NFL

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.

Image via RNS/REUTERS/Tim Sharp

Earlier this month, NFL star Arian Foster, a running back for the Houston Texans, sent ripples through the world of professional football when he came out as a nonbeliever in the pages of ESPN Magazine.

Though he is not exactly an atheist — Foster told reporter Tim Keown he shuns that label and believes in "nothing" — Foster offered a counternarrative to the overwhelmingly Christian world of professional football and the college football system that feeds it.

"Everybody always says the same thing: You have to have faith," Foster, who is 28, says in the magazine.

While there are certainly other football players with nontraditional religious beliefs, Foster is the only active professional football player who has been open about his nonbelief. 

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.

the Web Editors 04-09-2015

1. ‘A Rape on Campus:’ What Went Wrong?

Columbia University’s Journalism school released its report detailing the journalistic failures of Rolling Stone’s viral story ‘A Rape on Campus,’ which initiated, and later may have stifled, an honest conversation about the prevalence rape on college campuses. Read the full report. “[Writer Sabrina Rubin] Erdely and her editors had hoped their investigation would sound an alarm about campus sexual assault and would challenge Virginia and other universities to do better. Instead, the magazine's failure may have spread the idea that many women invent rape allegations.”

2. The Courage of Bystanders Who Press ‘Record’

“Despite the fact that the world can now see Eric Garner being killed by an illegal chokehold — despite the fact that New York City Police Department banned chokeholds years ago — film of the incident did not result in the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, being charged. But thanks to the efforts of Ramsey Orta, who filmed Garner’s death, we know.”

3. Hope but Verify: The Iran Nuclear Framework

“House Speaker John Boehner recently said this about the broader instability in the Middle East: 'The world is starving for American leadership. But America has an anti-war president.' In the context of our faith — or even in the context of conservative ideals — is leadership that prevents war something to be maligned?”

4. How the Presidential Candidates Found Their Faith

“This season’s crop of presidential candidates reflects this country’s many contradictions in faith.” Newsweek explores the faith backgrounds of the apparent 2016 field so far.

Catherine Woodiwiss 10-06-2014

Even after the Ray Rice video, churches are in denial about sexual violence. 

Adam Ericksen 10-03-2014
U.S. Capitol Building, Orhan Cam / Shutterstock.com

U.S. Capitol Building, Orhan Cam / Shutterstock.com

The NFL has come under severe scrutiny for its handling of domestic violence during the last few months. Rodger Goodell has admitted to fumbling the Ray Rice case, has admitted that the NFL has a problem with abusing women, and he has committed himself to finding a solution.

There are many reasons to be cynical about Goodell. Maybe the only reason he’s attempting to implement changes is because of public pressure, the loss of public sponsorship, and the fact that his job is on the line. But at least Goodell cares enough about something that he will implement changes to in the NFL that will hopefully lead toward better treatment of women.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case with the U.S. Senate.

The Senate Republicans recently rejected a bill proposed by Senate Democrats aiming to reconcile the pay disparity between men and women. Census data shows that in the United States “women who are employed full time, year round in the United States are paid, on average, 78 cents for every dollar paid to men.” That pay disparity is affecting 15.2 million households that are headed by women and it’s affecting nearly every household supported by a working woman.

The bill is called “The Paycheck Fairness Act.” My Facebook feed was inundated with images and commentary lambasting Senate Republicans for rejecting the bill.

Really?!? I thought. Surely, there must be a good reason for Senate Republicans to reject this bill. After all, realizing that women get paid 78 cents per every dollar a man makes and doing nothing about it would be economic violence against women. They must have a good reason!

L.Y. Marlow 10-01-2014
Praying woman, EML / Shutterstock.com

Praying woman, EML / Shutterstock.com

Our shoulders touched slightly like links in a chain, kneeling around a small twin bed, our heads bowed, eyes closed: “ Our Father who art in heaven,” we mimicked, as mama kneeling at the foot of the bed, led us in prayer.

I was four, the second to the youngest child, and the other three were stair steps ahead of me. Hanging on to mama’s every word, we acted as though we didn’t take notice of the sorrow in her voice, the cries that lingered outside her bedroom door just hours ago.

Soon, she would lay in a Philadelphia hospital bed with stitches from the top of her chest down to her navel, and be told to kiss her five babies goodbye because my father had beaten her so badly that he burst both her lungs.

Decades later, I would sit across from her taking notes for Color Me Butterfly, as she told me the story:

I lay there listening to that doctor tell me that I wouldn’t make it through the night, she mused, her face drawn into the memory. I prayed, listened as God spoke to me, told me that I couldn’t let nary a soul touch me—not the doctor, the nurse, not even my own mother and chi’ren. He was gonna see to it that I walked out of that hospital, but I had to trust Him.

Now, as I think back on that day my mother stared into the abyss, as though she could still see the stitches that cinched her chest, I thank God that she was a praying woman.

Jim Wallis 09-17-2014
NFL logo, Matt McGee, Flickr.com

NFL logo, Matt McGee, Flickr.com

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. Only when a video came out showing Rice punching his fiancée so hard it knocked her unconscious, and then dragging her limp body from the casino elevator, did the NFL take further action. As new incidents of domestic violence and child abuse come out, many are calling for Commissioner Roger Goodell to resign or lose his job.

But this epidemic is about so much more than Goodell, whose lack of leadership is typical in professional sports. It’s about more than one team, one league, or sports in general.

Kaeley McEvoy 09-16-2014
Miss America 2015 Kira Kazantsev and Miss America 2014 Nina Davuluri, via Disney

Miss America 2015 Kira Kazantsev and Miss America 2014 Nina Davuluri, via Disney, ABC Television Group.

Sunday night, 23-year old Kira Kazantsev proved two things when she was crowned Miss America for 2015. First, she can make a nationally television audience “happy” by using only a red plastic cup. Second, domestic violence knows no bounds.

That’s right. This year’s Miss America is one of the every four women who has experienced domestic abuse in her lifetime. During college, Kazanstev was in an abusive relationship that left her “isolated” and “hopeless,” she recently told NPR. In the same interview, Kazanstev says she wasn’t aware of the resources available for victims of domestic violence: "I very well may have Googled it," she says. "But that's not the mindset that you're in when you're in that situation. You just feel alone. You feel helpless. You don't feel like anyone could possibly understand."

the Web Editors 07-11-2014

1. Afghan Taliban Bans Polio Vaccination Teams
"Afghanistan is one of just three countries, along with Pakistan and Nigeria, where polio is still endemic. There has been a rise in cases this year, with seven reported so far compared with just three for the same period of 2013, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative."

2. Communion in a Strip Club
"I found myself in a strip club years ago. I carried a meal, and that was about all I carried. And a dancer asked me if I thought Jesus was insecure.  I quickly told her no. I told her that Jesus was entirely secure, hoping she wouldn’t try to take my Jesus away."

3. This Is What Happened When I Drove My Mercedes to Pick Up Food Stamps
The birth of twins and a job loss — stories like these illustrate how close so many people are to poverty: " … the judgment of the disadvantaged comes not just from conservative politicians and Internet trolls. It came from me, even as I was living it."

4. Dismantling the White Male Industrial Complex
Christena Cleveland argues against the logic of the white man as the secret weapon in the fight against injustice. "… rather than contributing to the white male industrial complex and focusing most/all of our justice efforts on convincing and engaging white men, I propose a different strategy …"

5. The Failure of Christian Witness in a World of Violence
"Are we contributing to the epidemic of mockery and the glorification of violence in our world with what we share from our air-conditioned living rooms? If so, then the fact that we are privileged enough to have clean hands doesn’t make us any less guilty of the violence in our world than the suicide bombers and the drones."

6. 'Life Ended There:' Rare Interviews With the Children of America's Border Disaster
POLITICO Magazine puts faces and stories to the border crisis in this must-read.

7. How Hot Is It? Hot Enough to Ruin the Economy
“The increased number of excessively hot days guaranteed to come with the changing climate has the potential to dramatically denigrate worker productivity, according to recent study. … Productivity figures to be the biggest economic hit, though energy costs will certainly give it a run for its, uh, money.”

8. Cory Booker, Rand Paul Shine Light on Shadow Side of U.S. Justice System
A new proposal pairs an unlikely duo to confront the injustice of mass incarceration. Read what brought the two together to find common ground.

9. How It Feels to Love and Hate a Sex Offender
"Most people do not understand how sex offenders function and therefore do not realize the depth of their damage. … In the healing process, I've learned that the families of sex offenders, the secondary victims, just like primary victims, must learn to do basic things even when all our beliefs and emotions scream it is not safe."

10. This Land Is Their Land :The Braves, Chiefs, and Washington NFL Team All Play on Land Seized from American Indians
“It is easy to assert that the name of your favorite team expresses solidarity with the survivors of the long, sordid history of Indian dispossession. But what if sports lore included the specifics of how the U.S. acquired the land below your team’s home field?”

Jim Wallis 05-08-2014

Image by Ben Sutter / Sojourners. Logo used under critical commentary fair use protection.

“Redskins.” The name of Washington, D.C.’s football team is a racial slur, a racist epithet. The U.S. trademark office agrees; so does the dictionary. But more importantly, Native American people feel it. How important is that to the rest of us? That is the moral question for all of us: are we going to show respect for our nation’s original citizens? 

In an insightful column for the Chicago Tribune, Clarence Page compared NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s decision to ban Clippers owner Donald Sterling “for life” for his private racist comments, with the decision yet to be made by the NFL and Washington’s owner to change a name deeply perceived as a public racist comment. “That’s the question at the heart in the name dispute. Who gets respect,” says Page.

Think about the name. Say it in your head or out loud in a private space. What comes to mind? Try to imagine why Native Americans feel the way they do. 

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:

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).
Erik Brady 10-25-2013

Washington Redskins fans at training camp on August 13, 2012. Photo via RNS/courtesy Keith Allison via Flickr

The Oneida Indian Nation’s campaign against the Washington pro football club’s team name picked up new supporters this week when more than two dozen clergy in the Washington region committed to taking the fight to their pulpits.

“Black clergy have been the conscience of America,” Oneida Nation representative Ray Halbritter said to a gathering of roughly 40 people on folding chairs in the basement of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ. “This is not a fight we could do by ourselves, or should do by ourselves.”

The Rev. Graylan Hagler, senior minister at Plymouth, asked for a show of hands Wednesday to indicate which clergy members in attendance would be willing to preach against what he termed the “R word.” More than a dozen raised their hands. Hagler said that a different dozen committed to the cause at a clergy breakfast meeting Wednesday and that, all told, he has commitments from roughly 100 clergy members to talk to their congregations in coming weeks.

James Colten 09-05-2012
Washington's new quarterback: Robert Griffin III

DC's new QB: Robert Griffin III. Image via Wikimedia Commons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Robert_Griffin_III.jpg

You know it is football season when the office starts grumbling about the offensive name of the local football team, or when co-workers start asking, "What ever happened to Tim Tebow?" Still others, "What is fantasy football?"

Politics aside, I went ahead and compiled a little fantasy team for Sojourners, featuring both prominent and less-prominent Christians thriving in the NFL. So if you own a fantasy football team, or are starting one for the first time, here are some picks to help inject some strong faith in your team. (I don’t get paid to do football analysis so take this for what it’s worth).

Kevin Manahan 03-26-2012
Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Quarterback Tim Tebow addresses the media as he is introduced as a New York Jet March 26. Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

NEWARK, N.J. —Tim Tebow is Howdy Doody in a helmet. No, he is Opie Taylor running for touchdowns — while reciting Bible verses, stopping to find a lost dog, visiting sick children in a hospital and helping a little old lady across the street, all before he reaches the end zone.

Now that Tebow has been traded to the Jets, New Jersey is about to experience a dose of wholesomeness it hasn't seen since milk trucks stopped delivering to your door.

Tebow is the God-fearing, All-American evangelical hero — born to missionaries and delivered during a miraculous birth — who pledged his life to Jesus at 6 years old.

His priorities? "Faith, family, football." He has overcome obstacle after obstacle to become the most popular athlete in the nation's most popular sport, all while waging a personal battle against sin, temptation and the American way.

Joshua Witchger 12-12-2011

When asked why he’s so vocal about his beliefs, Tebow says, "If you're married, and you have a wife, and you really love your wife, is it good enough to only tell your wife that you love her on the day you get married? Or should you tell her every single day when you wake up and have the opportunity? That's how I feel about my relationship with Jesus Christ."

Wow, I can see why God would like him. And why fans of Cinderella stories would too. This season, as the Bronco's starting quarterback, Tebow has led his team to several dramatic victories, battling back from trailing scores in the last quarter. He’s a gifted athlete, and one who seems to be genuinely humble about it.

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