religion and the super bowl

How the Super Bowl, football, and faith are inevitably intertwined.

Sunday’s Super Bowl will go down in history as being one of the most legendary matches ever, what with the Patriots winning by such a huge margin in overtime, despite being in a bad shape at the beginning of the match. The coin toss was conducted by none other than former President George W. Bush himself. Adding to the charm of the occasion were various stars and celebrities as well.

“Without my faith, I would not be here, man. I was not a guy who was highly recruited at all. It took a lot of self belief and a lot of self doubt that I had to get over to get the belief in myself to come out and do what I do. But I thank God every night for having me in this situation,” said Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. CBN Interview

The Pope Plays in the Super Bowl

But that was not all. The game had yet another highlight – a rather unexpected one. Pope Francis sent a personalized video message in Spanish, addressing the players. The message was played on the jumbotrons in the stadium, with over 70,000 people watching. The Pope, himself a great soccer fan, has been involved in addressing sports in the past as well.

In the video, Pope Francis said sporting events like the Super Bowl are “symbolic of peace” because it can show that it’s possible to build a “world of encounter and of peace.”  He added that participation in sports teaches people to go beyond their own self-interests besides sacrifice and fidelity to rules. The Pope then invoked his blessing upon the match saying he hoped it would be a sign of peace, friendship and solidarity for the world.

In the past, Pope Francis has spoken on the power of sports to bring people together and create unity across cultures, nationalities and religions as well.

Atlanta running back Devonta Freeman anchors the Falcons run game. He says he wouldn’t be here either if it wasn’t for his faith. He’s from Liberty City, one of roughest areas in South Florida, he feels so blessed to be able to play the game he loves on the biggest stage in football.

“Coming from where I come from, there’s so many ups and downs. You know it’s hard to stay focused, but I’m a man of God. And I just believe in Him so much and that’s all I’ve got. He’s been with me my whole life. Even when things were looking real ugly for me, all I had to do was to keep praying on Him, and keep working hard and continue to be focused,” said Devonta.CBN Interview

Is football its own religion?

Pope Francis may be onto something – football, like religion, fosters a sense of deep camaraderie. Religion and football may actually be more similar than one might think. Although the Super Bowl is by nature a non-religious holiday, Michael Brendan Dougherty of TheWeek.com argues that it is “America’s biggest religious holiday.” America, being on a serious religious decline, has attributed religious characteristics to the Super Bowl, elevating it to religious holiday status. The South and the heartland are devoted both to religion and to football. “The game presents itself in themes that are deeply spiritual: Sacrifice and toil lead to glorious conquest and victory,” Dougherty writes. Players are almost revered as demi-gods, and the different event elements, fighter jet flyovers, the national anthem, the game, the awards, form a semblance of a liturgy. Even the food can be considered as a “festal offering.” The only day in America when people eat more is Thanksgiving!

Faith on the field

The status of players as “demi-gods” creates a deeply religious issue for the players. The greatest sin tied to the Super Bowl and the game of football is the sin of pride, which players are apt to suffer from, writes Terry Mattingly of GetReligion.org. Patriots’ wide receiver Matthew Slater acknowledges how football players often struggle with pride. “As soon as I start believing in what I’ve accomplished on the field or believing what people say about me as a person, that’s the minute that pride can well up in you and become an issue,” asserts Slater. Mattingly comments that the very nature of the job of any professional sport “can lend itself to pride or arrogance for those who aren’t careful.” He further notes that for Christian athletes, “pride can be a serious temptation and a nemesis that has to be fought.”

“He’s shown me so much. To remain faithful, just to keep trusting Him and things will work out. And whatever you ask, you got to believe it and He’ll give it to you,” said Atlanta Linebacker Vic Beasley Jr. in an interview with CBN.

Religion “runs deep” for a lot of the teams and players of the NFL. In 2014, Matthew Stanmyre of NJ.com reported on how a group of 10 players from the Seattle Seahawks convene, led by Karl Payne, coming together with their bibles and writing materials. They then discuss the books of the bible and talk about lessons on themes such as controlling one’s tongue, the universal price of one’s soul, and the nature of challenges and its role on one’s success. Stanmyre comments, “Faith and football – with themes of adversity, dedication and striving to improve – have always seemed tied together.”

But even if we believe that religion and God has a lot to do with the Super Bowl, does God actually care about the turnout of the game? Perhaps we will never know. Surprisingly, 25 percent of Americans believe that God is concerned about which team takes home the win in the Super Bowl, a number slightly smaller than those who believe that God placed Donald Trump in the White House, 28 percent. An additional 13 percent believe that God played a “minor role” in the outcome of the 2016 elections. However, the number that say that God is not concerned about sports is greater – 73 percent. White evangelicals and nonwhite Protestants are more inclined to believe that God is involved with sports, specifically 36 percent of white evangelicals and 41 percent of non-white Protestants. According to The Huffington Post, half of American sports fans subscribe the idea that the supernatural influences sports outcomes, about 70 million Americans.

“Wide reciever Taylor Gabriel signed with Falcons this past September after he was cut by Cleveland. Standing 5’8 165 pounds, he says he always leans on his faith to help block all the naysayers and to stay focused on his goal.

“Of course you have negative thoughts because you[‘re] cut, man. You don’t know what you’re going to do. But that’s one thing about faith, you have to keep your faith in God. Let go of worry, and let go of just the little things that’s kind of bugging you. And just let Him lead you. And I feel like, I did that the right way and now I’m at the Super Bowl,” said Taylor. (CBN)

The ultimate skybox

This religious involvement in the Super Bowl was apparent in the Annunciation Catholic Church, a church that allowed its members to light a candle in the color of their team of choice and recite the rosary with matching beads. Super Bowl Champion Kyle Van Noy, a Mormon player for the New England Patriots, expressed his gratitude over his many blessings. He commented, “I’m just so blessed,” when asked about the game. Other Christians who played in Sunday’s Super Bowl are Vic Beasley Jr., Atlanta Falcons Outside Linebacker, Jacob Tamme, Atlanta Falcons Tight End, Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons Wide Receiver, Matt Slater, New England Patriots Wide Receiver, Nate Solder, New England Patriots Offensive Tackle, and Devin McCourty, New England Patriots Safety.

The NFL stands by Islam

Mohammed Sanu is one Muslim who played at the Super Bowl, but he refused to answer the looming question on the travel ban debate. He expressed the desire to separate his sport from his religion. “It’s a very tough situation. I just pray that us as a country and a world can be united. It’s really hard for me to talk about this right now. It would take a lot of time. I would really like to just focus on the game and just talk about football,” he stated. As reported by World Religion News, the NFL vowed to stand by its Islam adherents and support Muslim families against all forms of harassment.

Rabbis trash talk for charity

In 2016, Rabbis in Charlotte and Denver showed their involvement in the Super Bowl by making a Super Bowl wager, with fun videos promoting their teams of choice while humorously taking down the opposing team. Money raised was funneled to children’s charities, the Shalom Park Freedom School in Charlotte. A whole two-thirds of the money was given to the side who supported the winning team. Rabbi Judy Schindler of Charlotte delivered a “sermon” on why “God is a Panthers Fan,” while Rabbi Joe Black of Denver settles the score by proclaiming why the Broncos will win.

Scientology Plays the Super Bowl Again

The Church of Scientology has been airing ads for the Super Bowl since 2013, making this its fifth consecutive year to run a Super Bowl ad. This year’s ad, titled “Potential,” debuted on Scientology.org and the Church’s social media channels including its Church’s Facebook page. In the ad, the narration calmly states that “There are words to describe every step we take,words for the joy, and the sorrow, but through all of life’s journey, there is no language adequate to describe, the ultimate heights you can attain,..your full potential.” The ad drove Super Bowl viewers to Scientology.org and then to a “Your full potential” themed landing page with an associated personality test as a first step, one would gather, in learning about “your full potential.”

While the Church of Scientology’s ad was broadcast on television, the Pope’s message was displayed only in the stadium. Director of the Holy See Press Office Greg Burke revealed that the Vatican wasn’t charged anything for broadcasting the Pope’s message because the Super Bowl organizers were happy to have a message from the Pope. 

Mega Churches get the Super Bowl fever too

The Crossroads Mega Church took a novel approach to Super Bowl weekend, they turned it into “The Super Bowl of Preaching,” and streamed the event live. The event page says, “We took the weekend when NOBODY went to church, and turned it into our highest-attended weekend of the year (seriously, we don’t know how). It’s an irreverent, schticky, preaching competition that turns church into a spectator sport.”

Crossroads Mega Church Super Bowl of Preaching

Crossroads Mega Church Super Bowl of Preaching

Is God to blame if your team loses?

Does divine intervention play a role in the outcome of sporting events? After losing the 2014 Super Bowl 28-24 to the New England Patriots, some fans of the Seattle Seahawks thought so. According to a survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, one in four Americans thinks God has a role in determining the winner of a sports event.

10 percent of respondents said they completely agree that God has a hand in sporting outcomes while 16 percent mostly agree. Still, the vast majority of the 1,012 Americans polled, 72 percent, disagreed that games like the Super Bowl were decided by some higher power. This chart asks respondents if God plays a role in determining which team wins a sporting event in 2015…

SomeFanBlameGodSuperBowlLoss
You will find more statistics at Statista

Public opinion research company PRRI released a poll called “Americans more likely to say God rewards devout players” and stated the following:

“One-quarter (25%) of Americans believe God plays a role in determining the outcome of sporting events. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of the public disagree. There are significant disagreements among Americans about the role that God plays in sports by religious background.

White evangelical Protestants and non-white Protestants are more likely to see the hand of God in the outcome of sporting events than any other religious group. Approximately four in ten (41%) non-white Protestants and more than one-third (36%) of white evangelical Protestants believe God plays a role in determining which team wins. Fewer white mainline Protestants (25%), Catholics (25%), and religiously unaffiliated Americans (9%) believe God plays a role in determining outcomes on the field.

Nearly half (49%) of the public believes God rewards athletes who have faith with good health and success; about as many (47%) disagree. Strong differences of opinion are evident between Americans of different religious affiliations.

Non-white Protestants (65%), white evangelical Protestants (62%), and white mainline Protestants (59%) are more likely than Catholics (48%) and religiously unaffiliated Americans (29%) to believe God rewards faithful athletes with success and good health.”

Americans More Likely to Say God Rewards Devout Players than Determins Fate of Entire Teams. Graphic courtesy of PRRI

Americans More Likely to Say God Rewards Devout Players than Determins Fate of Entire Teams. Graphic courtesy of PRRI

Lady GaGa sings about God atop the Super Bowl stadium roof

Lady Gaga set off a Twitter storm with her inspiring and incendiary performance that began on the roof of the Houston Dome that included God when she sang “God Bless America.” See WRN’s article on Lady Gaga’s religion.

The Christian Post reported that: “her former teacher, evangelist Chris White, says he prays that her outward declaration toward God during the show is a sign of the beginning of a genuine spiritual journey that could lead to her salvation in Christ.

Gaga, known by White as Stefani Germanotta, opened the Half Time show with a heartfelt rendition of “God bless America, land that I love.” As her medley performance progressed she also recited the Pledge of Allegiance with emphasis on the line, “One nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.”

“To me, the most moving part of her performance was when she sang her new song, ‘Million Reasons,'” the United Evangelical Church minister told The Christian Post of his former student.

The chorus to Gaga’s song a “Million Reasons” is as follows:

“I bow down to pray/ I try to make the worst seem better/ Lord, show me the way/ To cut through all his worn out leather/ I’ve got a hundred million reasons to walk away/ But baby, I just need one good one to stay.”

“Lady Gaga, like many famous people, is bleeding on the inside because fame and success can never satisfy the human heart. ‘Can’t you give me what I’m needin’, needin’?’ is the cry of the human heart for something far greater than anything this world can offer,” White explained. “I have been praying for her now for years, that the Lord will indeed one day show her the way to ‘cut through all the worn out leather’ of this dying world.”

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