Thursday, October 25, 2007

Oh God, Where Art Thou?

Just read a very interesting piece from ESPN the Magazine about Detroit Lions quarterback Jon Kitna and the religious beliefs that guide his life, and in his opinion allow him to perform on Sunday afternoons.

What strikes me about Kitna is his unblinking devotion to the almighty and it got me to thinking, does God really have any impact on athletes and the sports they play?

Now I have to preface this by saying I am about the most non-religious person you're going to talk to. At this point in my life I can't say that I really believe in any sort of higher power and I certainly have had my issues with organized religion as a whole.

I also have to make it clear that whatever you believe is OK with me. It's not my or anyone else's place to tell people what they should and should not believe. That's where I stand, take it or leave it.

Which brings me back to Kitna and the issue of praising God after every win and every big play, while sometimes giving all the credit to a higher power. I suppose I don't necessarily have a problem with guys who choose to do this, but I do think some guys have taken it too far.

Kitna, for example, called his ability to play in the fourth quarter of a win over the Vikings after suffering a concussion a "miracle". Lots of guys have returned to game action after suffering all sorts of injuries before, how exactly does Kitna's situation differ from that of say Willis Reed in the 1970 NBA Finals?

Are we to believe that Kitna's powers of recovery are somehow divine in nature? That's not to say that Kitna shouldn't believe whatever he wants to about how he got back in the game, but by not keeping that kind of statement to himself he unintentionally waters down his faith in the eyes of the skeptical.

To his credit however, what I learned about Kitna from the ESPN article was that while he is open and forthright about his faith, he does not force it on his teammates or anyone else. For that I admire the man, even if he does frequently wear hats and t-shirts adorned with a cross, because apparently the one around his neck just isn't enough.

But for every Kitna who seems truly sincere about his devotion to God, there are so many more in my opinion who have managed to turn their devotion into little more than a cliche.

Maybe the most annoying show of so-called personal faith is the constant pointing to the sky. Get a base hit, point. Get drafted by an NFL team, point. Run out onto the court during pre-game introductions, pound the chest, point.

Honestly, no one is going to think any more or less of you whether you point to the sky or not, so all you're really doing is drawing attention to yourself in a not-so-subtle way. Sure some guys do it to remember someone important to them that's passed on, but is it really necessary to do it at every turn?

No one seems to want to take credit any more for their own athletic prowess as athletes in every sport seem to feel it's necessary to defer to God in their moments of triumph. If so much of the credit for good performances goes to the man/woman upstairs, my question is why aren't guys blaming God for their defeats?

On that note, here is a list of things you won't hear after a tough loss:

  • "I thought we played well today, but apparently God didn't have our backs tonight."
  • "I have to blame God for my 0-for-5 tonight, he just didn't bless me with the ability to get the job done."
  • "God lost this one for us tonight, plain and simple."
I could go on an on with this list, but you get the idea.

Another major question I have is with so much going on in the world from genocide to wildfires, is it really necessary to bring God into games which are basically insignificant in the grand scheme of things?

What I see in the world of sports and entertainment that bothers me most about this trend is that it has become just that, a trend. It's almost the "cool" thing to do to praise God in every interview which in my opinion is more than a little disingenuous.

All that to say, I do think there is a time and place for athletes to call upon their faith in a constructive and genuine manner. When Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett laid motionless on the field several weeks ago with a life-threatening injury, it was more than appropriate for players on both teams to gather in prayer for their fallen comrade.

Many teams and stadiums full of fans observe moments of silence on a regular basis whenever a tragedy of some sort occurs, giving people a moment to quietly commune with their personal god, whatever that may be.

In both instances real life situations of a serious nature certainly allow for shows of religious faith on and off the field of play.

Ultimately I suppose it just seems to me that calling on ones faith should be saved for those moments which are more important than touchdowns and home runs.

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