The realms of religion and sports are certainly intertwined, but there are some that want to separate them completely.
There are at present two current news events that are highlighting the closeness, but also the complexity, between our faiths and our sports, and both have appeared in NCAA sports at Clemson University and the University of Buffalo.
At Clemson University, there is conflict between the football coaches and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. It has emerged that the coaches of the football team have been doing more than just developing strategies and plays—they’re also holding Bible devotions and prayer meetings.
Critics have argued that students should not feel as if they are required to take part in religious meetings to be on the football team. Dabo Swinney, one of the football coaches at Clemson, has particularly come under attack for his actions, especially for distributing Bibles and other devotional literature to students. A letter of complaint has argued that this combination of religion and sports is an unlawful mixture of church and state.
However, sometimes the requirements of religion and state clash. This is the situation that Muhamed McBryde, at the University of Buffalo, has found himself in. As a devout Muslim, Muhamed does not shave his face and therefore has a beard. He is also a talented wrestler at the university, but due to the fact that he refuses to follow sporting guidelines of being clean shaven, he is no longer competing.
Muhamed was told by his coach John Stutzman that he would not be permitted to compete due to his decision. Muhamed was allowed to remain on the wrestling team, but it means that he spends his time sitting on the sidelines, encouraging his teammates, rather than joining them in competition.
These two problems can seem unsolvable. Muhamed is completely within his right to make decisions about his body, and no one would want to force him to make a choice that he feels goes against his faith. However, this has meant that he is unable to engage in the sport that he loves. However, Dabo Swinney may find that he is put underneath a lot of pressure to no longer bring his faith into the football field. It is difficult to see how he will otherwise be allowed to continue coaching.
Also brewing in the world of professional sports is the news of football player Michael Sam being drafted into the NFL to play with the St. Louis Rams. Michael Sam is the first openly gay player in the league. The draft pick has DC-lobbyist Jack Burkman planning a boycott of the NFL, mobilizing a “coalition of Evangelical Christian leaders from across the nation to take part in a protest.”