God and the professional athlete
By George A. Ricker
With the National Football League about to kick off its 2006 season, I thought I would offer a few remarks on a genuine cultural phenomenon here in the United States.
One of the most interesting religious revelations of recent years has been the discovery by some in the U.S.A. that God takes a deep and abiding interest in the performance of professional athletes and the outcome of the games they play. This trend has been especially notable in professional football and basketball, where the Lord God Almighty has even taken a hand in directing the careers and the performance of some players.
God as manager
Some years ago, long before his untimely death in 2004 at the age of 43, Reggie White of the Green Bay Packers announced that he would not be retiringrescinding a statement he had made a day earlierbecause God had told him It wanted White, who was an ordained minister as well as football player, to honor the second year of a two-year commitment he had made to the Packers and continue playingaching back and all.
I didnt find it particularly surprising that God had given White those instructions. After all, according to White, it had been the Almighty who directed him to come to play for the Packers in the first place. I did find it a bit surprising thatgiven his intimate relationship with GodReggie apparently had not consulted his Deity before making the premature announcement. Of course, its possible God may have changed Its mind. White hinted at the possibility when he said that year definitely would be his lastunless God told him to play another.
Fickle manager that It is, God ultimately told White to leave the Packers, but then had him return to pro football, after a one-year hiatus, to finish his career with a final year playing for the Carolina Panthers. God truly works in mysterious ways.
God the coach
Perhaps more surprising has been Gods level of involvement in the performance and careers of some players in the National Basketball Association. One would think It would have Its hands full, what with the responsibility for managing affairs in both the NFL and the Republican Party, not to mention other matters like plagues, famines, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes and other, similar, acts of God. Evidently, like many fans, Gods interest in the NBA peaks during the playoffs.
This was made especially clear at the end of the fourth game of the first-round contest between the Charlotte Hornets and the Atlanta Hawks at the end of the 1997/98 season. Following the game, which was played on May 1 and saw the Hornets post a 3-1 series victory and advance to the second round of the playoffs in the NBAs Eastern Division, Anthony Mason, power forward for the Hornets, offered a few remarks.
After thanking God for making all things possible, Mason said he had been allowed to perform wellMason had just had one of the best games of his career and had, quite literally, dominated the second half. Later in the interview, he referred again to having been allowed to have such a good game. Clearly, the implication was that it was the Almighty that had given Its permission.
The Atlanta Hawks would have had no interest in allowing Mason to have the game he had. By the same token, the Hornets would have had no reason to discourage it. So if something allowed Mason to play welltaken in the context in which the remark was madethat something must have been the Deity.
Mixed results on Gods squad
Presumably, then, Mason did not have a good game when his team played the Chicago Bulls the following Sundayin the first game of the second round of the playoffsbecause he was not allowed to. Evidently, the biblical saying the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away applies especially to the talents of professional football and basketball players and explains why some have terrific games one night and terrible games the next. Its all according to Gods wishesinexplicable though they may be.
This raises some interesting points. The first, and most obvious, is what are team owners paying players all this money for? Rather than investing millions in players salaries, wouldnt it make more sense to give those millions to various religious organizations? Why pay players when, by their own admission, they cant perform without Gods help anyway. It would make far more economic sense for the owners to pay the money directly to the sourceand cut out the middle man or woman as the case may be.
Indeed, its a bit surprising that those players who keep reminding everyone how devout they areusually after theyve had a particularly good gamedont include the Almighty in their contract negotiations. One would think they would consider splitting their salaries with God, since Its apparently the only reason they are able to earn those millions anyway.
At the very least, God ought to get as much out of the contract as the players agents. After all, its not as though God doesnt need the money. Tune in any televangelist, and youll quickly be reminded just how much cash it takes to be a successful Deity these days.
A God clause?
I also find it surprising that the owners dont insist on a God Clause in players contracts. That clause would require players to forgo their salaries for those games when God doesnt allow them to play well.
Clearly, thats something over which the owners have no control. They are paying for talent, not for the withholding of same. If a particular player has fallen out of favor with the Almighty for some reason, and thus is unable to perform, it seems only fair that owners should be able to dock them for it. Consider it like a morals clause. It should do wonders for the conduct of professional athletes. Besides, players who are doing what they do for the Glory of God ought not be concerned with such mundane matters as money anyway.
Apart from its potential impact on contract negotiations, Gods involvement also has profound implications for coaches. Before preparing lineups for a given contest, perhaps coaches should inquire which athletes think the Almighty is with them on a given night. After all, if God is really in charge of this whole thing anyway, it doesnt make much sense to put players on the court who arent in tune with that reality.
A coach who doesnt play Gods squad during the NBA or NFL playoffs is obviously courting potential disaster. One can only wonder how Phil Jackson and the Chicago Bulls managed to be so successful for all these years. Then again, maybe one shouldnt wonder too much. After all, for many NBA aficionados Michael Jordan was God.
Chaplains for coaches
No doubt, coaches who are sensitive to the religiosity of their players will want to substitute prayer meetings for practice or, at least, begin practices with prayer meetings. Since the Almighty is in charge of the athletes performance, a little sincere groveling could do wonders for a teams prospects. And, of course, in this context the post of Team Chaplain becomes much more important. Indeed, it might be possible to replace the coaches with chaplains. What the heck, its all going to go according to Gods plan anyway. Why pay millions for Riley, Jackson or Brown, or for Cowher, Saban or Parcells when the Man (or whatever) Upstairs is the one calling the shots?
Its also important for sports reporters and analysts to pay attention to this new phenomenon in professional sports. Inquiring minds will want to know whether their favorite team was pummeled because some players had not been allowed by the Almighty to play up to their potential.
But never mind the fans, think about the implications for the betting pool. Will the NBA or the NFL be up to the challenge of investigating the possibility that the Deity is responsible for shaving points in a playoff game by not allowing players to play well. It would be prudent for bookies, as well as players, to get right with God.
A holy copout?
Of course, most professional athletes do not make an ostentatious show of their religious beliefs. Most of them are willing to take the credit when they perform well and the blame when they dont. Those who insist its all in Gods hands absolve themselves of any such responsibility.
Its a great copout, but I dont think its likely to carry much weight with fans or coaches.
I suspect they will adopt the somewhat heretical stance that if there really is a God, Its probably too busy dealing with matters of substance to pay much attention to professional sports or the athletes who play them.
© 2006 by George A. Ricker