The League

Kathy Orton
Staff Writer

Kathy Orton

Washington Post Staff Writer of Praying Fields

Faithful How, Pray Tell


As someone who writes regularly about how sports and religion intersect over on "On Faith," you probably think I am thrilled by all the God talk at the Super Bowl.

Think again.

After listening to player after player spout religious bromides, I was ready to scream: "Enough already!" Don't get me wrong. I believe faith plays an important role in some athletes' lives, and I am more than willing to listen to them explain how their beliefs helped them achieve success.

What I object to is evangelical athletes using their platform to "sell" Christianity. When Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner talks about his faith, he is trying to recruit people to Christianity. What's wrong with that, you ask? Well, suppose he wasn't promoting his faith but a brand of shoes. Would the sportswriters who give him a pass to say, "I'm trying to represent Jesus" do the same if he said, "I'm trying to represent Reebok."? Would they write glowing columns about how Warner's shoes made him the player he is today? As sportswriters, it's not their job to promote anything.

I sometimes wonder how often Warner mentioned Jesus when he was bagging groceries. Maybe he did it all the time -- "You're welcome, ma'am, but really Jesus deserves all the credit." -- but I doubt it.

Please understand that I am not mocking Warner or his faith, which I believe to be genuine. My problem is with the sportswriters and other members of the media who allow Warner and other players to go on and on about their faith without challenging them on it. For some reason, the media tends to be skittish about religion. They either ignore it or gloss over it.

That's too bad. I find you can really learn a lot about an athlete when asking them to explain their religious beliefs. Surprisingly, most of them don't mind having their faith challenged, either. They are thrilled to have the opportunity to talk about what is so important to them.

After World War II, it became common for athletes to profess their faith publicly. Soon organizations such as Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Athletes in Action and Promise Keepers sprung up to encourage athletes to promote Christianity. While some may see this as a positive sign, I find it troublesome. Why is it we only hear about Christian faith? What about the Jews and the Muslims? And how about the atheists and agnostics? I've interviewed both Jewish and Muslim football players and they've told me how isolating it can be in a locker room filled with Christians.

I believe faith is personal, not public. Warner's religious views are a major part of who he is and shouldn't be ignored. But he shouldn't be allowed him to sell his Christianity to the millions of people watching.

By Kathy Orton  |  February 5, 2009; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Arizona Cardinals , NFL , Pittsburgh Steelers Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Re "Why is it we only hear about Christian faith?"

Why is it we hear about only one version of the Christian faith?

Posted by: robert1231 | February 5, 2009 8:17 AM

As a Jew, I never felt comfortable when the coach said lets take a knee and pray before the game. It is against my religion to kneel in that way and the coaches decision to make that part of the team's pregame ritual just distanced me from my teammates.

Posted by: jwaldauer | February 5, 2009 9:12 AM

I echo Robert1231's comments. As a young atheist, I never felt comfortable "praying" before school football games. I took a knee, but didn't close my eyes and bow my head in prayer. Truly uncomfortable.

Through their actions on Sunday, the Steelers and Cardinals players obviously thought God was on their side. I guess God thought the Steelers were the better team . . .

Posted by: caseylalonde | February 5, 2009 9:51 AM

Of course it's ridiculous. But if Christians are so stupid they want to characterize their God as a sports-freak, fine. Perhaps that will keep God out of more important matters, like war and politics. Personally, I make sure that I point to heaven with each tennis point I win, or each time my boss smiles approvingly at my work, because you know, all my many many skills and virtues, well, they're really not mine. I just happen to be divinely inspired at work and blessed in my 3.0 tennis game.

Posted by: dane1 | February 5, 2009 10:56 AM

I praise God every time the fax machine doesn't jam and the toilet doesn't clog or when the Chinese food guy doesn't forget the plum sauce. Jesus' strength delivered it to me along with a fortune cookie. For that I am thankful.

Posted by: LegallyMurphy | February 5, 2009 11:21 AM

As a former Catholic who once almost came to hate religion (!), I think atheletes' common dedication to spirituality is a fascinating study. After years of questioning why anyone on this earth buys into a belief in God, I have concluded those who perform at a high-level in any aspect of life - sports, business, government, health care, parenting - feel that they are tapping into higher power. If you look at the lives those who have accomplished the extraordinary, spirituality is a common thread. Players' brand of spirituality is overwhelmingly Christian, yes. Some players' faiths may be more dogmatic than genuine, yes. But maybe we should question the logic of criticizing their spirituality from our couches or in cube-ville while they perform in front of millions and for millions of $$$.

Posted by: MML2 | February 5, 2009 3:16 PM

I've seen Warner give lots of press interviews after games. I've never heard him mention Jesus even one time after a loss, only after a win. Why couldn't he say something like, "the Lord was behind the Steelers today."I can't think of even one athlete who is more annoying.

Posted by: jack_mo_99 | February 5, 2009 3:19 PM

King James Bible:

But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

Matthew 6:6

Keep your religious views to yourselves, please!

Posted by: CarolAnne1 | February 5, 2009 4:21 PM

"Why is it we only hear about Christian faith? What about the Jews and the Muslims? And how about the atheists and agnostics?"

I don't believe anyone is stopping them from sharing their faith or beliefs. The truth is they're probably not as comfortable and so those who enjoy sharing how their faith empowers them should stop...?! I think not...

Posted by: CheleFernandez | February 5, 2009 4:26 PM

Kathy Orton and the others who are against thinking God need to come to a realization...Christianity is the religion of America. You all say that God should not be thanked but you do not offer any alternative of who should be thanked. You do not offer any explanation of who is responsible for everything that happens on earth. As far as the person above who likes to quote only scripture that is convenient to them, (praying in the closet) you miss the meaning. If you read the passages around it you will discover that it means that you do not HAVE to publicly show that you are praying for God to hear you but publicly showing your faith is not discouraged. The fact is that the only reason you, I, or anybody has the ability to be here, type this, read this, wake up in the morning, live our lives, etc.. is because God allows it. In an instant he can take all that he has given you so I think everybody should take every public opportunity to thank God for being with us. Yes, even you athiest, he is with you, he is just patiently waiting for you to realize the error of your ways.

Posted by: SamsonCat | February 7, 2009 1:45 AM

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