I’m beginning to wonder if God is playing in Super Bowl XLIII, or the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers. I had avoided participating in the faith talk surrounding this Super Bowl, but after a week of Kurt Warner-carrying-his-Bible-everywhere stories, I can’t help myself. I’m tired of listening to Warner and his evangelical cohorts sell Jesus to the masses.
Given that I write about the intersection of sports and religion for Praying Fields, you probably think I’d be eager to jump into the conversation. After all, God is getting more play at this Super Bowl than the credit card companies and soft drink makers that are paying big bucks to sponsor the event. As Associated Press’s Tim Dahlberg wrote, it’s surprising “how so many players on both teams aren’t hesitating to invoke the name of God as they prepare to play a violent game where there will be no mercy shown on either side.”
Having interviewed athletes about their faith during the past year, I have learned that the best way to get them to open up about their beliefs is to sit down with them for a one-on-one conversation. You can’t do that at a Super Bowl media session.
I’ve covered a couple Super Bowls. The media sessions are a cross between a Middle Eastern bazaar and Mardi Gras. You’re just not going to get a thoughtful answer when you are constantly getting interrupted by reporters from Access Hollywood and MTV with questions about which player has bigger biceps.
Yet, the writers in Tampa seem determined to add religion reporter to their resumes, and the players and coaches are doing their best to oblige. The Baltimore Sun’s Rick Maese wrote that “when an athlete mentions God, eyes roll and tape recorders shut off.” But having listened to Warner, Maese said, “God might be the best performance enhancer you can use legally.”
Maese is hardly the only one to get caught up in the holy hysteria. Kansas City Star’s Rick Montgomery wrote: “All season it’s been praise the Lord and pass the football.” And as John Walters wrote on MSNBC.com, “Does God care who wins? Of course He doesn’t. Unless He does.”
And if you think Warner and the Arizona Cardinals have cornered the market on God, Newport News Daily Press’s David Teel points out that Pittsburgh Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin answered four rounds of questions about his Christian faith. “There’s a higher power, there’s a higher calling, and we need to submit to that,” Tomlin said. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger used to wear “PFJ” – Playing For Jesus –on his armbands until the NFL fined him for violating its uniform policy.
Even those not playing in the Super Bowl are giving God air time. Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who is part of a group of NFL players in Tampa to sing in a gospel choir this weekend, when asked about whether he would remain with the team or leave as a free agent, told the Baltimore Sun, “I’ve given my prayers to God. It’s between me and him.”
Warner’s faith has garnered the most media attention. It is clearly a major part of who he is and shouldn’t be ignored. Perhaps it is what has made him such a successful quarterback. But Warner is using his platform to sell Christianity to the millions of people watching him. If he said the shoes he wears made him the quarterback he is, would the writers be so eager to give the manufacturer of those shoes the same free advertising they are giving God?
I’m not saying sportswriters should ignore Warner’s faith, but they should challenge him on it, just as they do when he throws an interception. Just because he’s talking about religion, a subject that makes many people uncomfortable, they shouldn’t give him a free pass to promote whatever he wants.