The League

Emil Steiner
Editor and Blogger

Emil Steiner

The author of NFL Crime Watch and Founding Editor of The League.

Separating Church and Stadium

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With so many professional athletes proclaiming their faith, I've often wondered if religion helps make champions. I'm not saying that God gave them the physical strength per se -- athletic ability, whatever its source, is what gets you to the highest level. But in the NFL everybody is the 99th percentile, everybody's got mad skills. What separates the best of the best from the rest is mental -- some ability to focus in the clutch.

What role does faith play in that elevation of game? Could the bundling of existential questions (Why are we here? What happens when we die? etc.) into a neat package of "Lord knows, trust in Him" help when the game is on the line? I've heard atheists say it is fear or ignorance to believe in something without evidence, but if that faith gives you the strength to become the best at what you do (and earn millions in the process) it doesn't sound ignorant to me.

And there is increasing medical evidence that such a correlation exists. A number of neurological studies have found heightened activity during meditation in the areas of the brain that handle focus and strategic thinking. I'm no scientist, but the anecdotal evidence seems overwhelming. How many athletes have described the almost trance-like state of being in the zone? Of the basket becoming as wide as a hula-hoop or everything on the field slowing down a la the Matrix. Senses become heightened, and an arguably supernatural ability takes over.

Clearly the brain is capable of incredible feats, but so too is the mouth. And this is where the debate becomes a little sticky. Just because a player's faith helps him be better doesn't mean the television audience needs to hear about it. Athlete-preachers and celebrities with causes always needle the skeptic in me. It feels like a journalist finishing an article by endorsing some unrelated product. Most fans tune into football for football, and when players turn a press conference into a sermon it can rub them the wrong way. Even if God is what got you there, does He really need to be plugged?

The great thing about football, and indeed sport, is that it can bring people from all different backgrounds together for a few hours. There's plenty of time for debating God after the final whistle.

By Emil Steiner  |  February 4, 2009; 12:14 PM ET  | Category:  Arizona Cardinals , Emil Steiner , NFL , Pittsburgh Steelers Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Strength in Faith | Next: Does it Matter?

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I do find it amusing that whenever a n athlete does well teh statement is always something to the effect like "I just thank Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior for letting me (or us) win tonight." Never do you hear "Well, Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior didn't want me (or us) to win as badly as he did the other guy."

I find it amusing that God/Jesus is only given the credit for the win and never the blame.

Posted by: ahashburn | February 5, 2009 4:10 PM

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