Baseball fans enjoying the evened-up World Series will appreciate this article on the success of the "Devil-less Tamp Bay Rays" by Rachel Zoll of the Associated Press. The article is primarily the superstitious nature of sports fans, especially baseball fans, but the article has a good deal of serious religious coverage due a unique factor in this year's baseball season. The primary subject of the article is the professional baseball team formerly known as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The team never had a winning season. For the 2008 season, the team name was changed to the Tampa Bay Rays. This same year the Rays are rewarded with a trip to a World Series. A mere coincidence?
There are plenty of baseball reasons for why the Rays reached the World Series that sports writers are covering more than adequately, but this article looks at "the thornier religious question" of whether God cares "about the name or the fate of a team."
Casual use of "devil" in team names and elsewhere troubles Christians who literally interpret Old Testament passages against witchcraft and the occult, said Larry Eskridge of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College in Illinois.
Yet there is little outcry for change.
In college sports, Duke's teams have been called the Blue Devils since the 1920s -- a monicker that seems to have originated with a heroic French regiment in World War I, according to school archives. The name caused remarkably little stir at the school, despite its Methodist roots, and hasn't stopped Duke from winning ACC and national titles.
Eskridge says he occasionally hears a story of protests by parents of young athletes. Steckel says ministries like his still support players and coaches no matter what their team's nickname.
Since the 1992 Final Four, the Duke University Blue Devils have not exactly been an angelic organization from my (Indiana-based) perspective. The main reason for my dislike was the fact they tended to win all the time, and often with players from Indiana. The nickname was just another reason not to like them in my younger years. The 1994 NCAA tournament was another reminder.
However, Christians objecting to the name "devil" aren't necessarily limited people who interpret the Bible literally. It's fair to note that some Christians object to The Chronicles of Narnia series for its portrayal of witches and witchcraft, but few vocalize this objection today. There is a more vocal but limited group of Christians who object to the Harry Potter series. This group of Christians likely interpret the Bible literally, but is that their defining characteristic? The view may be more common among Pentecostals and perhaps Hispanic Catholics, but those views are difficult to nail down.
The challenge for journalists is finding a way to identify these people that tend not to fall under a single label. Thankfully and to Zoll's credit, the term "evangelical" wasn't thrown in the article as a general modifier of Christians who have views typically defined as conservative.
An interesting interview would have been with a person who does not like casual use of words like Devil and attempt to understand why it is they hold that position.
Image of Satan, from Gustave Dore's illustrations for Paradise Lost used under a Wikimedia Commons license.