Football

C.J. Anderson (22) and Lawrence Timmons (94) in the AFC Divisional playoff. Image via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY/REUTERS/RNS

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.”

Gary Ahern 11-16-2015

Image via Benny Sieu / USA TODAY Sports / RNS

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.

Danny Duncan Collum 10-30-2015
David Lee / Shutterstock

David Lee / Shutterstock 

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.

Patrick Ryan 10-16-2015

Image courtesy Alan Markfield/RNS.

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.” 

Julie Wolfe 09-02-2015

Image via  / Shutterstock

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.

REUTERS / Tim Sharp / RNS

Houston Texans running back Arian Foster celebrates after scoring a touchdown. Photo REUTERS / Tim Sharp / RNS

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.

Adam Ericksen 05-08-2015
Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

Tom Brady playing with the New England Patriots against the Dallas Cowboys in 2011. Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

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.

Kevin Ryan 01-26-2015

Football field. Photo via winui / Shutterstock.com

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.

09-22-2014
When Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was suspended for only two games for beating his fiancée (now wife), it became a dramatic public example of the lack of accountability for professional athletes.
the Web Editors 09-19-2014

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.

As military recruiters gain a foothold in Christian schools, grassroots activists are sounding the alarm.

Tom Ehrich 07-08-2014

Brazil fans watch World Cup quarterfinal at the São Paulo Fan Fest - Brazil v Colombia on July 4, 2014. ©Ben Tavener via Flickr.

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.

Adam Ericksen 02-12-2014
Mizzou tweets support for Michael Sam, via Twitter

Mizzou tweets support for Michael Sam, via Twitter

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:

Tom Ehrich 01-21-2014
Referee on the field, Peter Kim / Shutterstock.com

Referee on the field, Peter Kim / Shutterstock.com

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.

Supernatural Super Bowl infographic courtesy of Public Religion Research Institute. Via RNS

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.

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).
Peggy Flanagan 01-04-2014

Just because racism is "tradition" doesn't make it right.

Leroy Barber 11-15-2013
As in football, go for the long ball in life. Bikeriderlondon/Shutterstoc

As in football, go for the long ball in life. Bikeriderlondon/Shutterstock

In football, if the defensive players have no fear of your going long, they stack up against you and the shorter plays become incredibly hard and frustrating. It's as if the defense can predict what you're going to do and outnumber you. 
 
Many people live their lives, and some nonprofits run their organizations, this way —never going for the long ball. 

Julie Polter 10-02-2013

Breaking the Line by Simon & Schuster / Moved by the Spirit by USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture / The Adventists 2 by Journey Films / A Maryknoll Liturgical Year by Judy Coode and Kathy McNeely

Suzanne Ross 06-27-2013
Brazilian riots, photo by Francisco Neto / Flickr.com

Brazilian riots, photo by Francisco Neto / Flickr.com

Brazil and the World Cup are in the news now, but not in the way that pleases the Brazilian government. Crowds are gathering in the streets around football (soccer) stadiums where Confederation Cup games are being played but not to buy tickets or get autographs of their sports idols. They are congregating to protest against the 2014 World Cup coming to Brazil. Brazilians protesting football? Upset about hosting the World Cup? Something has gone seriously wrong. This is like the French boycotting wine or Italians accusing pasta of undermining family values.

Even Americans, confused as we are about why the rest of world insists on calling soccer “football,” know that the outcome of a football match can launch an entire nation into elation or despair. But no matter the sport, fans around the world follow the same emotional pattern: they are up when their team is up and down when they are down. World Cup championships played out on a global stage provide the winning nation with an outsized cathartic event for the pent up frustrations that accumulate with the stress and strains of daily life. And even without streets clogged with protestors, if you are a football fan living in one of Brazil’s major cities, the typical daily grind is almost unbearable. Here’s an account from an Al Jazeera reporter who lives in Brazil:

It is 8am and a bunch of people line up to get on a bus on Faria Lima Avenue in Sao Paulo. This may be their third transfer in the daily ordeal of travelling to work from the outskirts of Sao Paulo. When the bus slows down, people start to nudge right or left, hoping not to be left behind. Once they get on, it is so full that finding a little space to stand is only for the truly crafty. 

After a one-hour journey through the infamous Sao Paulo traffic and pothole-ridden roads, crammed in with 100-plus people, it feels more like a ride on a rodeo horse than a means of transportation — all at a cost of 3.20 Brazilian Reals ($1.50) and your dignity. 

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