And then there is just the bizarre things that are hard to ignore – like how Tim Tebow pushed “John 3:16” into the top Google searches in January after it was reported that he had thrown for 316 yards and averaged 31.6 yards per completion against the Steelers, and when the winning touchdown pass was thrown, the national TV rating peaked at 31.6.
Howard Voss-Altman: There is a marvellous unifying element to sports in our culture. If Robert Putnam is correct (and I believe he is), and we are truly “bowling alone,” then professional sports has become one of the few cultural touchstones we genuinely share. When were we more Canadian than when the nation was celebrating Sidney Crosby’s overtime goal in the 2010 Olympics? The Super Bowl was watched by more than 100 million Americans and countless more around the world. As we no longer drink from the same cultural water cooler any more, sports enables us to share something in common with our neighbour.
Sheema Khan: Great point, Howard. As I wrote in my column, the news of Canada’s 2002 hockey gold-medal wins was spread in Mecca, following the hajj, to Canadian hajjis hockey fans. Imagine being connected to a national event, even outside the country. The Vancouver Games reminded me of September, 1972 – a time when Canadians all came together. Living in Quebec as a child, following the tumultuous years of 1970-71, it was wonderful to see French and English cheer Team Canada.
Peter Stockland: As far as the identity goes, though, I always think of the great Jerry Seinfeld line when he mocked fans who cry “We won, we won,” after a game. As he put it: “ No, they won. You watched.” I think one thing that happens when athletes are public about their faith is a certain discomfort that just being a cheerleader in life isn’t all there is. You actually have to engage, whether physically or spiritually.
Guy Nicholson: In your opinion, everyone, what have been the most shameful and the most uplifting intersections of religion and sport?
Peter Stockland: It’s going back a long way now, but I think the way Muhammad Ali was denigrated by the boxing world for his conversion to Islam was despicable. Of course, there was a lot else going on there, but even as a Christian kid at the time I felt the treatment of him was repulsive. As for glory moments … actually, I think the whole Tim Tebow story this year was very heartening in that he was mocked, but the mockery stopped, to a large extent, when he proved what he could actually do.
Lorna Dueck: Uplifting is to see sport heroes champion on justice or inclusion issues and give sacrificially to those causes – they are directing many eyes to needs that need to be cared for. Shameful are the salaries being paid in this area; it’s fundamentally wrong.
Howard Voss-Altman: I’m in agreement with Peter about Muhammad Ali. Another shameful intersection of religion and sports has been the national dedication of time and energy to sports, as opposed to all the other societal concerns that we have neglected. This is not the fault of sports. It is, instead, an indictment of a society that would prefer to spend its time analyzing the minutia of sports rather than analyzing gross economic inequities, government corruption or the absence of meaningful community. Of course, it is much easier to follow sports – they’ve become a 24/7 distraction for a society that finds it easier to have winners and losers rather than the shades of grey that accompany more complex issues. But that is neither an excuse nor a justification.
The most uplifting moments happen off the field: when a ritual is passed down from parent to child, when a truly spectacular play is made, the kind you’ll remember forever, and you can see it happen with a spouse or a child. The moment of sharing between the generations simply cannot be replicated in any other context.
Sheema Khan: The Globe reported last month about the efforts to exclude Saudi Arabia from the 2012 Olympics for its failure to include women on its national team.
While this inclusion is cultural, it is also justified by a particular interpretation of religious texts by Saudi religious authorities. Such interpretations form the basis of a society where a woman must have a male guardian from cradle to grave – she cannot apply for a bank account, she cannot apply to schools, get a job or travel without permission of a male guardian. This approach is particular to Saudi Arabia.