Howard Voss-Altman: Agreed.
Another question, perhaps: Why is it that we see many more football players pray than other professional athletes? Is it the nature of the battle, like war? Is it because they have come through the battle without life-threatening injuries? Are football players wired differently than other athletes?
Lorna Dueck: And why is it that chaplains are welcomed in all Canadian Football League locker rooms, even on staff in some? There are very few professions in Canada that, when it comes to the core deliverables, pull in chaplaincy help.
Peter Stockland: I am actually a long time Giants fan who underwent a conversion to the Patriots a couple of years ago. Talk about the agony in the garden – not once but twice!
Guy Nicholson: Conversion! Cliché opportunity missed.
Howard Voss-Altman: Really, Peter? How does that happen exactly? While I have certainly enjoyed rooting for various teams when the Giants have been eliminated, my fundamental loyalty remains the same.
Peter Stockland: It happened because my son was a Patriots fan and I was a Giants fan and, over time, he convinced me that the Pats were a better organization and I believed, obviously erroneously, that Eli Manning was brain dead. I am the convert I wish to kick.
I would also question whether sports and the life of faith are as far apart as your original premise suggests, Guy. Both require discipline, focus, attending to something far greater than the self. And the sheer physicality of particular sports can be akin to prayer, at least meditative prayer. As I runner, I use my runs for prayer all the time.
Sheema Khan: I think we should also look at the most universal game in the world: soccer. There, it is common to see displays of faith, especially after goals are scored. Also, it is common to hear soccer players thank God – more so than in North America. Of course, some invoke God for other reasons. Remember Diego Maradona’s famous “Hand of God” goal in the 1986 World Cup against England!
On another note, during the 1990s, Hakeem Olajuwon won the National Basketball Association’s MVP and led the Houston Rockets to two championships. He was also a devout Muslim and fasted during the regular season. His coach at the time remarked that his lifestyle (discipline, prayer, prohibition of alcohol) would probably allow him to play for many more years. Olajuwon inspired many youths (especially Muslims) to believe that one can excel at sports while maintaining one’s faith, and that it is important to be true to who you are, and what you believe in.
Guy Nicholson: You’ve touched on one of my intended questions for the group, Peter: What’s the most important thing sports and faith have in common?
Peter Stockland: I would say the requirement to be in the world but not of it. Both faith and sports demand the ability to detach without becoming out of touch. When you are training for something, the discipline required makes it all encompassing and it’s vital that you learn to deal with what the sportswriters, those kings of cliché, describe as “distractions.” The same is true of a life of faith. You can’t get (wait for it) knocked off the puck by a world that doesn’t understand meaning as you do.
Lorna Dueck: I think it’s discipline and community. There is no success in sport without that deliberateness of creating time to pursue victory, and there is no place to engage it without other like-minded participants. Faith also requires a community that affirms, “This is the goal, these are the rules, here’s how you win.” Not being an athlete, but rather one who drags my body to the gym because it’s the “temple of God,” I’m curious what the real athletes would say on this.
Howard Voss-Altman: For me, faith is often the irrational belief that, regardless of how dire the circumstances, the sheer amazement of our existence creates an optimism that cannot be shaken. And I think being a sports fan requires a similar optimism. There’s always the belief that, somehow, some way, the team is going to find a way to return to glory.