Eight years after the New York Giants and the Buffalo Bills knelt in a huddle for public prayer at the end of Super Bowl XXV, the wall of separation between God and the National Football League has all but washed away. The blend of faith and football has not only attracted fans and foes alike, but put preachers on the playing field and running backs in the pulpit.
Evidence of the relationship between God and the gridiron is everywhere: players such as Deion Sanders, Reggie White (now retired), and Eugene Robinson identifying themselves as born-again believers; chapel services in nearly every NFL club dressing room before games; public, midfield prayers after games; and churches turning to Super Bowl Sunday as a day for halftime evangelistic outreach. It may sometimes be difficult to see where religion ends and regulation play begins.
Players may use public Christianity to enhance their good-boy images, and the church may use Christian players to enhance its message that even tough guys can believe. The blurring of roles, and the suspicion of mutual exploitation by players and their pastors, has raised the question whether sports and spirituality genuinely belong in separate realms, not stirred together.
MYTH OF CELEBRITY? The mass appeal of professional football has attracted the attention of churches trying to make Christianity culturally relevant to seekers. And the power of celebrity in American culture shows no sign of dimming.
A testimony from Christian NFL greats Reggie White or Mike Singletary can draw those who might ordinarily not sit through a Sunday-morning sermon. "Statistics show that young people in horrible numbers have turned away from the church and yet they still watch television and are influenced by newspapers ...1