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The separation of church and sport appeared a distant memory this summer as dozens of professional baseball teams hosted Faith Nights. That is, until the Atlanta Braves asked Focus on the Family not to return after the major-league debut of the marketing phenomenon.

The Braves partnered with Third Coast Sports, which has promoted Faith Nights since 2003, on July 27 to host a post-game concert by a Christian rock band, a testimony by star pitcher John Smoltz, and an appearance by VeggieTales characters.

As an event sponsor, Focus handed out promotional materials. Within a week, the Braves contacted Third Coast Sports to ask Focus not to return for similar events on August 13 and 26. Braves spokeswoman Beth Marshall declined to provide CT with a reason for the decision.

Rich Bennett, director of marketing for Focus, downplayed media speculation that the Braves asked Focus not to return because of its stance against homosexuality. A better explanation, according to Bennett, may be an article Focus's website posted on July 11 about John Malone, a candidate to become the Braves' owner. A Focus official called Malone "one of the biggest pornographers in America," because his company On Command supplies pornography along with other films to many hotels. The article also mentioned that Citizen magazine, published by Focus, was planning a story about Malone. However, Bennett told CT that Focus's public policy team decided they "have nothing more to say on the subject of the Braves' ownership."

"If that was the Braves' reason [for asking us not to return]," Bennett said, "I think it was a reasonable one."

While sports teams occasionally courted Christians before, Faith Nights began in 2002 as a promotion for the Nashville Sounds, a Milwaukee ...

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October 2006

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