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Gideon Jacobs | The Pooch Punter

#34...From the University of Nazareth...JC

Published: Friday, February 6, 2009

Updated: Friday, February 6, 2009 02:02

"There's one reason that I'm standing up here on this stage today, and that's because of my Lord up above. I gotta say thanks to Jesus. [The crowd at University of Phoenix Stadium goes wild.] He knew I was going to do it," Kurt Warner said after winning the NFC championship.

The idea of God determining the outcome of a sporting event has always been laughable to me. I realize it's likely that my lack of belief in any sort of "higher power" is the problem. But even if I did believe in the man up there, I could never think He would concern himself with me picking up a first down. I could never believe that I won because I asked God for victory, all the while knowing that every guy on the other team and probably the fans at home did as well.

I've never understood religion's role in sports, and yet, it's shoved into my face by professional athletes every day. There are pregame and postgame prayers, players constantly crossing themselves in the end zone, pointing to the sky after a home run and even, in Warner's case, evangelizing at press conferences. The language used in locker rooms these days is the kind of stuff usually reserved for the "700 Club." But, strangely enough, this language comes into our living rooms every day from a source that has no business preaching. I watch sports for the magic of competition and athletic achievement. So why is it that I can't turn on a football game without someone trying to seduce me with tales of God's magic and his son of virgin birth?

This summer, Josh Hamilton put on a show unlike any baseball fans had ever seen at the home run derby at Yankee Stadium. But before the derby started, Hamilton told reporters that while he was recovering from serious drug and alcohol abuse, he had a dream that he was at Yankee Stadium, at this very home run derby. In the dream he won and was able to spread the word of Jesus Christ to the world. Well, that night he went on to hit 28 home runs in the first round, prompting Rick Reilly to proclaim, "It's a bad night to be an atheist." When Hamilton was getting off the field, the ESPN reporter asked him how it felt to be out there. He simply replied, "I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

Hamilton and Warner are just a couple of the thousands of athletes who use their success and fame as a tool in their efforts to spread an undeniably fundamentalist form of Christianity throughout the country (even they would admit that they don't just express their faith but actively recruit). These role models of America repeatedly use the field as a pulpit, telling the rest of the kids and me at home that their athletic success can be attributed to their Christian faith.

Can you imagine how powerful that message is to the aspiring athlete (aka every kid in America)? Mere children are willing to sacrifice their bodies, time and energy for a chance to be an elite athlete. It's the reason we see nine-year-olds playing tennis 30 hours a week and high school football players using steroids. Now, these desperate and often uneducated kids hear this religious message from the guy they've been sacrificing their blood, sweat and tears to become. It's not a fair fight. It's borderline unethical.

Obviously, I believe these players can and should say whatever they want. Obviously, most of the players using their fame for evangelistic purposes are some of the sports world's kindest (yet not necessarily tolerant) athletes. But in a country as religiously diverse and supposedly secular as ours, there is a time and place for religion. And these conversations of belief should exist between families and clergy members who know a whole lot more about faith than these athletes do.

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