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When athletes praise God at the Super Bowl and other sports

The problem isn’t the faith of believers like Drew Brees. It’s the media assumption that every person of faith adheres to a highly traditional version of Christianity.

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“God is great.”

So said Drew Brees, the most valuable player in last Sunday’s Super Bowl, after leading the New Orleans Saints to an upset victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

Such comments have become commonplace on American television, where athletes routinely thank God in postgame prayers and interviews.

Is this a problem? I think it is. And to see why, try to imagine if Brees had made a slightly different statement: “Allah is great.”

While some of us might not see anything wrong with that, would network television announcers have applauded Brees as a “man of faith,” as he is frequently called?

Would newspapers have published glowing profiles of the other devout members of the Saints, who played up their religious belief during the buildup to the Super Bowl – and thanked God after it?

You already know the answer. The problem here isn’t the players’ “faith”. It’s the not-so-subtle assumption that every person of faith adheres to the Christian faith – and to a highly traditional version of it, at that.

They don’t, of course. But that’s the impression you’d get from watching religious rituals at American sporting events, which inevitably assume a conservative Christian cast.

Why? The answer lies in the peculiar history of these rituals, which are much more recent than you might guess. For over a century, to be sure, Americans have promoted team sports as vehicles for Christian virtue and character. But loud, demonstrative prayers at athletic events didn’t start until the 1960s and ’70s, when Christianity faced new challenges from minority faiths.

Most notably, the Supreme Court barred group prayer and Bible reading from the public schools. So conservative Christians devised new ways to bootleg prayers – Christian prayers, of course – into the schools.


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