Researching and writing Tuesday’s ‘God and Sport’ post had me receive the most thoughtful responses in the 204 days of my year without sport. I even pre-empted at the beginning of that piece that their views warranted their own post, even 2!
It became clear as I compiled these that 2 would indeed be the answer. But don’t worry – I won’t tucker you out on this topic. I’ll do a Special Monday Edition to go with the regular Tuesday and Thursday postings next week.
So, here’s some snippets on people from various walks of life and faith on how they perceive the role of religion in sport and players using the sporting platform to highlight their individual beliefs. I’ll publish 3 more on Monday.
A European take on things
‘I used to have this warped view that somehow by Gary Ablett or Shaun Hart professing their faith might somehow show that Christians are cool – and maybe, inadvertently spark a revival. Naive I know! I guess it always seemed like sport was a golden platform from which to be vocal about your faith.
But my views changed dramatically after Kaka sunk Liverpool in the 2007 Champion’s League Final (arguably the world’s biggest yearly sporting fixture) and ripped his shirt off to reveal an undershirt with ‘I belong to Jesus’ emblazoned across the front.
What I realised is that if you hijack a moment with an ulterior motive, no one really cares. We’ve seen it in Big Brother, we’ve seen it at the Academy Awards and we’ve seen it in sporting arenas across the world. People love to use the stage for pushing their own agenda and I think the general public switches off to it.
I think here we need to draw a sharp distinction between the US and the rest of the world. In the US, thanking God is a qualifying statement. It’s the cultural norm. Not worth reading into it.
In the case of the rest of the world, it’s definitely not considered the standard part of an acceptance speech. In fact, I know for a fact that when Aaron Baddeley thanked God in his win at the Australian Open as an amateur, behind the scenes he drew a very negative response from his mentor, Greg Norman, who signaled in no uncertain terms that he should have ‘stuck to the script and just thanked the sponsors’. (Bloggers’ note – Blogger thinks that Norman should stick to his own issues…!)
Should Aaron have compromised his beliefs? No. Did his speech make a difference? I doubt it. Does Aaron’s lifestyle choices and the way he interacts with others on tour make a difference? Absolutely.
Like any facet of life, true influence comes from direct relationships. So I truly believe that Kaka has a God-given gift and he’s best advised to honour Him by going out on the pitch and kicking the guts out of the ball rather than trying to merchandise faith in 5 words or less on a t-shirt.
The other interesting concept is that most sporting cultures are so racked with immorality and bad decision-making by athletes (AFL for example) that if you exhibit any sort of moral lifestyle, you are going to shine like a beacon anyways.’
The Sports Journalist
‘I’ve got no problem with major award winners thanking God if they do it every time they win something or make it a brief comment. Gavin Wanganeen’s was classy in the 93 Brownlow. But if you go from not thanking God to thanking God and then not thanking God, that’s inconsistent and reeks of opportunism.
I have a big problem with on field religious celebrations. It’s a team sport. Thank the people who helped you to get the ball! Ignoring them to take a knee…or do the Jeff Farmer point your arms to the sky brings the event back to the individual. There’s no I in TEAM.
It’s similar to the other silly things players do to celebrate. The baby rock of the arms is okay because it’s a one off…but it seems strange that players can score after having a kid when they normally wouldn’t. The Santa hat in the soccer the other day was dumb. The dude had to take the hat onto the field with him, then score. Individualism at its finest.’ (Blogger’s note – the ‘Santa hat’ comment sent me straight to Google. I had no idea. A Santa hat … seriously.)
East Doncaster footy legend
‘The cynic in me suspects that thanking God is a superficial, but publicly endorsed method of appearing humble. The ‘cynicism’ comes from knowing that – in fact – many of our sports stars are some of the most egotistical and unbalanced control-freaks on the face of His planet.
Living in accordance with His most fundamental teachings is generally not what got these people to the top of their field of endeavour.
Therefore (to save me from viewing them as hypocritical and if I had the chance), my question to them would then become: why exactly are they thanking Him? (and that’s the bit that we don’t often hear about). Do you – Mr or Mrs. Egotistical, Unbalanced, Control-freak Sports-Star – seriously expect me to ‘buy’ that you are placing the credit for your victory in someone else’s hands!?! Hardly…
At the worst, if it’s the point-by-point, blow-by-blow lip-service which implies that He is riding on the result of every play-phase, then get a grip.
For starters – give yourself some credit that you’re an active, self-responsible and decision-making participant in the ebbs and flows of the game. Also – I don’t think I’d be the only ‘lay’ man who had an issue with God taking a personal interest in the outcome of every contest within a sporting contest when clearly there are more pressing world issues that He could probably invest his efforts in. I choose to think that His intent is elsewhere in ‘life’ – not in manipulating the results of ‘sport imitating life’.
As a bit of an aside: I also think there’s a certain amount of grace in a player NOT mentioning their belief that they had an irresistible force ‘working’ on their side of the contest. Wouldn’t that imply that God was ‘barracking’, and was not, in fact, spoiling for a fair contest? What if the other player also credits God as a major inspiration? Do they have to question whether God wanted the other player to win more? Why?!
On sporting fields, my experience has been that ‘quiet’ faith is far more attractive – and far more compelling – than repeated public assertions off it…’
So, as you can see, this issue is one that arouses strong feelings. Thanks to those that shared in such depth. Monday will be the final focus on this topic, before Tuesday’s post on the impossibilities of dropping off the sporting grid completely!