In today's America, the separation (or lack thereof) of church and state is a political lightning rod.
The separation of church and sports is not of concern. That's because the media already has taken care of it.
In the sports media, references to religion
in general or of a higher being in particular are not welcome.
For athletes or coaches to say their success has come from the gifts given to them by their Creator does not compute in the sports media. That's why it rarely makes it into print, or into a sound bite to be played on the evening sportscast.
Sports journalists are programmed early on to be cynics (how well do I know). In their minds, success and failure are manmade, the result of superior execution or boneheaded mistakes. God could have absolutely nothing to do with it.
To the cynic, the only thing an athlete and coach should wear on their sleeve is a number or an emblem. Anything but religion. Comments praising God are edited out.
Jones Credits God for 2 Interceptions is a headline you'll never read.
Certainly, you can choose to believe or not believe in the Deity. That's your choice.
But what sparked my interest in this subject was a piece authored by Chicago Sun-Times columnist Rick Telander and reprinted in our local daily.
I don't know if Telander is a God-fearing man. If the column is any indication, I'm guessing not. Again, his choice.
Telander, who definitely is a cynic, takes Colts coach Tony Dungy to task for using the largest stage in sports-the Super Bowl victory platform-to proclaim his Christian faith and give credit to God for bringing him to that moment.
Telander said he counted 10 references to "Lord," "God" or "Christian" in Dungy's post-game comments.
Telander implied Americans would have been offended if Dungy had been a Muslim giving praise to Allah.
He questioned whether Dungy would keep a Christian player on the roster over a Hindu.
And, in conclusion, Telander admonished, "... preachers such as Dungy should stick to X's and O's."
In his cynical rant, Telander misses the point. It's not that Dungy is a Christian, but how he steadfastly adheres to Christ-like principles in the way he lives his life, mentors to others, and coaches his team.
In fact, the easiest thing for Dungy to do would be to stick to X's and O's and never acknowledge the role faith plays in his life.
That's how the sports media would prefer it. Cool the God-stuff, Coach, and just break down the Cover Two for us?
Telander writes that, "God, [Dungy] said, was responsible for the Colts' 29-17 victory against the Bears."
I wasn't there for Dungy's remarks, but I don't believe Dungy said that at all. What he said-if Telander had opened his closed mind to hear-was that God provided him and his team the gifts that put them in position where they could be successful. And by being successful, they stand as testament to the Creator, from whom all blessings flow.
God doesn't root for teams. God roots for people to best use the gifts He has provided them, each in their own unique way.
God is rooting, in fact, for Rick Telander to use his gift for putting words together in the best possible way.
In Dungy's case, you can't separate how he coaches-and how he leads-from who he is. And his character, his personality, everything about him, is defined by his faith. First. Foremost. Always. Wouldn't even the atheist or agnostic be forced to admire the way Dungy conducts himself-with grace, dignity and gentility-even if he does give all credit to his Creator?
Had the Bears won, Dungy wouldn't have blamed God. It wouldn't have altered his perspective one iota. And it certainly wouldn't have caused his faith to waiver. Not even the death of his son could do that.
Yes, X's and O's are part of Dungy's life, his profession. But so are the Alpha and the Omega.
Sorry, Rick Telander, but I well understand that, in your world, testaments to faith aren't cool. You want your church and sports to be kept separate.
But to many-I suspect Christian and non-Christian alike-Dungy's statements were courageous, appropriate and yet another example of what a truly good man he is.
Sorry I've been a little preachy here. Next week, I, too, shall try to stick to the X's and O's.