On June 19th of 2000, The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Texas public schools were no longer allowed to begin football games with a student organized prayer over a PA system. This was the first ruling against public prayer before football games. But in high schools and intermediate schools all around the nation it is now banned, not just Texas. Even public universities are by law unable to take part in a public pre-game prayer. In all of my years in scholastic sports (including junior high through high school) we always started with the Lord’s prayer before we ever left the locker room and stepped foot on the basketball court. Every game. As I graduated from high school and moved to a private university I was used to hearing a public prayer over the PA system for the entire attending crowd, still knowing full well that most of the country didn’t have this freedom, high schools and universities included.
While I was in school public prayer had not yet been banned. Teachers were allowed to lead prayer, students were allowed to lead prayer, schools were allowed to pray over games in front of a crowd before two teams met on a court or playing field. It was a beautiful thing that allowed me to always remember that I was on the court to glorify the Lord. It was something I look back on fondly and always reminisce about, feeling the butterflies in the locker room before hand and taking a knee to lift my heart up to my Father. All the time growing up I would pray that God would cause our team to be victorious. We always prayed as a team however, to come out safely with no injuries. The interesting part about prayer is how it seems to vastly differ from one team to another as well as one sport to another.
Would [a certain] team that won then infer that God wanted them to win more than the other team?
We see prayer in sports, but even more often than not in college and professional football. Pre-game prayer with a knee down seems to be the norm. The Washington Post in an October 2007 article stated that “Historians say that prayer has been fused with American sport for at least the past 100 years, but it was not until the late 1970’s that football players began kneeling on one knee to pray during games.” We see countless sports movies that seem to have the famous pre-game prayer before leaving it all out on the field. Why do we see such a common practice, especially in the realm of Christian prayer? Why as a nation have we found prayer before games so offensive and thus outlawed? There seems to be three separate areas in which you can find prayer being integrated into sports: one being for the team praying to be victorious in their pursuits, another being praying for safety. Third, even a small amount lift up a prayer because of superstition or ritual, taking a knee in prayer simply because that’s what they’ve grown up with, and it helps having comfort and ritual before a game, whether one believes in the power of prayer or not.
In pre-game prayer, when the teams lift prayers to be victorious, we have a seemingly strong conundrum. For instance, what if the two teams facing each other are both praying to God for victory? Would the team that won then infer that God wanted them to win more than the other team? Would it allow one to assume that God had more grace for one team over the other, or that God would even have favor and a preference over whom he wanted to win? Hardly. This is why prayer in this instance can be questionable. Prayer for selfish reasons can be a fine-line and especially prayer for self-glory would be wrong. Regardless of God having chosen people throughout the Bible, I doubt God has chosen teams or franchises (Lakers being the exception… kidding!). So then, as an obvious observation, could the prayer be victory? This takes prayer to new heights as we know it. We can think of prayer as a way to intercede for others in need or lift up loved ones, maybe even pray for our sick or injured. When looking at praying for a purpose, does sports hardly compare?
This leads me to why I believe prayer should be in sports: protection. Many teams in sports pray before games so that players would be protected. The prayer in most cases is to pray for the safety of each team and for no one to be hurt. Conflict? I say no way. To lift up the players and pray safety and protection over them before a game is honoring. It makes logical sense to conclude that praying for no injuries and no harm to come to any players in the game is more along the lines of where God’s heart lies. Does God want to protect his children? Yes. Does God care who wins? That’s up for debate.
Our third area of prayer in sports is that of superstition and ritual. We can read countless stories of pre-game superstitions professional athletes partake in. A certain meal before every game, a lucky rabbits foot, a same pair of socks, or a pre-game song always listened to. These athletes truly believe that by undergoing a similar superstition that has seemingly brought success, they will be better off for giving in to such power. This has incredible implications. To say that the power of prayer is comparable to yet another rabbits foot seems almost offensive to Christians. Yet, it is there. Some credit needs to be given here for those athletes who believe in the power of God and thus prayer itself, those using their efforts and talents to give glory to God and point towards him when success falls upon them. These are athletes relinquishing the spotlight on themselves to give glory to the Lord for such achievement.
When it’s all said and done, the bottom line is that prayer will never be removed from sports. Even if it’s taken out of public schools or universities, it will still go on in the private sector. Even if pre-game prayer is not allowed over a PA system, it will still go on in the hearts of athletes, and even if a faculty member or coach can’t lead his team in prayer, that still won’t stop the students from leading it. Why you ask? Because students know the power of prayer, even student athletes can tell you that prayer has substance and fulfillment. Sports are one of the most integrated aspects of our culture, maybe more so than religion. We must realize that we naturally transfer what is in our hearts into all that we do – and that includes sports.
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