Are sports this country’s new religion?

Nick Esposito

A boxer stands in his corner awaiting the start of the final round. Nervous, he jumps around and crosses himself with his enormous red glove. On the baseball diamond a slugger hits the game winning home run and points to the sky to thank God as he crosses the plate. A running back scoots in for the touchdown and immediately drops to one knee to genuflect in the end zone. After the game, the athletes commonly use the camera as a pulpit to thank God for their achievements and skill. These are a few common scenes that show religion’s resounding presence in sports.

Religion is found in every corner of the sporting world. There are athletic teams named the Angels, Crusaders, Demon Deacons, Friars, Halos, Padres, Saints and Quakers. There are the ever-so-famous Immaculate Reception, Hail Mary, Holy War rivalry game, numerous Halls of Fame and, of course, “Touchdown Jesus.” And while umpires aren’t screaming “Pray Ball!” to start a baseball game, I can’t help but feel that the line between sports and religion has blurred to a point where we can barely differentiate the two. To take it one step further, I wonder, are sports America’s religion?

As crazy as it sounds, is it that far from the truth? Every Sunday millions of fans make their pilgrimage to stadiums all over the country while millions more join them via television. Which one of us hasn’t prayed to God before a big game? And who doesn’t consider Scottie Reynolds’s buzzer beater shot against Pitt “miraculous?” If “sports” was an organized religion and even if we only considered passionate fans its followers, it would be the largest secular religion in the nation. Stadiums would be its cathedrals, Hall of Fames its shrines, broadcasters its prophets, athletes its idols, Sports Illustrated its doctrine and fans its loyal and devoted congregation.

It may sound sacrilegious for even suggesting this. Sports can provide us with very powerful and near-holy experiences. Sports have the power to teach us how to believe in something. Do you remember how awestruck you were when your dad took you to your first big league game and you saw the giant green field for the first time? Or the euphoric feeling you got when you got your first hit in little league? And try to imagine how sacred it will be when you have your first catch with your son or daughter. Those feelings are the sensations that make life worth living.

Sports have proven that they can be a uniting force that can be shared by people who do not look the same, who have different ethnicities, languages and cultures, fathers can pass it down to sons, and mothers can share it with their daughters. One of the best conversation starters between strangers, has been “How about them (your team name here)?”

Even though religions of the world fight and argue, every two years they turn to sports to make peace and participate in healthy competition and sportsmanship at either the summer or winter Olympics. It seems that sports are making a pretty big argument for being the world’s largest religion.

Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren said in an interview with Sports Illustrated in 1968, “I always turn to the sports section first because they record people’s accomplishments; the front page, nothing but man’s failures.” But I wonder what Warren would say if he read the sports section today? The shroud of steroids covers the great sport of baseball and the NFL is haunted by dog abusers and self-inflicted gunshot victims. Gambling referees plague the NBA and the NCAA can’t seem to go a week without a recruiting violation. Are these the idols that we want to kneel by our beds to pray to?

I have always felt foolish praying to the sporting gods for a victory because I know that the other team is praying just as hard for the same thing. I simply pray for a good game and that everyone stays safe and healthy. This leads me to believe that the argument that sports are America’s religion has its holes.

No matter what religion or faith background you belong to, we can all undoubtedly agree that faith is not a spectator sport. Faith and religion call us to strap on the pads ourselves instead of asking others to do our bidding. Faith is a force that is a 24-7 commitment and not only on Sundays and the occasional Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Once we understand that, unlike God, our athlete idols don’t always love us back we will gain some perspective. We will then realize that our faith is our faith and games are just games.


Nick Esposito is a junior communication major from Skillman, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected]