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Archive for Friday, March 23, 2001

Putting up a prayer

Many athletes, coaches bring God into the game

March 23, 2001

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Is God a Jayhawk?

Does he root for Jeff Boschee to sink that three-pointer against Mizzou?

Althought many athletes offer parise to God on the court or field,
religion's role in sports remains unclear.

Althought many athletes offer parise to God on the court or field, religion's role in sports remains unclear.

Or maybe God's pulling for our opponents, answering the prayers of the players on the other side.

Or maybe, just maybe, God really doesn't care who wins the big game at Allen Fieldhouse. Maybe the Creator has more important things to do in the universe than get involved in the outcome of a Big 12 basketball game.

Still, it's a common sight to see athletic teams and coaches throughout the nation in prayer, both before and after a contest.

And how about all the times you hear an athlete, in an interview after a game, giving credit to Jesus for the big victory?

Which raises some interesting theological questions.

Like: Is it OK to pray to God for your team to win?

And, more importantly, is that what God is for to serve as some kind of cosmic referee, determining the outcome of the games we play?

"I think in the whole scheme of things, what God's looking for is not whether someone dedicates a game or a touchdown to him. He's looking for them to dedicate their lives to him," says the Rev. John McDermott, pastor of Morning Star Christian Church, which meets at Sunset Hill School, 901 Schwarz Road.

McDermott ministers to many Kansas University athletes who attend his church, including basketball player Luke Axtell. He's also active in Champions for Christ, a spiritual outreach ministry to KU athletes.

"I don't have an answer for whether God lets one team win or not. But a person of faith is going to have the tools to be a better member of a team. He'll be one who's growing and maturing," McDermott says.

Acknowledging God

KU coaches and athletes have varied opinions about what role if any God plays in their sporting events.

"I don't really think God cares who wins the big game. I think he cares about individuals in the game, as far as their safety and their ability to play at their highest level," says Terry Allen, KU head football coach.

"I think God is involved in everybody's life. I don't think he's in the mix of the game, actively supporting one team or another. But he's in everybody's life."

Wayne Walden is in his 13th year as an academic coordinator in the KU athletic department's support services office. He counsels athletes on academic and personal issues.

"I think for some student-athletes, their faith is extremely important to them. It's their way to acknowledge that God has given them a way to perform and participate," Walden says. "I think most of them who are mature in their faith realize God will help them in adversity, but that doesn't always translate into victories."

Does God, responding to the prayers of the athletes, intervene in a game on their behalf?

"I don't think God says, 'Oh, I'm rooting for this team.' I think he cares about how people handle themselves, but not about who wins and loses," Walden says.

But that doesn't discourage plenty of athletes from praying before their games, perhaps hoping to influence the final score.

Bobby Randall is head coach of KU's baseball team and faculty sponsor for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at the school.

"On the good side, it's to recognize that God is in charge. And on the not-so-good side, (some players think) it can be a good luck charm," Randall says. "I know athletes that go to the chapel before a game, so they can cover all the bases. They think they might get a few more hits."

It's all a big mystery, trying to determine if God is involved in the outcome of a sporting contest, Randall says. "Does God care about winning? I wish I knew the mind of God. That's why you do pray, believing that he'll reveal to you what he cares about."

Walking the walk

It's almost a cultural clichthe sight of a football player dropping to a knee in prayer after crossing the goal line.

Or a boxer after pulverizing his opponent thanking Jesus for the victory.

What's going on here?

The Rev. Vince Krische, co-chaplain of KU's football team since 1985, isn't sure.

"I'm not one personally who likes to be demonstrative of the faith, (like) kneeling in the end zone. But I do like it when people realize that the source of their gifts and talents is God-given, rather than their own selves," says Krische, who also is director of the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center, 1631 Crescent Road.

Ryan Baty, a sophomore on KU's baseball team, is active in Champions for Christ and attends Morning Star Christian Church.

He's familiar with the sight of athletes thanking God for the victory.

"You see that a lot. You see a lot of people praying and giving credit to God. If that's from the heart, then praise God. But I'm not so sure it always is," he says.

The problem, he says, is sometimes the athlete who's prayerful after a score on the field is also the one partying the hardest after the game.

"Your actions have to back up your claim (of faith). Unfortunately, you don't see it that often," he says.

Baty doesn't fall to his knees in thanksgiving every time he rounds the bases, but prayer is a staple of his athletic life.

"I pray before a game, I pray all the time. I just ask to be protected out there from injury, and I ask for boldness to give credit and glory to God's name in every situation," he says.

"I don't think God really cares who wins or loses the game. He's into what you want to give to him, how you relate to him individually."

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