Should NFL Players Pray
by Bryan Wagner
As another National Football League season shifts into high gear, you may
notice after the game a group of players from both teams gathering at midfield.
This is rarely shown on national television, and what these tired, sweaty
athletes are doing is expressing their faith by taking time to praise God
A little more than 7 years ago, Pat Richie, who is San Francisco 49er's
team chaplain, conceived the post game huddles so fans could see the contrast
between the all to familiar image of the out of control athlete, to the
guys who show there is more substance to their lives than just football.
Members of the 49er's and the NY Giants first began this practice when
they knelt to pray after a playoff game in 1990. All-Pro athletes such
as Reggie White, Mark Brunell, Cris Carter and Brent Jones along with many
others have demonstrated their faith in this way.
The issue of public prayer, despite the efforts of the players and chaplins,
still and may always remain: Is this type of public prayer appropriate?
This question we need to think about carefully. Martin De Haan, president
of RBC Ministries, asks and answers this, "Why did Christ tell his disciples
to pray in private? Was it because there is never a time to pray in public?
No. Obviously there is. But I think we need to be cautious about using
public prayer in a competitive arena when motives are likely to be misunderstood.
As one who used to take part in these post-game prayers, I know when
I made this type of a public profession of faith, I was both ridiculed
and respected. I was teased, made fun of and called names for my faith.
I would be watched very closely in what I said and what I did. But I would
also be respected for my stand of faith.
Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly objected in a 1990 article about the
prayer circle that took place in that years Super Bowl. After the New York
Giants edged the Buffalo Bills 20-19, he took aim at the players that participated
and said they should exercise this freedom in their own home. He also says
players shouldn't "shove their religion down my throat", and that prayer
is uncalled for in a sporting event. He even ridiculed Giants Jeff Hostetler
for "inappropriately" praying privately in front of his locker after the
game. Excuse me, but after a game a player is on their own time and anyone
can turn off the TV or choose not to watch. A more serious challenge has
come from the NFL league office over the past several years to stop these
post-game sessions by invoking a seldom used "no fraternizing" rule. Players
and even owners would be subjected to a substantial fine. This has never
happened. God is faithful and the prayer circles still exist today.
There are many positives about post-game prayer. Listen to what some
players have to say:
Howard Cross, right end for the NY Giants- "it's a reality
check, a chance to calm down and thank God for the ability He has given
Eugene Robinson, safety of the GB Packers-"it has long
lasting fruit, the kind that germinates well after football."
Brent Jones, right end for the SF 49ers- "it's a step
I did it because Christ is more important than the game and it also
gave me a chance to get to know the other Christians on the teams we played.
These prayers come from the heart. Topics included the safety of the players,
the protection of their families, the injured athletes, but mainly acknowledging
who Jesus Christ is and hoping others will see He exists.
Why do the players do it? Is it to let their light shine and give God
the glory? Or is it just pretending to be pious? Jesus tells us that we
are the light of the world and not to hide that light. He also instructs
us not to practice piety before others as the Pharisees did. This may seem
contradictory, but the difference comes from the motive and intent. I think
the majority of players do it for the right reasons. They pray together
for the power of the gospel, the oneness in Christ and to glorify God.
We shouldn't judge the motive of the player, but praise God these men are
humbling themselves in a profession that puts them on a pedestal. I think
this fulfills Jesus' commandment to "let your light shine." In this
day and age of self-gratification and a "me first" attitude, it is so nice
to see men glorifying God and putting Him first.
Bryan is a former NFL Punter. He played on several teams during
his career including the original Cleveland Browns.