Monday nights on ESPN, Fridays if you’re in high school, and it’s even trying to make Thursdays a thing) for about six months out of the year.
Trump’s mythical narrative is a lie because he’s wrong about the motivations of the NFL players who kneel during the national anthem. They don’t kneel because they hate the flag. They aren’t monsters threatening the United States. They kneel because they love the flag and the ideals for which it stands.
Let the oppressed go free, share your bread with the hungry, bring the homeless poor into your house, cover the naked, and don’t hide from your own kin.
That’s something to print on cups for next year’s Super Bowl. That’s the way God calls us to live. That’s what Jesus meant when he called us to be salt and light.
For all the headlines about football violence, concussions, and player injuries, watching football is not a “guilty pleasure” for many Americans. It’s just a pleasure, a new survey finds. The Public Religion Research Institute/Religion News Service survey, released Jan. 28, also found overwhelming support for “allowing football coaches at public high schools to lead their players in specifically Christian prayer during games.”
Teams around the NFL paid tribute to those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks in France last week with a moment of silence before Sunday’s games.
At Lambeau Field, before the Green Bay Packers lost to the Detroit Lions 18-16, a fan shouted out a slur against Muslims during the moment of silence.
That did not sit well with Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who called out the fan in his postgame comments.
BASEBALL USED to be our national pastime. But now professional football is America’s game. And why not? It’s a violent, capital-intensive spectacle carried on with reckless disregard for human health and safety. Kind of like our foreign policy, or our criminal justice system.
Last fall, 45 of the 50 most-watched TV shows were National Football League games. It is the most profitable of the major sports. The average NFL franchise brings in $286 million per year, compared to $237 million for Major League Baseball—despite baseball’s 162-game regular season vs. football’s 16.
This year the TV audiences for football are expected to grow, and NFL total revenue is expected to top $12 billion. Nothing seems to put a dent in the U.S. enthusiasm for the game. Some coaches have offered cash rewards for the injury of opposing players. Multiple players face charges for violent crimes. The Patriots cheat in the playoffs. And the game just gets more popular.
Maybe that will change this Christmas when the movie Concussion, featuring Will Smith and Alec Baldwin, is scheduled to be released by Sony Pictures. Concussion tells the story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the Pittsburgh forensic pathologist who discovered the decisive link between repeated minor head trauma—such as from huge men crashing into each other dozens of times a day—and the bewildering array of mental illnesses that afflicts many NFL retirees.
Never underestimate the power of pigskin and prayer.
When the government mandated that Woodlawn High School desegregate in 1973, riots and cross burnings ignited Birmingham, Ala. But after a chaplain visited the high-school football team, future Miami Dolphins running back Tony Nathan and more than 40 of his black and white teammates chose to dedicate their lives to God: praying together at practice, meeting for Bible study after school, and ultimately helping to unite the town.
As Birmingham natives, faith-based filmmakers Jon and Andrew Erwin were inspired to bring the true story to the screen in Woodlawn (in theaters Oct. 16), starring Jon Voight, Sean Astin, and Caleb Castille.
"It was an anomaly event where an entire football team at once made a decision to love God and to love each other, in a school and a city that didn’t know what that meant,” says Jon Erwin.
“Faith was an absolutely essential part of this story. It wasn’t politicians that led the Civil Rights Movement, it was pastors.”
A Georgia school district is investigating after video of a mass baptism was posted on YouTube.
The video, posted by First Baptist Villa Rica, was shot on school grounds just before football practice.
“We had the privilege of baptizing a bunch of football players and a coach on the field of Villa Rica High School! We did this right before practice! Take a look and see how God is STILL in our schools!” the caption with the video reads.
Professional football isn’t known for being a place that encourages deep intellectual reflection. With its history of silence on head injuries, locker-room harassment, and macho culture, the NFL would be the last place you would expect to find a philosopher and a poet — and an atheist to boot.
But all of those things come together in Houston Texans running back Arian Foster, who is the subject of a feature in ESPN The Magazine’s Aug. 18 College Football Preview Issue, published late last week. He revealed that he didn’t believe in God. That’s unusual in a league where players regularly point to the sky (never mind the questionable theology behind the assumption that heaven is somewhere up in the sky) and meet for regular Bible studies.
This isn’t just about Tom Brady. As much as I may hate the guy, he and I have some things in common. Rhoden is pointing to a crisis that all humans face. No matter how successful we appear, we all face the same existential lack of being. I can have all the success and money in the world, but I will still feel an emptiness in my soul.
Why do we experience this lack of being? Because we are constantly comparing ourselves with others. This comparison leads us to believe that we aren’t enough, that we lack something within ourselves, and so we try to obtain something that will fill the void within our soul.
In a few days, Americans will gather across the country to watch the Super Bowl.
But what many of them don’t know is what happens outside of the stadium—a seedy underworld that profits off the sale of American children.
Every year, approximately 100,000 children are forced into prostitution in the United States—and many are illegally “bused in” to locations hosting major sporting events like the Super Bowl. Once the game is over, victims are relocated to the next profitable event.
The trafficking of our kids is not a game.
I can tell you firsthand that homeless children—desperate for food, shelter, and comfort—are the biggest victims of this horrific industry. At Covenant House, we’ve seen too many of these innocent children come through our doors.
I can also tell you that no homeless kid sells his or her body by choice. In a survey we conducted with Fordham University, almost 25 percent of homeless kids were either victims of trafficking or felt they needed to trade sex in order to survive.
ALL of them greatly regretted having to trade their bodies—a trauma that can haunt them for the rest of their lives.
We are doing everything we can to help these victims, as well as ensure that homeless kids who are at risk of becoming victims never fall prey to this vile industry.
1. In Record Turnout, Demographics Shape Scotland's Emphatic No Vote
National Geographic has a recap (and stunning photos) of yesterday's vote: "Tomorrow a new campaign—for reconciliation—will begin. The referendum opened up deep, sometimes venomous, class and regional divisions."
2. WATCH: It’s On Us
Today, the White House announced its nationwide public service campaign to prevent and respond to sexual assault on campuses. Watch and share.
3. Together We Make Football
“Football encourages some deep tremor of romance about what it means to be a man. ...Save for the military — with which it has a symbiotic relationship — the NFL is the biggest and strongest exponent of American masculinity. And integral to that notion of American masculinity is violence.”
4. Confessions of a Military Skeptic
"Do we believe that everything will be fine after we kill the last Islamic State militant?" Thomas Reese, on being neither military hawk nor pacifist in regards to ISIS, for National Catholic Reporter.
After the final whistle ended a hard-fought World Cup match, Brazilian star David Luiz consoled Colombian star James Rodriguez.
They exchanged jerseys to show their mutual respect, and Luiz held Rodriguez close as the losing player wept in frustration.
This poignant moment was much more inspiring than a string of fouls, some intentional, that sent Brazil’s Neymar to the hospital and left players on both sides shouting in agony.
During play, soccer seems eerily like the world outside: opposing forces collide, do anything to gain advantage, bamboozle the game’s referees, shout in mock pain and real pain, challenge joints and muscles beyond their capacity, give everything for their nation’s cause — all while spectators whoop and holler in the safety of the stands.
There’s something about Michael Sam that we are missing and I hope the church will see it.
Michael Sam is the college football star who “came out” in an interview with ESPN and the New York Times . He graduated in December and will be drafted in the upcoming NFL draft. Sam was the Southeastern Conference’s co-defensive player of the year and a first-team all-American. He came out to his teammates before the season started and at the end of the year they voted him their most valuable player.
But it’s not his superior football skills that the church should pay attention to. It’s his spirit and his sense of identity.
Throughout his interview on ESPN with Chris Connely, Sam smiles, clearly comfortable in his own skin. A few highlights of the conversation that are worth pointing out:
First, without referees (judges, umpires, arbiters, monitors), much of life would be a chaotic ordeal dominated by cheats, bullies, and dirty players. That’s why dictators refuse to allow election monitors, corrupt politicians defame the media who report their corruption, and bankers lobby incessantly against regulators.
Second, even with referees, action moves too fast for certainty. In baseball, even the most skilled umpires miss calls at first and enforce idiosyncratic strike zones.
Third, even-handed justice requires trust in the referee and a belief that missed calls tend to even out over time. If the referee is a cheat — as happens frequently when regulators get paid off by the regulated — trust in the game vanishes, and no one feels safe.
Most Americans don’t think God or the devil will be picking the NFL playoff winners this weekend or any other sports champions.
But some will pray nonetheless, and a few will “religiously” perform little game-day rituals just in case.
A survey by Public Religion Research Institute, released Thursday, probes the crossover between team spirit and spirituality.
Most Americans (60 percent) call themselves fans of a particular team. Among this group, several will do a little dance or say a little prayer to help the team along:
- 21 percent (including one in four football fans) will wear special clothes or do special rituals. Donning a team jersey leads the way (66 percent). But some admit they get a little funky with their underwear. One fan wears dirty undershorts on top of his jeans. (No word if these are boxers or briefs.)
- 25 percent (including 31 percent of football fans) have sometimes felt their team has been cursed. (No word on how many are Red Sox fans.)
- 26 percent (including one in three football fans) say they pray to God to help their team. White evangelicals are most likely to lean on the Lord on this: 38 percent will pray, more than any other religious group.
- Football fans are also more likely than other fans to admit praying for their team (33 percent to 21 percent), performing pre-game or game-time rituals (25 percent to 18 percent), or to believe that their team has been cursed (31 percent to 18 percent).