News / USA

Super Bowl Caps Football Season Dogged by Prayer Controversy

Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow (15) prays while sitting on the bench late in the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, January 1, 2012, in Denver.
Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow (15) prays while sitting on the bench late in the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, January 1, 2012, in Denver.

The New York Giants and the New England Patriots face off February 5 in the NFL championship. The game, known as the Super Bowl, will be played in Indianapolis, Indiana and ends a season in which expressions of faith on the field by a player from another team ignited controversy. 

Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow played with Bible verse numbers painted under his eyes.  After victories, he dropped down on one knee to pray and talked about his faith in the locker room.

"First and foremost, I just want to thank my Lord and savior, Jesus Christ," Tebow would tell reporters who asked him about the game.

The Broncos almost made it to the Super Bowl but lost to the Patriots during the playoffs, despite a winning streak with Tebow as quarterback.  But his displays of faith sparked a nationwide controversy, with many football fans inspired by it and many others mocking it.

Most National Football League teams have spiritual advisers.  George McGovern, the chaplain of the Super Bowl-bound New York Giants, said he does not believe God takes sides in sports, but understands that people might attribute a divine hand to Tebow's success.

"Here's a man who took a losing team, and made it a winning team, even though he's not that good a quarterback," McGovern said.

Tebow is now a hero to fellow evangelical Christians who have promoted sports as a way of reviving Christian faith in American society.

Dan Britton is executive vice president of Ministry Programs at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.  It runs thousands of summer camps and Bible study and prayer groups at schools and colleges across the country.

"We believe that if an athlete separates their faith and sports then actually their faith isn't real,"  Britton said.

Tebow is just the latest in a string of players going back to the 1970s to bring their faith onto the field. But the origins of evangelical Christians' interest in football go back further.

Tony Ladd, director of athletics at Wheaton College, an evangelical school in Illinois, and co-author of the book, "Muscular Christianity," says that in the late 19th century, evangelicals worried about declining religiosity among American men and found that sports provided a framework to reach them.

"So it became a generating kind of using muscular - using sport in other words - activity to both evangelize and bring those men into a culture of Christianity," explained Ladd.

He says "Muscular Christianity" led to the creation of the Young Men's Christian Association, or YMCA.  In the United States, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes was founded in 1954 and preachers such as Billy Graham used famous sports figures to attract large crowds.

"Football has always lent itself to this kind of appropriation or projection if you will, project your own values onto the game," noted Michael Oriard, who played for the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1970s and is now a professor at Oregon State University.

He says that has only become more pronounced with ceremonies such as Air Force flyovers that connect the game with patriotic fervor.

Super Bowl Caps Football Season Dogged by Prayer Controversy
Super Bowl Caps Football Season Dogged by Prayer Controversy

The singer Madonna - who is known for her explorations of spirituality - will perform at halftime at the Super Bowl.  She called it "the holy of holies in America."

"Football is symbolically, theatrically, dramatically really powerful," Oriard said. "One of the things that's different between the football we play compared to the football that the rest of the world plays - that we call soccer - is, by giving the ball to one side or the other, and allowing it to keep that ball, so long as it can advance it and all that sort of business, we've built a more dramatic structure into it.  So there's an ebb and flow in an American game that's quite different from the more rapid up and back of, say, soccer."

So while religion finds its way into professional sports around the globe - as many soccer players cross themselves during a game - Oriard says American football has also become a stage where conflicts over cultural values are played out.


Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.

You May Like

Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Seen as a potential driver of recovery, Cairo’s plan to expand waterway had been raising hopes to give country much needed economic boost More

Ebola Maternity Ward in Sierra Leone First of its Kind

Country already had one of world's highest maternal mortality rates before Ebola arrived, virus has added even more complications to health care More

Malaysia Flight 370 Disappearance Ruled Accident

Aircraft disappeared on March 8, 2014; with ruling, families of 239 passengers and crew can now seek compensation from airline More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Productioni
X
George Putic
January 29, 2015 9:43 PM
The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Production

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Crowded Republican Presidential Field Off to Early Start for 2016

It seems early, but the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign is already heating up. Though no one has officially announced a candidacy, several potential Republican contenders have been busy speaking to conservative groups about making a White House run next year. Many of the possible contenders are critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy record. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid