Religious Athletes

These athletes are dominant both in their beliefs and their sports.

Many athletes are heard to thank God for their success after winning the big game. There are athletes, like Steph Curry, that are quite vocal about their faith. There are also athletes with connections to religious leaders, athletes who sacrificed their competitiveness for their religion, and athletes that have changed the way we view a sport by how powerful their faith was. Here are 10 examples of athletes who did all this and more.

Tim Tebow


A Heisman Trophy winner, who led the Denver Broncos to their first playoff win in six years, is a devoted Christian. While he was bounced around in the NFL on three different teams and is now playing Minor League Baseball in Arizona, he states his profound connection to God and his faith have kept him grounded during his professional athletic career. Religion was a large part of his family life, with both of his parents being missionaries. He has given to numerous Christian foundations and has been outspoken about his beliefs and faith, even leading to “Tebowing” a physical gesture meant to mimic the numerous times Tim Tebow would kneel for prayer during games.

Steph Curry


Two time consecutive MVP winner, out of control shooting range, and a key member of the most dominant team in the NBA. Steph Curry is another deeply devout Christian. It’s on his skin (he has a Bible tattoo), on his shoes (he has Bible quotes on his laces), and in his speeches (he stated during his MVP speeches that God was one of the primary factors in his success and he tries to faithfully follow God’s will). He has a Bible study group with other male athletes through daily group text messaging and has explained the connection of players on his team, the Golden State Warriors, by them attending church together and sharing inspiration in their beliefs.

Muhammad Ali


One of the most electrifying personalities in sports history, Muhammad Ali converted to Islam in 1964 under the guidance of Malcolm X. He used his faith as inspiration for his fights, claiming that he was destined to win. His faith was tested when he decided not to be drafted into the Vietnam War citing his religious objections. This lead to him losing his titles and being denied the ability to box at a peak physical time in his life from 25-29. He was verbose, charismatic, thoughtful, and a symbol for countless number of individuals around the world, Muslim or otherwise.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar


Considered one of the best NBA players of all time and definitely one of the most honored (six MVP, eight championships, 19 of his 20 years being NBA All-Star, the list goes on). Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (which means “the noble one, servant of the Almighty”) converted to Islam at the age of 24. He was partially inspired by The Autobiography of Malcolm X, where he began to believe in adopting the religion that connected to his genealogical and cultural roots. He has written numerous books, appeared on news shows, and also had a column at TIME Magazine, focusing on religion and books.

Sandy Koufax


Sandy Koufax was arguably the best left-handed pitcher ever in the Major Leagues, with three Cy Young and six All-Star Awards. He also never pitched on the Jewish holidays of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. That included the opening game of the 1954 World Series. He still won the series and World Series MVP award. He was one of the most prominent Jewish celebrities of his time.

Hank Greenberg

The first Jewish superstar in sports, he refused to play baseball on Yom Kippur. Known as the “Hebrew Hammer” he was one of the most popular hitters in early baseball, leading the league in home runs for several years. In 1938, he nearly tied Babe Ruth record of 60 home runs, but missed at 58. Some pitchers walked him, trying to avoid a Jewish athlete from breaking the record.

Will Hopoate


An Australian Rugby player who gave up his early career to serve as a Mormon missionary. He has argued that games should be switches from Sundays so that players, including himself, from having to choose between faith and play.

Venus and Serena Williams


Even though Jehovah’s Witnesses discourage members from participating in competitive sports, both Williams sisters state that their faith makes them stronger for tennis. The Williams sisters are independently considered fantastical players, and dominant as a doubles pair. 14 Grand Slam Tournaments and three Gold Medals in doubles are just a small part of their success. Part of the reason why the sisters have kept quiet about their personal lives is to live up to the Jehovah’s Witness belief of separation from the materialistic world.

Steve Young


Steve Young may have the greatest connection to his respective religion as anyone on this list. He is the great-great-great grandson of Brigham Young, the second president of the Mormon Church, only second in fame to the founder of the religion, Joseph Smith. He was considered one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the NFL, won two MVP awards and is in the NFL Hall of Fame.

Eric Liddell


A Scottish Rugby player and runner. Eric Liddell decided to not run the 100-meter race at the 1924 Paris Olympics because it was Sunday, the Christian Sabbath. Even though it was his strongest event he decided to run the 400-meter race. It was held during the week. He won the race and his time was the European record for the next 12 years. A deeply devote missionary, the “flying Scotsman” would serve in missionary work in China for most of his life until he was killed in a Japanese internment camp during 1945.

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