What a year it has been for religion-in-sports stories. The year started off with Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy leading his team to a Super Bowl victory proclaiming the power of God at every opportunity, followed by a series of religion and baseball-related stories. Then there was the Michael Vick saga and another series of God in football stories, with special attention to the death of the Washington Redskins' Sean Taylor. Even the NBA got some religion with the Orlando Magic's Dwight Howard.
The Los Angeles Times writes about the faith of the Fighting Illini's middle linebacker J Leman as a preview of the Rose Bowl, which features the surprisingly talented Fighting Illini versus the USC on the first day of 2008:
God promised he would go to Illinois and that's what happened, the Illini offering a scholarship a few games before his high school career ended. When he suffered back pain heading into his freshman year, the result of one leg being slightly shorter than the other, he asked others to pray for him.
"I got prayed for 30 times and nothing happened," he said. "Then a guy said 'Let me try one more time.' I checked my leg length, and it was the same length. It took a couple of months, but, since then, I've been fine."
These stories roll out of him excitedly but not the least bit heavy-handed. There is no ulterior motive because Leman does not demand that you believe; the young man is merely telling you what he believes.
Last winter, he underwent ankle surgery and could not seem to heal, the pain causing him to sit out spring practice. Finally, Leman says, God told him to ignore the injury. Just run.
It would have been difficult for the reporter to ignore Leman's story of faith, but it wouldn't be the first time the obvious significance of God in an athlete's life was causally dismissed. Now that Leman's faith has been featured in one of America's most-read newspapers, it will be interesting to watch the broadcast of the game Tuesday and whether the commentators and sideline reporters mention his faith and its impact on his career.
As a wrap-up request, feel free to comment on what you think was the most significant religion-in-sports story of 2007. Also, if you have any 2008 predictions or brilliant story ideas, feel free to leave those as well.