Combination of faith and sports goes far beyond Tim Tebow

Published: Wednesday, April 4 2012 10:05 a.m. MDT

Tim Tebow of the Denver Broncos kneels on the sideline in the second half against the New England Patriots during their AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Gillette Stadium on January 14, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.

Jim Rogash, Getty Images

In the height of Tim Tebow-mania, fellow Christian and ex-football player Kurt Warner had some cautionary words for the highly-visible Denver Broncos' quarterback known for putting his faith front and center.

"Put down the boldness in regards to your words," Warner told the Arizona Republic.

Despite Warner's reluctance to combine religion and sports, ReligionLink has produced a thorough, resource-rich guide called "Gods and Games," in which it points out that religions long have elevated athletic competition to a spiritual plane, dating back to polytheistic cultures of ancient civilizations. Christianity naturally spread as it adapted these customs to the Christian tradition. Scriptures like I Corinthians 9:24 and Hebrews 12:1 discuss how one must "run with perseverance the race marked out for us" and "run … to receive the prize."

Yet some wonder how much religion should be combined with sport. Although some have attributed the Broncos' miraculous wins last year to Tebow's faith, some feel it is inappropriate to pray for victory.

"To be honest, I used to struggle with this a little," BYU offensive line coach Mark Weber said. "I admit that I used to pray for victory. But I've learned and grown and mellowed a little through the years, as a person and as a Christian. Now I pray to do the best job I can do. I pray for our players to do their best. I pray for their safety. And I pray that Christ may be glorified by the way I work and conduct myself."

Utah State defensive lineman Levi Koskan, who identifies himself as a non-denominational Christian, agrees with Weber.

"I don't think you can pray to win," Koskan said. "I don't think God cares about winning and losing football games. All he cares about is if we do our best."

Sometimes the combination of sport and religion can lead to idolizing of athletic figures. This deification of individuals is not something new, and it's something that is done to more than just athletic figures, according to Karen Schrock of the Scientific American.

"Leaders in general are hard to indict, especially those like Joe Paterno who have near-mythical stature," Schrock wrote. "The idea that a living person can be deified is not surprising from an evolutionary point of view."

A crucial component of the social cohesion that allowed our human ancestors to survive was religion, said Freek Vermeulen, associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the London Business School. Religion 'centers on myths and deities,' he wrote. 'This inclination for worship very be satisfied, and great people such as Jack Welch, Steve Jobs and Lady Di serve to fulfill this need.'"

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