Touchdown! Oklahoman scores with smart feature on Sunday Sooners game combining two faiths

If you follow college football, you probably know that Oklahoma opened with an impressive win Sunday night, highlighted by 508 yards of total offense by Alabama transfer quarterback Jalen Hurts.

One game into the season (a small sample size, no doubt), it even seems possible that a different Sooners QB could claim the Heisman Trophy for the third straight year.

To which I say: Boomer Sooner!

Here in Oklahoma, The Oklahoman offered readers a special treat on the front page Sunday: a smart news-feature by longtime sports columnist Jenni Carlson on the Sooners playing on what many consider the Lord’s Day. (FYI: Carlson recently celebrated 20 years with the newspaper, which sparked a tribute column by colleague Berry Tramel.)

I loved the headline, which captures the storyline perfectly:

Why the Sooners playing on Sunday combines two religions — football and faith

Carlson sets the scene this way:

NORMAN — Joe Castiglione knew playing a home football game on a Sunday might cause a crimson and cream kerfuffle.

He understands, after all, where he is.

The Bible Belt.

Before deciding to move the season opener against Houston to Sunday, the Oklahoma athletic director talked to faith leaders, devout Christians and Sooner fans about a home game on a holy day. Would it be OK? Or would it be sacrilege?

During his conversations and his research earlier this year, Castiglione came across one tidbit that helped ease his mind — three years ago, Notre Dame played on Sunday.

“OK, now,” he remembers thinking, “this throws me off.”

The most predominant Catholic university in America played football on a Sunday, and it didn’t cause wailing and gnashing of teeth. Castiglione would know; he’s Catholic.

“I probably made some assumptions on what I had always heard, always thought … were the concerns of the day,” he said. “And then found they really weren’t.”

From there, The Oklahoman columnist does a nice job of providing important context (such as the fact that the Sooners never had played a regular-season game on Sunday) and explaining why this might be an issue for the faithful:

Even though sports have become a regular Sunday staple — hello, NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball, not to mention college and youth sports of all kinds — college football is an event in Oklahoma. There are routines. Tailgates. Parties. Traditions.

There are routines, too, on Sundays. Church. Lunch. Errands. Naps.

“It’s just the logistics of how are we going to manage what we normally do on a game day with what we normally do on a Sunday?” Donna Huffman Summerville said. “How is all of that going to fit together?”

I especially liked that Carlson interviewed a variety of leaders of houses of worship near the Sooners’ stadium to see how they were handling the Sunday game.

Carlson’s feature reminds me of an Associated Press story I wrote years ago on churches helping NFL fans balance their love of Jesus and football. Just last year, The Tennessean’s Holly Meyer had a great piece on the impact of an early Tennessee Titans kickoff on people of faith.

Among the interesting details that one might not think about, except for a story like The Oklahoman’s: Some churches rent out their parking lots during Oklahoma games, so what happens when the game is the same day as the weekly assembly?

Moreover, Carlson managed to uncover mini-trends with this piece, such as the decline in Sunday night church services and events:

There was a time a Sunday game would’ve messed more with First Baptist’s schedule. The church used to have youth meetings and evening services, but now, those activities have been moved or cut.

“The reality is that most of our folks and families and said … ‘Sunday nights, we want to go home. Life is crazy and busy, and Sunday night is the one evening that we can recharge and get ready for the new week,’” Smith said. “It’s a testimony to how the culture changes, how society’s changed even in the Bible Belt.”

In other words, many folks in the Bible Belt would probably be watching a different Sunday night sports event if the Sooners weren’t on TV.

This is good stuff.

Read it all.

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