God and the Superbowl

February 2, 2013 • 9:41 am

Atlanta, Feb. 2 (Groundhog Day).

The call of “God bless America,” which we in this benighted county hear so often, should really be “God help America!” But He can’t, because He’s too busy watching the Superbowl. (For you non-Americans, that’s the game that decides who’s the champion football team—as in American football—among all teams in both professional leagues.) The Superbowl is tomorrow (Sunday), and I had to put off my talk in Augusta by one day because nearly all Americans, especially in the South, will watch the game. For your information, the teams playing are the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers.

But I am embarrassed, even in hyperreligous America, to report that many Americans think that God is not only watching the Superbowl, but has an intense interest in the outcome. And Christians are in a dilemma because they don’t know which team God is favoring. As the Washington Post‘s “On Faith” section notes (my emphasis):

Who should Christians root for in Sunday’s Super Bowl: the San Francisco 49ers or the Baltimore Ravens?

It may be a silly question to some, though not to millions of American believers who invest a lot of faith and hope in their sports teams, and see it repaid many times over by the regular public testimonies of numerous athletes and coaches.

A survey released days before the big game shows that more than a quarter of Americans — and about four in 10 evangelicals — think God will help decide the winner of the Super Bowl. So certainly God is rooting for one side or the other, no?

This year’s NFL championship game, however, is especially challenging for those who like their Christian faith to align with their sports loyalties.

Ah, but those clever Christians have a way of deciding who to root for: they simply find out which team has more Christians. But that presents an additional problem because, as we know, some Christians aren’t very moral:

. . . the heart of this moral conundrum is that both the Ravens and Niners have more than their share of Bible-quoting believers — as well as card-carrying cads. And to make matters worse, the saint and sinner can be the same person.

Take Ray Lewis, Baltimore’s defensive standout and future Hall of Famer.

Not only is Lewis a great player, but he is so outspoken about his Christian faith that Sports Illustrated dubbed him “God’s Linebacker” in a 2006 cover story. Moreover, Lewis is retiring after a 17-year career and a season in which he made an improbable (miraculous?) return from a triceps tear that should have ended his year. Redemption, anyone?

On the other hand, Lewis is a fierce and intimidating character who was implicated in a double homicide 13 years ago outside an Atlanta nightclub, an incident that led to a plea deal on a reduced charge. To the anguish of some victims’ relatives, he still has not spoken in detail about what happened that night.

The article lists other “Christian” plays whose track record is questionable. The Post, though, manages to dig up one kineseologist who sounds sensible:

So what is a Christian football fan to do this Sunday? Maybe get some distance, suggests Shirl James Hoffman, author of the 2010 book, “Good Game: Christianity and the Culture of Sports,” and a pointed critic of the ethics of the modern game.

“I will watch the Super Bowl, but not under the illusion that the game is in any sense blessed by God or that it is going to bolster my Christian faith,” said Hoffman, a professor emeritus of kinesiology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. “In fact, I will be very conscious of the fact that it is appealing to instincts that are anything but Christian.”

I’m wondering, though, how Hoffman knows exactly what is blessed by God. At any rate, he’s at odds with a quarter of Americans and 40% of evangelical Christians.

But wait—it’s worse than you think. Here’s a figure from the Public Religion Research Institute:

The key is at the top:

Length of purple bars: percentage of Americans in a category who think that “God rewards athletes who have faith with good health and success.”

Length of burgundy bars: Percentage of Americans who think “God plays a role in determining which team wins a sporting event.”


It still amazes me, as atheistic as I am, that so many believers think that God takes an interest in who wins the Superbowl.  But he’s clearly more interested in that than in the starving children of the world, because at least the Superbowl has a winner.

h/t: Bruce Grant

103 thoughts on “God and the Superbowl

    1. It certainly ought to count as cheating.

      When Tonya Harding asked her ex to take Nancy Kerrigan out of the competition, she was stripped of her titles, permanently banned from her sport, and damned lucky to stay out of jail.

      But when football players and coaches ask God to rig the game in their favor, that’s considered virtuous and sportsmanlike.

  1. Prior to the first Superbowl, God didn’t have to worry with it, apparently.

    Legitimate to consider God’s concern with the NFL and AFL championship games? College bowls? State high school championships? Local Little League game getting rained out?

    Once read a newspaper item of two university football teams (one was Univ. of Tennessee) happening to attend the same Protestant (So. Baptist?) church in the city where they were playing each other the next day or so in a major bowl. Coincidence? Solicited by the congregation? (Any player have the option of not attending, perhaps opting to read the Gideon bible [if not WEIT] in his motel room?) There was diplomatic commentary from the pulpit avoiding the issue of which team more merited God’s favor.

    The fatuity of it is breathtaking.

    1. That has happened in my Alabama hometown several times. The Southern Baptist church where I grew up is literally directly across the street from the Univ. Ala. football stadium, and sometimes when in-state rival Auburn Univ. comes to town, both teams attend that church service the day after the game (no doubt one thanking the Lord and the other asking “Why, God, why?”).

    1. Maybe he’s a homeopathic performance enhancer? I don’t know anything more diluted then a god, that’s why he’s supposedly so powerful.

    1. “Dear Praying People, This is God. I’m sorry but I can’t answer your prayers right now. Tim Tebow is fervently praying for me to help him complete his next pass, and has promised to do that little thing he does every time he thanks Me (he looks so cute when he does that). Your prayer is very important to Me. Please stay on your knees and the next angel, saint or deceased relative will be on the line to intercede for you.”

  2. It would be interesting to see if we could see similar stats on a more global level when the 2014 FIFA World Cup comes about.

    1. I wonder if Catholics can use the fact that strongly Catholic nations have won the vast majority of World Cups?

      Holland seems to be cursed for its Protestantism.

  3. First things first, as a Baltimorean, this godless football fan will be pulling for the Ravens.

    Now, on to more serious matters, who will God favor…

    Jim Harbaugh thanked his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ after completing a Hail Mary touchdown pass in the playoffs. This was when he was the quarterback for the Colts. He’s now the coach of the 49ers. So we know he’s filled with the Holy Spirit.

    John Harbaugh, the coach of the Ravens and Jim’s brother (Was this game meant to be or what?), supports local Catholic schools in a commercial. But I doubt God favors this over his brother’s Hail Mary touchdown pass.

    But here is the slam dunk (wrong game, but whatever). Now, I have to say, if you want to see the ramblings of a crazy evangelical, check out Ray Lewis on YouTube. If you pick your teams on faith alone, Ray Lewis, is as evangelical as you can get. He has more faith than all the 49ers combined, and you can even throw in Tim Tebow for good measure. And yes, he had a run in with the law, but Christianity is about forgiveness brothers and sisters! God showed his loyalty once before. Guess what? The Ravens won the Super Bowl the year that Ray Lewis was arrested. Testify! And so I think The Lord clearly favors the Ravens. (Although Joe Montana might be Jesus’ only son. But that’s the old 49ers.)

    But again, “The Lord giveth and The Lord taketh away.” So who the hell knows.

  4. Let’s review.
    Performance-enhancing drugs – not OK.
    God helping you – OK
    Conclusion: Drugs are more powerful than God.

    1. Cool series that. My favourite character was Sally (“How come I’m the woman?” Dick: “Because you lost”.)

      They managed to work in some quite pointed jabs at society’s quirks.

  5. How? Exactly how does God influence the outcome?

    Does he boost the powers of certain players?

    Does he alter the laws of physics and change the trajectory of passes and field goal attempts?

    Does he make players fall down at inopportune moments?

    Does he threaten the refs with eternal hellfire?

    Does he mess with the cognition of the coaches of the ill-favored team, making them call bonehead plays that they normally would not?

    Or, does he privately reveal ingenious plays to the favored coaches?

    How? What are the mechanics?

    1. It is well established that Bud light labels are what ensure the success of long kicks – god has nothing to do with it

      (for those outside the country that’s an advertising campaign reference)

    2. Some religious athletes see themselves as blessed. They haven’t thought about how stupid it is to believe that God is good, blesses them with athletic ability, and at the same time lets kids starve to death and others suffer all sorts of disease, ailments, and disabilities.

      1. Yes, but that is slightly different from thinking that God will be acting on their behalf on a particular day for a particular contest. Otherwise, they should be praising God every time they dunk a basketball at practice or bench over 400lbs for reps in the training room.

        1. Some think they are given guidance and strength from God to help them rise to a higher level when it counts. But also I think some do praise God for nearly everything they do, even during practice. I think some of the public displays and praise, like pointing to the sky and thanking God in interviews after the game, is mostly superstitious behavior on their part. I better thank God because he could take it all away or give his hand to the opposition next time.

  6. If Goddess takes an interest in football, as she is supposed to take in most things, she also appears to take an interest in whatever fizzy sugar water gets promoted over Superbowl.
    Forbes, that subversive organ of anti-capitalist propaganda, reports that ”CBS banned SodaStream’s Super Bowl spot because, apparently, it was too much of a direct hit to two of its biggest sponsors, Coke and Pepsi.”
    As Will Burns of Forbes goes on to write:

    Please pause and read that sentence again.


    SodaStream, with headquarters at Airport City, Israel, and production facilities all over the Holy Land (no matter how you choose to draw territorial boundaries), is being slammed, presumably by divinely inspired fiat, for tackling the twin bastions of American Christianity: Coke and Pepsi. Interesting implications writ large. Where is Sophisticated Fizz Theology© when you need it?
    May the holier bubbly win.

    PS: It has not escaped my attention that Jerry is posting from Atlanta, the Jerusalem (or Mecca, or Rome, or Bodhgaya, or Ayodhya, or Salt Lake City) of Coke.

  7. I don’t think God is all that interested in the Superbowl or even sports in general; now sportsbook – that’s another issue altogether.

  8. …among all teams in both professional leagues.

    Not a big football fan, but I do know that since 1969 there has been only one American professional football league – all the tems are part of the NFL.

      1. Sigh. I am beginning to understand that WordPress doesn’t allow typo fixing to commenters to discourage pedantry.

    1. There are and have been other professional leagues, like the Arena League, the XFL, the USFL, etc. But none of them have anything to do with the superbowl. He just confused the two leagues of major league baseball with the two conferences of the national football league.

  9. Of course The Great Frog God cares about the superbowl. In fact, He told me the following prophesy: “the team that scores more points will win the game.”

    Ribbit ribbit!

  10. So when god’s team loses why doesn’t he strike the heathens in the winning team dead?

    Oh, I know. God is not a sore loser.

    1. I’m not so sure a team with a lot of outted atheists wouldn’t be a good fan draw, at least on the road. Kinda like the evil pro wrestlers who everyone loves to hate. (Come to think of it, weren’t the “America’s Team” Dallas Cowboys of a several years ago full of thugs – and hated everywhere but Dallas.)

      1. Yeah, and the bad boy Raiders in their day, eh? I suppose as long as it’s a ‘team effort.’ But with goddists all the rage, I’m thinking more of the isolated non-believers. Of course, a superstar in his prime could probably get away with anything.

  11. This is downright psychotic! I’m one of those undoubtedly strange people who couldn’t care less about professional sports. That said, it does not make any sense at all trying to relate God or god, or whatever supernatural forces you think exist, to the outcome of a game that depends upon skill and chance. To introduce god into this scenario makes religion look even more foolish than it generally looks, because it supposes something that no religious person should reasonably think, that a god cares about the outcome of a game, and does not, apparently, care as much about the death of children. This is a distortion of one’s sense of reality of no mean order, which leads me to the conclusion that the delusion required to hold such views is a form of psychosis, and those who are holding such views are, during the playing of the game, as they pray hard for “god’s” team to win, undergoing a psychotic break. One good thing about it is that the psychotic break causes less harm than usual. This would be funny if it were not such a sad commentary on American religion.

    1. Another asportual here.

      My take on this is that even leaving aside the dying children, the idea that God can be induced to intervene in football games is reprehensible on its own terms.

      If you believe that psychic powers exist, and that your friend has them, and you ask that friend to use those powers to degrade the performance of the opposing players, then you are guilty of conspiracy to commit assault, just as if you’d hired a thug to swing a tire iron at someone’s knee.

      Even if you limit your intervention to boosting your own team’s performance, how is that ethically different from passing out drugs in the locker room?

      There’s simply no way such intervention can be made ethically defensible. So the amazing thing to me is not so much that people think it happens, but that they think it’s OK.

    2. I’m one of those undoubtedly strange people who couldn’t care less about professional sports.

      What on Earth (or off it) is strange about being utterly uninterested in sport. Didn’t you have “sports” masters at school whose job was to beat you with a stick until you’d lost any and all interest in sports?

        1. Oh, that is probably what you meant, you silly English person (or Scottish person) so my effort at humor was, ahem, diluted.

          1. “Sport, sport
            masculine sport!
            Equips a young man for so-ci…ety!
            Yes, sport turns out a jolly good sort.
            It’s an odd boy who doesn’t like sport!”
            –Bonzo Dog Band, ‘Sport: the Odd boy’
            (I hope the punctuation makes it clear
            that this is sung in 3/4 time.)

          1. Actually, in the U.S., our Physical Education teachers were usually professional athletic teachers. At least mine were. Most of them had excelled in sports as youngsters and loved sports, and so they went into teaching it. It’s not a joke (and I mean no disrespect) that back in the 1950s and 1960s (and maybe as recently as the 1990s), many female P.E. teachers were very “butch”. They were also completely insensitive to people who didn’t have the physical abilities they did.

            And until recently in the U.S., P.E. was considered equal to academic classes, and the grade was added into one’s scholastic grade point average on an equal basis. It meant that smart kids with deformities or disabilities that had not been diagnosed or recognized were considered lazy, and their grades suffered in addition to being treated rather badly by the teachers. Apparently nowdays P.E. is graded more on a pass/fail and kids have a right to say, “no, I won’t do that” rather than being forced to do something or else face a failing grade.

            How is/was P.E. addressed in the UK?

            1. “How is/was P.E. addressed in the UK?”

              I don’t know the answer to that.

              My comments were informed by my admittedly quite limited experiences and observations as a high school student in the rarefied clime of Appalachian Tennessee during the Ancient Times of the early 70’s.

              1. Well maybe someone else can answer that then.
                : )
                It’s hard to keep track of all these sub-comment layers.

                Look for the episode of Frasier where he dates a beautiful PE instructor, then after seeing her berate a student in her class, he starts seeing his old PE teacher (played by burly, hairy Bob Hoskins) instead of her in bed, bath, etc. Hilarious.

                Anyway this god/sports thing doesn’t surprise me one bit. It reminds me of “the-tornado-spared-me-but-not-my-neighbor-so-I must-be-blessed” stuff. They say it all the time.

            2. I almost didn’t go to college because of the swimming requirement. Went, took the required semester, got a D in it with straight A’s in all 5 other classes.

              Took the rest of my PE requirements in bowling, folk dance, ‘conditioning.’

              What a waste, thinking of how much better I could have spent that time. I guess some things have changed for the better.

              1. I am surprised to hear that colleges had PE requirements! I was thinking mostly of grade school and high school when I mentioned the stuff above.

                How in the world can the teacher justify a D in swimming! Cripes, just showing up for class should get someone at least a C. Not sinking should get you a B+

                And bowling! That is a brilliant choice. If they had offered ping pong we both would probably have done very well indeed : )

              2. @ Jesse

                Even after all these years it’s nice to find concurrence. I guess that it was really scarring!

                You’re probably surprised because you’re younger; I was of the generation that, after Sputnik, suddenly found ourselves dealing with New Math and the President’s Physical Fitness program.

                And yes, I had swimming in HS, too–tells you how good I am at it. 😀 (I showed up for every class and passed the final requirement–one lap using any front stroke + one using any back stroke–which should have at least been a C in my book! I decided PE teachers had it in for nerds.)

                On topic, as a fall chicken, I do remember Broadway Joe Namath’s superbowl triumph. Not to mention his pantyhose commercials.

      1. My disinterest in things athletic at school was such that, one year, a friend and I figured that if we never made the mistake of attending the first Phys. Ed. period the PE master would never know we existed. This indeed worked fine for half the term until the headmaster went for a stroll one day and found us, sitting on a bench by the school field, reading novels. Oh sh*t. But I think he was academically inclined rather than sporty and secretly sympathised since he just referred us to the PE master to deal with. The PE master (who was probably mildly embarrassed and just wanted it forgotten) contented himself with telling us to turn up in future, Or Else.

        It was a salutary lesson in what you can get away with if you’re lucky : )

        1. “It was a salutary lesson in what you can get away with if you’re lucky”

          Unless of course you had prayed not to get caught in which case it was proof of the power of prayer until the moment you got caught when it became evidence of the ineffable mystery of God’s mind and the ways in which it works!

          1. Praying for anything never occurred to me (or I think most of us). A right little bunch of heathen sceptics we were, which is why the compulsory Religious Education class once a week had approximately zero effect other than to convince us that religion was ‘old-fashioned’ (the ultimate condemnation to a schoolboy) and hence could be ignored.

        2. I was pretty bad at PE, apart from medium/long distance running. A classmate & myself persuaded our secondary school (so aged 14 or 15) PE teacher to let us do laps of the running track instead of the other nonsense. Jogging round while the rest of the class tried to kill themselves with shotput/jumping/etc? Worked for me!

          1. I guess my school must have been fairly relaxed about things physical. During the weekly double games period we were officially permitted, as an alternative to staggering around on the field getting in the way of the competent players, to go for a cross-country run in the New Forest instead. (I should note that ‘New Forest’ is one of those typically misleading British names, it’s been called that for approximately 900 years, during most of which the name has been, obviously, incorrect. Nobody’s ever bothered to change it). So, run down school drive, into the first patch of trees, extract paperback from under singlet, sit under tree for a pleasant hour or so reading, then run back. Very pleasant.

            What I find almost incredible in retrospect, is that the school was unworried about letting us wander into the woods unsupervised. This could never happen today. (I think I detest modern ‘health and safety’ as much as I do most religions, and for the same reasons – its practitioners want to control everything anyone does, and they’re insufferably sanctimonious about it.)

  12. “…which we in this benighted county…”

    I’m guessing there’s a missing ‘r’ – Cook County isn’t that unique (though many of us might wish that were only heard in that county).

  13. I am a far right conservative Christian, and I LOVED this article… I enjoy pointing out the stupidity of my fellow Christians, especially when it is something ludicrous like God choosing sides in a sporting event.

    The last sentence is where I lost track with the writer; can you say logical fallacy?? Evolutionists are typically very articulate and logical, but saying that God (if he/she exists) isn’t concerned with starving children because a team wins the Superbowl, is one of the most ignorant applications of poor logic I’ve ever heard.

    1. That isn’t what the last paragraph is saying at all. It’s sarcasm aimed at people who think their god is so petty that he (or she) would concern himself with sports; when there are so many more worthwhile things that could benefit from a bit of divine intervention.

    2. Since you have the good sense to believe that god doesn’t care about the outcome of a football game, there is no logical fallacy for you. But for those christians who believe he does, there is a logical fallacy. Either that or their god has perverse priorities.

      1. Hey, I say the perverse priorities hypothesis has at least as much evidence as any other. If an all-powerful deity exists, it clearly doesn’t like starving children. Athletes, on the other hand, have food, money, careers, even clean water and Gatorade to drink. God’s position seems clear enough.

  14. I have long ago given up wondering about what religious people consider plausible or not; starts with the idea a god who supposedly submits a good person to eternal torture for not believing is worthy of worship and only gets worse from there.

    But what I wonder about more is why the game is called “football”. Isn’t it rather “carryball” with a bit of “throwball”?

  15. All these good christians are confused. Or disingenuous. It isn’t the capital “G” god who will influence the Super Bowl. It is the football gods. The football gods can be influenced by how many people pray for which team, yes. But they cannot and will not control, say, whether a sure-footed kicker will ping the ball off the uprights and miss the OT kick. (This is the earliest known definition of tragedy.)
    Because, just as the Greek gods did over Troy, the football gods all will be fighting each other, in teams, during the process of the Super Bowl. Every once in a while, one of them will go off to his tent and sulk — and maybe pay a smidgeon of attention to the game, maybe wiggle a finger in the general direction of New Orleans.
    But the key is: you prayerful can fans never know which god will be sulking and when.

    As an aficionado, connoisseur and savant about The Game, I trust I’ve made the whole god/Super Bowl thing as clear as the crystal heavens.

  16. I’d like to see the numbers on atheists who don’t give a rat’s ass about a) football in general b) the SB, vs. all others in aggregate / any breakdown of that aggregate.

  17. As an atheist with no real interest in professional sports, I am perhaps ill-equipped to tackle the problem of Christians fretting over which team to root for, but it seems incredibly simple to me:

    If they believe in a god who is omnipotent (or at least very potent), then presumably, whichever team wins is the one that he wants to win.

    Therefore, the problem they are faced with is really a rather pedestrian one: which team is more likely to win?

    This is not hard to determine, and there’s no need to waste time praying about it or counting Christain players. Just ask a bookie. At the moment, God seems to favor San Francisco by 3 or 4 points depending on whom you ask.

  18. I know all about the Super Bowl – that’s the one where Janet Jackson flashed her boob, right?

    There isn’t anything else I need to know, is there? ; )

  19. Brothers, Sisters in Faith, have ye forgotten the lessons of the Old Testament? When God gets involved in battles, 100% of your enemies die, while your side doesn’t even get scratched. Unless, He wants to teach you a lesson, then it’s 33% morality rate for your side.

    I wonder what the censors would do if God really got involved…

  20. I find that chart fascinating, especially because of that top-line result of the 27% who think God directly intervenes in sporting events. Why? Because that’s exactly the “crazification factor.”

    John: Hey, Bush is now at 37% approval. I feel much less like Kevin McCarthy screaming in traffic. But I wonder what his base is —

    Tyrone: 27%.

    John: … you said that immmediately, and with some authority.

    Tyrone: Obama vs. Alan Keyes. Keyes was from out of state, so you can eliminate any established political base; both candidates were black, so you can factor out racism; and Keyes was plainly, obviously, completely crazy. Batshit crazy. Head-trauma crazy. But 27% of the population of Illinois voted for him. They put party identification, personal prejudice, whatever ahead of rational judgement. Hell, even like 5% of Democrats voted for him. That’s crazy behaviour. I think you have to assume a 27% Crazification Factor in any population.

    From kfmonkey.blogspot.com/2005/10/lunch-discussions-145-crazification.html?m=1

  21. God, football, beer and nachos, must be Super bowl in America. We are a petty little contingent of ego centric simpletons. Try flipping a coin for which team to support, that is unless you do believe that some god in fluffy clouds gives a damn about the out come our games.

  22. (Saw “Super Bowl Gay-la?” on Google. BTW, how come Culliver, accidentally speaking for 97%, needs “re-education,” but Ayanbadejo, purposely angering the 97%, doesn’t?)

    Super Bowl Gay-la?

    Jesus stated in Luke 17 that just before His return to earth as Judge, two big “crazes” will happen worldwide at the same time: (1) insane violence (“days of Noah”), and (2) outrageous sexual perversion (“days of Lot” – see Gen. 19). Aren’t beheadings, cannibalism, and school shootings violent? And what’s more perverted than a mob trying to rape LITERAL angels (see Gen. 19 again)?! So, America, keep spitting on God but you’d better duck when He spits back!! (PS – For a bigger enchilada, Google “when DIVERSITY becomes PERVERSITY.”)

    1. I’m so sick and tired of folks assuming Lewis’ guilt. If you have anything more than conjecture, then provide it to the District Attorney’s office in Fulton County, Georgia. They’d love to see it. Furthermore, the two men charged and tried for murder were acquitted on the grounds of self-defense. That’s right – the two victims were looking to make victims of their own that night. What Lewis is guilty of, and what he plead guilty to, was obstruction of justice for misleading the cops and destroying his clothes.
      Facts are tough for those who assume guilt, and require proof of innocence, rather than the other way around.

      1. Sorry–as you can tell, I hadn’t really paid much attention to anything but the gossip that seeped through from some source I don’t even remember.

        1. There do exist safe assumptions – not all assumptions are bad. One example of a safe assumption is to assume gossip to be wrong until proven otherwise.

Leave a Reply