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Opinion: Enough with religious overtones in sports

By Patrick Kinahan, Contributor | Posted - Feb 5th, 2013 @ 4:59pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Enough already.

In honor of Ray Lewis, the Lord’s servant who doubled as an NFL linebacker, it’s time for athletes to stop giving credit to the Almighty after competition. The Dallas Cowboys might be America’s team, but according to Lewis He's partial to the Baltimore Ravens.

Going out a winner after 17 years in the NFL, Lewis helped the Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers this week and win the Super Bowl. After the game, Lewis stayed true to his mantra, never shying away to praise the Coach in the Sky.

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis (52) holds the Vince Lombardi Trophy after defeating the San Francisco 49ers 34-31 in the NFL Super Bowl XLVII. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

"It's simple: When God is for you, who can be against you?" Lewis said moments after the game as he clutched the Lombardi Trophy.

Maybe the families of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar might not exactly be on Lewis’ side. Baker and Lollar were murdered after the Super Bowl in 2000. The guaranteed lock for the Hall of Fame was charged with double homicide after the dead men’s blood was found in Lewis’ limousine and the white suit that he was wearing at the time was never found. His attorneys negotiated a deal in which murder charges were dropped in exchange for Lewis’ testimony against two of his friends who were involved in the fighting incident.

Somewhere along the line, Lewis found God. And he’s quick to tell the world in any platform.

Good for him. But, please, choose the right (forum, that is).

It’s great — and for some, even faith promoting — that Lewis believes God is on his side. But timing is everything, and standing on the field during the postgame celebration isn’t that time.

The obvious implication in Lewis’ statement is that God favors the Ravens at the expense of the 49ers. Maybe God was a Niners fan during Steve Young’s run to the Super Bowl championship 18 years ago and has since changed his allegiance.


Or maybe he just doesn’t care about the outcome.

Yet, A recent poll by the Religion and Politics Tracking Survey shows three-in-10 Americans believe divine intervention plays a role in determining the outcome of sports events.

It also shows 53 percent of Americans believe athletes who exercise faith in God are rewarded with good health and success.

So, for many, Lewis’ faith is admirable. But the problem is the constant reminders draw more attention to Lewis than to deity. Moderation in all things might go a long way in this case.

It’s easy to argue that the faith of an athlete the caliber of David Robinson does far more to promote the cause than anything Lewis can do. The scandal-free former NBA great has lived an exemplary life, promoting his faith in action more than deed.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Steve Young (8) hugs the MVP trophy at Miami's Joe Robbie Stadium Sunday, Jan. 29, 1995. Young lead the 49ers to a 49-26 victory over the San Diego Charger in Super Bowl XXIX. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

The over-the-top stuff often comes off as preachy and inappropriate. One noted religious leader said teach the Good Word to people and use words if necessary.

In the aftermath of Lewis’ comments, my Twitter account was inundated with cries of hypocrisy. Where’s the outrage, they say, referencing the infamous “magic happens” moment. You know the comment, said by former BYU great Austin Collie after the Cougars pulled off an improbable win over Utah in 2007.

The outspoken Collie took considerable grief for his choice of words, saying the Lord steps in and magic happens when you’re living right on and off the field. The story did go somewhat national, in particular creating outrage among Ute fans.

The Utah faithful took great exception to Collie’s remarks, arguing that he was wrong to imply BYU players were better people than the Utes. The irritated group had a good argument.

And yet, Collie was not unique. Seemingly hundreds of athletes praise God in interviews immediately after winning a competition. At this point, America barely bats an eye at the insinuation that God played a role in victory.

Stop it, please.

For the record, there were only two people there during the Collie interview. From his frame of reference, looking into Collie’s eyes, I thought he was saying the BYU football program was a mess when he played as a freshman before serving a church mission. Two years later, upon his return to competition, Collie thought the team’s ability to focus on football instead of off-the-field problems helped lead to success.

So, it's one thing to express gratitude for your God-given talents. It's another to think He cares which team wins.

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