God and pro football

football prayersAs I get hyped up for this weekend's Colts vs. Steelers game, The Indianapolis Star managed to remind me that NFL players are as human as any of us. They make mistakes, they have problems and they need guidance from above. The Colts unpaid chaplain Ken Johnson finds himself in tough situations, travels with the team and even prays for the team's success on the field. We've already addressed the issue of religion in football and apparently most NFL teams have some form of religious leader:

Chaplains fulfill a basic need: They provide church services to people who work many Sundays.

But in an era when professional athletes are frequently paid like kings and worshipped like idols, and when fleeting glory falls on the young shoulders of men in their 20s and 30s, the chaplain's job goes beyond weekly church services.

"With all the pressures of an NFL or a professional lifestyle, it helps the guys to have someone they can talk to without their business getting out in the street," said Corwin Anthony, the director of pro sports for Athletes in Action, which provides chaplains for about half the teams in the NFL.

There was no mention of the fact that some Christians view NFL football as unholy because it violates fourth commandment by playing games on the Sabbath. Maybe this is an old issue and nobody that plays in the NFL these days thinks about, but remember the conundrum presented in Chariots of Fire? Just curious if anybody thinks this is still an issue.

Overall, the testimony that slips into the story from players is powerful, especially since the team is dealing with the recent suicide of the coach Tony Dungy's son, who was close to the team. This all makes a story like this even more relevant a I'm sure there are many in Indianapolis who wonder how the team and the coach is cooping with the loss. I found it interesting that Dungy has asked Johnson to come by the practice facility, which speaks loudly of the importance of faith in his life:

From that pulpit, he has the chance to share his faith and what he has learned from life -- although not every player is receptive. Green Bay Packers chaplain Joe Urcavich said developing trust is vital when it comes to serving pro athletes, who tend to live in a closed, protective circle. But he said gifted athletes frequently yearn to be recognized for who they are off the field.

Colts offensive lineman Tarik Glenn is among those who have developed a trusting relationship with the chaplain. Glenn asked Johnson to preside at his wedding after the two grew close through Bible studies.

"He is a big reason why my foundation in the Lord is where it is and why my maturity is where it is," Glenn said.

I know I'm biased because I read the IndyStar on a daily basis, but they have had a prolific number of religious stories in the last week or so.

First we have the same-day recap of the "scandal of particular prayers" with lawmakers shouting "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus" followed by an excellent next-day story by reporters Robert King and Bill Ruthhart. The article is thorough and while it is driven by the events of the day, it reflects well on the reporters' understanding of religion.

And finally, Ruthhart follows up with a story that is somehow related because it is a Statehouse issue and will certainly involve some of the same actors as the particular prayers story:

For the second straight year, Rep. Woody Burton, R-Greenwood, is pushing for creating an "In God We Trust" license plate. The House passed the bill in last year's session, but it stalled in the Senate.

"What I want is exactly what it says on the dollar bill," Burton said. "Nothing more."

He is more optimistic this time around, mostly because Senate President Pro Tempore Robert D. Garton, R-Columbus, said the bill would reach a Senate committee this session...

That doesn't satisfy Lindsey Mintz. As director of government affairs for the Jewish Community Relations Council, she testified against the license plate at Thursday's committee hearing.

"There is still a line between religion and government, and it is actually being crossed," Mintz said. "There are still tax dollars being used to create a plate that invokes a particular deity."

So there you go, the IndyStar, while not known for its religion coverage, isn't afraid of the occasional religious story, especially if it's a relevant local issue. And for that they deserve credit from us here at GetReligion.

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