Relationship of sports and religion

Sports and Religion in America - Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion

relationship of sports and religion

Religion has had both a positive and negative relationship with sport. On one hand, both religion and sport have been built upon a positive. Among the recent surge of books specifically dedicated to the relationship between sport and religion, Sport and Christianity: Historical and. Over the years, the Rev. Joanne Sanders, associate dean for religious life, has been an athlete, a collegiate tennis coach and an Episcopal.

So Catholics, Jews, African Americans, and women would use sports to muscle into the mainstream, to translate their bodily movements in civil religious terms. The place where civil religion and sports meet, though, would be marked by conflict and competition, as these new voices challenged the status quo and struggled to stretch the values of America beyond their existing limits. Civil Religion at Play In the early 20th century, philosopher Morris Cohen wrote extensively about the meaning and purpose of American democracy.

Are Sports A Religion?

For the people of his world—like, William James, for example—baseball was a silly diversion and a childish obsession. At games against rivals, Cohen observed fans on both sides investing their entire being into the game; yet, when it ended, the crowds left without harboring any ill-will for their opponents. Yet, he also described the widespread attachment to the game in terms of democracy and national unity.

This sight of singing crowds helped to manufacture a sense of unity in a land of growing diversity. Jefferies, meanwhile, had retired in with an aura of manly mystique that had made him a living legend. On the eve of the fight, the Daily Picayune in New Orleans printed a cartoon of a fit, slim, and athletic Uncle Sam sparring in a boxing ring, with an eagle overseeing his training Figure 3.

While the buildup to the fight was intense, the actual match was profoundly anticlimactic.

relationship of sports and religion

Johnson dominated Jeffries, who fell unceremoniously after fifteen rounds. In reaction, the Daily Picayune featured another image of Uncle Sam, his humble visage bruised, bandaged, and beaten.

On the other hand, admirers of Johnson viewed his presence in the ring quite differently. For someone like Booker T. The boxer was, for Washington, a model for what blacks could achieve through hard work. InLouis faced off against the German pugilist Max Schmeling. Louis was the rising star, while the German was near the end of his career. Still, Schmeling devised a fight plan that resulted in a twelve-round victory.

Preparations for a rematch started shortly after, and two years later, the pair met again in New York City. Louis won with a convincing first round knockout, earning the adulation of Americans who saw this as a proxy victory over Nazi Germany.

Recruiting posters of the champion featured Private Joe Louis in an Army uniform, quoted as saying: Muhammad Ali first gained prominence after achieving victory at the ultimate global example of sports, religion, and nationalism—the Olympics. Clay was neither ignorant to the Cold War underpinnings of the fight, nor to the racial prejudices that existed in his homeland. Shortly after, he announced that he had joined the Nation of Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali.

In the following year as he geared up for a fight against Floyd Patterson, Ali also experienced a public image transformation from Olympic hero to boxing villain. He then proceeded to trounce Patterson in the ring, drawing out the match for twelve humiliating rounds. With each blow, Ali crushed the hopes of his detractors and elevated the aspirations of his fans. Among the latter was Eldridge Cleaver.

relationship of sports and religion

At the Olympics, sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos won meter gold and bronze respectively. As they stepped to the victory podium, the two black athletes raised their gloved fists in a Black Power salute. Neither athlete wore shoes, signifying the impoverished state of black America.

Outrage and condemnation soon followed. The Olympic governing body immediately ejected the sprinters from the Olympic village, and suspended them from the games. Smith and Carlos had informed Norman of their plan before the ceremony.

In a show of solidarity, Norman—reportedly acting from a place of Christian conviction—wore the badge of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, the organization that inspired the protest. With time, the image of these protesting sprinters would tilt toward heroism, just as Ali became an admired figure by the end of the century. InSan Jose State unveiled a statue of Smith and Carlos on the victory stand, fists outstretched in protest.

Norman remains conspicuously absent, though. The sculptor intentionally left this space open, so that anyone could climb up and stand next to Smith and Carlos—a vicarious experience of the moment. Another emblematic image from this era became a centerpiece of the struggle for female liberation. InKathrine Switzer decided to enter the Boston Marathon. The rules for distance running at this time, however, prohibited women from competing at the As the marathon began, Switzer joined along with a crowded field of men, until race official Jock Semple realized that a female had infiltrated the race.

Semple tracked down Switzer and charged at her, grabbing at her race number. A cameraman caught the entire scene, and a photo soon circulated through the national media. Switzer finished the marathon, and ushered in a new generation of female distance running and athletics more generally.

If a woman could complete a marathon, she could do anything. While institutional religions might not stand central in these accounts, civil religion does. As sports and American civil religion interacted in the 20th century, the dramas of inclusion and exclusion have unfolded on the fields of play. This, in turn, meant that sports contributed to the making and remaking of values attached to categories of race, gender, ethnicity, and religion. This process is still very much at work in contemporary America.

Controversy quickly followed, as Abdul-Rauf eventually found a compromise. Muslim Americans would continue engaging with this issue on the playing fields, particularly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, Infor example, a high school football team in Dearborn, Michigan, drew national attention as they pursued playoff victories while maintaining the requirements of the Ramadan fast.

Mormons have gained recognition through the accomplishments of male and female athletes at Brigham Young University. Basketball coach Phil Jackson and professional golfer Tiger Woods have brought Buddhism into broader focus. And in the s, a Boulder, Colorado, commune known as Divine Madness developed a unique blend of Eastern spirituality, holistic healing, and extreme distance running.

Led by Mark Tizer, members use distance runs as a means of heightening spiritual awareness. The group received negative attention when former female members charged Tizer with sexual impropriety and emotional abuse. At the same time, some members of Divine Madness rose to prominence in ultra-marathons—competitive races longer than a standard marathon This reality has occasionally led to some unlikely interfaith dialogues.

After the game, the Council on American-Islamic Relations protested; the media cried foul and revived images of Tebowing in comparison; and the NFL finally conceded that issuing the penalty was an error. In other instances, though, efforts at interfaith understanding come with ulterior motives. The success of this program prompted the creation of a cricket league for Muslims from South Asia. Through soccer goals and sticky wickets, the NYPD seemed to be making strides toward relationship-making with these groups.

Byhowever, revelations emerged that the leagues had also been used for intelligence gathering by attending police. But the story of religion and sports should not stop here, where formal faith communities make sense of athletics. Instead, we profit from carefully considering the myriad of ways that sports operate in uniquely religious ways. It was an upset among upsets.

Mississippi had a history of futility in the game, while Alabama was a reigning giant. So in the immediate aftermath of the win, security guards blithely shifted their gaze as fans stormed the field and tore down the goal posts.

To be sure, this brand of mass hysteria is a time-honored tradition in college football. But the Mississippi fans quickly put a unique stamp on this ritual. The goalposts—instead of being trampled underfoot—became the featured object in a victory procession. This collective decision was entirely intentional. In the early s, then-coach Billy Brewer began taking his team through the Grove before games, hoping to develop a visceral bond between the players and the fans.

Then, in the following days, the poles were carved into pieces, with the relics distributed to worthy fans or to anyone willing to separate with a few hundred dollars.

They exceeded the fine total in four hours. The metal, after all, is not just metal—it is a tangible representation of a moment when time stopped, and a community paused to celebrate their team. It controls devotees, compelling them to act in ways that they might otherwise not.

Witness the Pittsburgh International Airport, where visitors walking to the baggage claim pass by two statues standing side-by-side. Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris. But by the finish of the s, the Steelers had earned four Super Bowl victories.

To Steelers Nation, this one catch signaled the beginning of a new era. Sports generate billions of dollars in revenue. Companies promote high-profile games and players—advertising their sacredness in an effort to sell more products and placate investors. With money flowing in all directions, critics of college sports in particular claim that the system enriches everyone but the players.

From tocyclist Lance Armstrong collected seven consecutive Tour de France titles. These ads also portrayed the athlete as the great underdog who defeated cancer to achieve athletic greatness. All the while, Armstrong and his team had devised elaborate methods for concealing his performance-enhancing activities.

When Armstrong finally confessed to his doping, the Nike advertising mechanisms turned elsewhere for new heroes, leaving the fallen cyclist to his own devices. Instead, they become part of the lore, as cautionary tales of corrupted bodies in motion. They are the ones who sought perfection and fell short, not by losing, but by taking shortcuts.

relationship of sports and religion

The rule breakers, in other words, remind the faithful of why it is important to follow the rules. The Final Lap Ina group of Navajo leaders started Wings of America, a nonprofit group aimed at promoting running and fitness among the tribal youth.

Holding camps and sponsoring teams, Wings has sought to promote a lifestyle for Navajo that steers them away from the perils of alcoholism, obesity, type-2 diabetes, and similar health concerns. The leaders of Wings also stress the significance of distance running for Navajo spirituality, recalling a history of proud and fit Navajo bodies.

Beyond the chronology, their pre-contact modes of play let us see clearly how physical activity can assume sacred meaning. But Indians have not disappeared, nor has their affinity for sports. Moreover, just as these communities have changed and adapted over time, so too have their games.

For the Navajo, running has become a means for dealing with an inheritance of despair, and for recovering an ancient tradition. Among the Cherokee in North Carolina, lacrosse is still played, although infrequently.

In recent decades, football is a more visible form of tribal identity. For the most part, the communities are made and founded at the football games on every Friday.

Some cases have this high school football team replacing their faith. An example could be how Buddy Garrity looks at football. He sees it as the best thing in the world. He puts football in front of everything and will do whatever he can to help them win, even if it is not morally right. Most characters in the world of Friday Night Lights seem to have a displacement relationship with religion and football. You can see this in many characters by how their morals are from their religion.

For example, Coach Eric Taylor has had to decide with what is right and what is best for the team. He benches Brian Williams when he finds out that Brian was taking steroids.

Sports and Religion |

Eventually, Brian starts again, but not until Coach Taylor has his trust. The biggest case of a displacement relationship is when Matt Saracen has to decide to turn in a teammate, Reyes, for beating up an innocent student.

Growing up in my house, I was taught that there is an all-loving god. I feel like I did bring that into my life during and after my time in sports. Since I played two sports in football and lacrosse, I always would look to god to make sure no one would get hurt.

Even in the beginning of my football games or before a team dinner, we would bow our heads and someone would pray.


In games where we were losing, I would send God a prayer for him to send a blessing and help us win the game. After sports, I still show my religion in the sports that I watch and sometimes still play.

At every single Penn State football game, I would pray for us to win the game. I would also send many more prayers up to God when the game was close and we needed a miracle. This is what a lot of people still do today. In class, one of my classmates said that he prayed to God that we would win the white out game against Ohio State.

Some people may have looked at him funny, but I agreed since I did the same thing. You can also see it in a lot of sports today. One very famous athlete that shows his religion in football and now baseball is Tim Tebow.

He would pray before and after every game, probably during halftime too. He was not afraid to show his colors along with thousands of other athletes that thank God for that he has given them.