by C. Garrett Keidel
When it comes to the topics of faith and religion, there exists an interesting relationship, one that can be different for each and every single person. The growing trend of secularism in the United States coincides with the ever growing popularity of major league sports. But, this does not mean that there is a negative or inverse relationship between the two.
In the Catholic Church, faith is the basis for absolutely everything in life. Pope Francis commented in 2015 regarding Church and sports. He reminded the Christian world that practice and competition are never valid excuses to miss Mass. He also said though that sports offer, especially children, the ability to learn important lessons like “self-control, sacrifice and loyalty toward others.”
Manhattan College even understands that there are times when students have to choose between religion and sports. When it comes to events like Superbowl Sunday, the Mass schedule is changed to earlier in the day, as a way to allow students to participate in both religious activities and sports gatherings.
“There can be a moment of decision where people decide to practice their faith, engage in Mass services or taking on another activity. So there can be an apparent tension at times, if folks make their own decision as to where they choose to spend their time. I think the blessing can be in finding a way to integrate God into all of our activities, in this case sports…On campus, I think there is the opportunity to integrate, so that they don’t have to be in opposition but finding a place to work together,” said Chaplain of Manhattan College, Father Thomas Franks.
For many athletes, the belief that their talents are God-given runs true. Every time they step on the field, court or course, it is an physical expression of their relationship with God. A relationship that is often recognized in positive moments.
Fr. Thomas Franks, had this to say about religious gestures in sports, “Most often in celebratory moments, there’s a custom of people making a religious gesture. Going back to one of my fundamental principles, if it’s an expression for them of their relationship with God, then that is a powerful moment for that individual and hopefully for the community for that faith that they have.”
Junior Cody Delasho had a similar opinion, “To those who believe in Christ, making the sign of the cross and group prayer help them stay connected to him even in sports. When they are hoping for guidance and something to go right, they look to religion for support.”
It a very well known fact that NFL Football has become a dominant force in weekend activities, most importantly Sundays, the day of the week Christians hold as a day of observance for God. It’s also another well known fact that there is a trend of secularization throughout the country. The question is, how was the NFL able to take advantage of secularization in order to grow even larger?
Professor Nicole Mussender says, “I think the NFL and religion are so closely associated with one another and yet so far apart inso many different aspects. Some may say our relationships with sports and religion are the same. Some worship teams and players, and they worship God and Jesus Christ. Some cheer loudly for their teams, and praise Jesus with the same fervor. They are very alike in that way.”
Religion in the league itself has different roles and relationships depending on the level you’re looking at. The difference comes with the level of the individual teams and the league as a whole. Individual teams have clergy for athletes who believe in a particular faith and wish to practice it, while the actual league itself takes more of a laissez-faire approach.
“The league takes more of a back seat approach…they don’t want to rock the boat,” said Mussender.
The relationship between religion and sports cannot be denied. They are intertwined by the athletes, spectators, and general similarities shared by each other. The ability to balance both is a topic of conversation popular in the world today. Pope Francis in a speech in 2015 brought up the importance in finding a balance between the two saying, “Concordia parvae res crescunt, discordia maximae dilabuntur,” translating to “with harmony, small things grow; with discord, great things decay.”