God is part of athletic world

Published 11:01 pm Friday, August 10, 2018

How many times have you seen an athlete offer thanks to God after a big win or an excellent personal performance?
And when the athlete offers his or her thanks, how many times does the reporter get uncomfortable or just gloss over the comment and quickly move onto the next question?
But there’s no denying it. God and sports have been intertwined since the gladiators battled in the coliseum or the early days of the Olympics in Greece.
The legendary Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne was considered the greatest of his profession for many reasons. In fact, Rockne admitted that prayer was a big part of his success.
“I’ve found that prayers work best when you have big players,” Rockne once quipped.
But the fact is, there is religion in sports.
I remember watching Ryan Freel. He was one of my favorites because he played so hard. It was nothing to see him dive for the ball or crash into a wall and that was dangerous given his small stature. Freel was listed at 5-foot-10, 185 pounds but that was just in the imagination of the public relations department.
He was more like 5-8, 165, with a baseball bat jammed into his back pocket.
The Reds honored him by announcing in 2013 the annual Ryan Freel Heart & Hustle Award.
While there were many exciting moments watching Freel, I remember the camera scanning the Reds’ dugout during the National Anthem and as the song ended, Freel made the sign of the cross.
I mentioned to him the patron saint of sports was Saint Sebastian and he might be able to intercede and help keep him healthy.
“Saint Sebastian. OK,” Freel nodded and thanked me.
There are many other instances of players giving public displays of faith. The Reds’ second baseman Scooter Gennett, third baseman Eugenio Suarez and pitcher Raisel Iglesias all point toward the sky — symbolic of recognizing God and thanking him for their specific gift of talent — when they win a game or score a run.
Many times you will see a player make the sign of the cross before stepping into the batter’s box asking that God help them play up to their full potential. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but that’s because the other player was able to play up to THEIR potential.
And then there is former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz who has always had a quick wit.
Prior to the famous 1988 Miami at Notre Dame game, a banquet was held for both teams on Friday. The team chaplain for Miami was a priest who told everyone during the invocation that God doesn’t care who wins a football game.
When it came time for Holtz to speak, he told the priest he agreed with his comment.
“I don’t think God cares who wins, either. But his mother does,” said Holtz, joking at the fact Notre Dame is French for Our Lady.
The intertwining of God and sports isn’t relegated to just the athletes or coaches. Fans have their own part in this unique partnership.
In fact, sports have been used to emphasize the reasons people do or do not attend church or make faith in God part of their lives. Here are 12 reasons — tongue in cheek — why some Christians do not like sports:
1. Every time I went, they asked me for money.
2. The people sitting in my row didn’t seem very friendly.
3. The seats were very hard.
4. The coach never came to visit me.
5. The referees made decisions I didn’t agree with.
6. I was sitting with hypocrites — they only came to see what others were wearing.
7. Some games went into overtime and I was late getting home.
8. The band played some songs I had never heard before.
9. The games are scheduled on my only day to sleep in and run errands.
10. My parents took me to too many games when I was growing up.
11. Since I read a book on sports, I feel that I know more than the coaches.
12. I don’t want to take my children because I want them to choose for themselves what sport they like best.
There’s no denying it. God and sports are on the same team. And even though some people don’t like to admit God is on the roster, He’s part of every player’s career.
Jim Walker is sports editor of The Ironton Tribune.

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