Sunday, February 7th marked an historic day in the history of humanity, a day of religious proportions. After a 27 year run, Super Bowl XLIV between The New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts, finally, displaced the final episode of M*A*S*H as the most watched television event ever. This means that, for the first in history, 106.5 million people were all staring at the same thing. Now, regardless of what everyone was staring at, the sheer fact that 213 million eyes were all peering at the same flickering pixels for over four hours, surely, cannot be taken lightly.
In an article published this week in USA Today, Tom Krattenmaker explores the directed effort by religious groups to infiltrate the wide world of sports, in order to exert their influence:
Players point skyward to the Almighty after reaching the end zone or home plate, star athletes voice thanks and praise to their savior after a big win, and sports heroes use their media spotlight to promote the Christian message . . . These are the outward signs of a faith surge that has made big-time sports one of the most outwardly religious sectors of American culture.
Far less visible, but worth knowing about, are the infrastructure and strategy of the sports-world evangelicalism that powers these pious displays. Athletes’ expressions of Christian faith reflect decades of hard work by evangelical ministries to convert players and “coach” them to use their stature to promote a particular version of conservative Christianity.
Christian chaplains are embedded with all the teams in professional baseball, basketball and football—and many college teams as well—to provide religious counseling, Bible studies and chapel services. Given the misbehavior and self-seeking that plague sports, who could doubt the benefit of bringing moral guidance and a broader perspective to locker rooms and clubhouses?
But Jesus’ representatives in sports aren’t just practicing faith. They are also leveraging sports’ popularity to promote a message and doctrine that are out of sync with the diverse communities that support franchises, and with the unifying civic role that we expect of our teams.
Krattenmaker’s analysis poses the question of whether or not it is fair that a particular form of religious belief should be allowed to co-opt an event or practice that in fact belongs to a plurality of “diverse communities.” However, this seems to miss the more radical point that professional sports themselves are akin to a kind of universalized religion, and this is evidenced by the amount social, political, spiritual, financial, and emotive energy we invest in them through their ongoing popularity.
Read Krattenmaker’s “And I’d like to thank God Almighty” in full.