The God Squad: Christianity, Faith and Religion in the NFL By: Jess Dempsey

Tim Tebow.jpg

Christian. Religious. NFL. If we were playing word association, you’d probably be thinking about Tim Tebow (QB – Broncos) right now. And although the Broncos fourth-quarter miracle-maker quarterback is probably the most outspoken about his faith, you would be hard pressed to watch an NFL game where at least one player does not point to the sky or take a knee after a touchdown to thank God. Christianity is very well represented in the National Football League. What gives? Is the profession conducive to inspiring faith among players? Do players convert each other in the locker room? Is it the abundance of NFL players that hail from the Bible Belt? Or, is God himself rewarding faith with success? I suppose how you answer that question would depend on your own personal beliefs. But, you have to think – why are there so many Christians in the NFL?

Statistics about religion in the NFL are hard to come by. I don’t know every player to call them up and ask about their faith, and many players choose to keep such matters private. Understandable, but for the purposes of this article, then, we’ll have to rely on the players who are outspoken about their religious preferences. You know about Tim Tebow. There’s also Ray Lewis, star linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens, who was featured on the cover of a 2006 issue of Sports Illustrated in a story about his Christian faith. Retired Quarterback Kurt Warner (Rams, Giants, Cardinals) was and is an outspoken evangelical Christian. Former corner and return specialist Deion Sanders is another well-known name who counts Jesus as his personal savior. Drew Brees, who only recently broke Dan Marino’s NFL single-season passing record, is also a devout Christian. One player who constantly, it seems, tweets about God and his faith is Cardinals wide receiver Chansi Stuckey. On his Twitter account, Stuckey describes himself as a Christ Ambassador first, Arizona Cardinal second. Matt Hasslebeck (Titans) and Chad Ochocinco (Patriots) also voice their faith via social media outlets. Beloved former Coach and current analyst (and all-around nice guy) Tony Dungy is very outspoken about his faith. As is Steelers star Troy Polamalu. There are hundreds more. Take the time to follow your favorite athlete on Facebook and Twitter, and pay attention to their posts. Most are thanking God after a great game (and praying after a loss.)

There are some who criticize the proud displays of faith, especially those performed on the football field. While a Heisman-winning Quarterback at Florida, Tebow frequently had white Bible verses etched into his eye black. In 2010, a rule known informally as the “Tebow Rule” was instituted by the NCAA that prohibited messages on eye paint. While messages on eye black have been banned by the NFL for a long time, it reasons that unless the display of faith is violent, perverse, offensive or otherwise undermines the sportsmanlike candor or play desired by the NFL, expressions of faith should be allowed in the league. This applies to not only Christians, but Buddhists, Muslims and those of other faiths as well.

Back to our friend Tim Tebow. What he may lack in finesse, he surely makes up for in leadership ability. His coaches love him, his teammates love him, and work harder for him – and the fans, well – his jersey sales speak volumes. The expression of faith should not add to, nor take away from, a player’s talent, integrity and leadership. Do people love Tebow because of his faith? Well, some may. But suffice it to say, most people who love Tebow, love his heart. If that heart is influenced by faith in God, who is to have a problem with that?

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