Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

God, silver and bronze

Faith isn't a medal event, but religion and sports are certainly entwined

  • Print

Sport is one of the metaphors used by New Testament writers to describe the Christian life. "Run with endurance the race that is set before us," said the writer of the book of Hebrews, using the image of a long-distance race to encourage the early Christians in their newfound religious life.

In the first book to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul suggested that merely running wasn't enough -- winning was the goal of the Christian life. "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it."

In other places, Paul indicated his only aim in life was to "finish the race." But at another point, when he seemed to deal with some doubts, he wrote about a meeting he attended to be sure "I was not running, and had not been running, my race in vain."

Sportsmanship was also important to Paul, too -- something today's athletes could keep in mind when tempted to cheat. "If anyone competes as an athlete, they do not receive the victor's crown unless they compete according to the rules," he added in the book of Second Timothy.

Of the major faiths, Christianity seems to have made the most of the sports-faith connection -- think of the recent controversy over former Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, who regularly thanked God following late-game heroics, or the many athletes who point a finger skyward after scoring a touchdown.

Publishers of the Bible have noted this affinity for sports, publishing the Athlete's Bible, the Sports Devotional Bible (helps you "get in great spiritual shape") or the Extreme Sports Bible. The latter "contains 20 full-colour action photos of extreme sports, combined with verses about courage, bravery, faith, and adventure."

Other faiths also promote good health and exercise, but not to the same degree.

One Buddhist commentator notes that sport can help develop the mind, including positive states like team spirit, friendship, alertness and even a degree of detachment through gracefully accepting defeat. Another suggests that athletes have a chance to experience a "meditative state worthy of a Buddha" through single-minded devotion and exertion.

"Sport becomes a form of meditation when you engage it with your full attention," he writes, suggesting this phenomenon can be called "sportsamadhi" -- "Samadhi" being the Sanskrit term for intense meditative concentration.

For Islam, most of the attention has been focused on restrictions on female participation in sports. But one Muslim commentator notes that the Prophet Mohammed recommended physical fitness to his followers, and that he participated in camel races.

Of sports in general, the prophet is reported to have said "any action without the remembrance of Allah is either a diversion or heedlessness excepting four acts: Walking from target to target (during archery practice), training a horse, playing with one's family and learning to swim."

Since sports in Greek and Roman times were associated with idol worship, ancient Jews were critical of sporting activities. The Talmud, for example, condemns Roman sports, especially gladiatorial combat. More recently, however, sport has been seen as a way for Jews to enter mainstream North American society, particularly through boxing and baseball.

The connection between religion and sports isn't restricted to playing fields; it has also found its way into the stands. American baseball teams often host religiously themed nights at their ballparks. Last year, for example, some major league teams held Jewish heritage nights and faith and family days.

Not wanting to miss out on the fun, atheists in Minnesota will have a theme night for themselves on Aug. 10 when the Winnipeg Goldeyes' rivals, the St. Paul Saints, hold a night of "unbelievable fun."

During the game, sponsored by the Minnesota Atheists, the home team will drop its religious moniker and become the "Mr. Paul Aints." As well, the letter "S" in all Saints signs and logos around the stadium will be covered, and the game will include references to Big Foot, UFOs and other targets of the skeptical community.

"We want to show that atheists can have fun," said August Berkshire, president of Minnesota Atheists.

The Saints have hosted several religiously themed events before, including Christian concerts and a Jewish Heritage Night. It would be "hypocritical" to tell the atheists no, Saints general manager Derek Sharrer said.

To me, it sounds like fun, although I wonder what the crowd will sing in place of God Bless America during the seventh inning stretch -- maybe George and Ira Gershwin's It Ain't Necessarily So. There's even a sport connection, of sorts; the song, from the opera Porgy and Bess, is sung by a character named Sportin' Life, who expresses doubts about the Bible.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 4, 2012 J13

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


RMTC preview of Good People

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A water lily in full bloom is reflected in the pond at the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden Tuesday afternoon. Standup photo. Sept 11,  2012 (Ruth Bonneville/Winnipeg Free Press)
  • A monarch butterfly looks for nectar in Mexican sunflowers at Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park Monday afternoon-Monarch butterflys start their annual migration usually in late August with the first sign of frost- Standup photo– August 22, 2011   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos


Now that the snow is mostly gone, what are your plans?

View Results

Ads by Google