Athletes Praising the Christian God

A weekly commentary by Hemant Mehta, adapted from his blog "The Friendly Atheist."

Feb. 17, 2010

I've mentioned before that Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow would never have been allowed onto the football field if he wrote "There Is" and "No God" under each eye with black eyeliner instead of "John" and "3:16." Well, the same standard that allows Tebow to promote his faith on the field seems to apply to New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, too. After winning the Super Bowl, he said "God is great!" It was aired on television. All was well and good with the world…

Yet, think of the reaction there would have been if he had said "Allah is great!" instead. Jonathan Zimmerman asks in the Christian Science Monitor:

"…Would network television announcers have applauded Brees as a "man of faith," as he is frequently called?

Would newspapers have published glowing profiles of the other devout members of the Saints, who played up their religious belief during the buildup to the Super Bowl — and thanked God after it?

You already know the answer. The problem here isn't the players' "faith". It's the not-so-subtle assumption that every person of faith adheres to the Christian faith — and to a highly traditional version of it, at that.

Very few athletes come to mind who would openly thank a non-Christian God or no God at all. More importantly, I wonder how the networks would televise it if anyone did. No doubt there would be a couple awkward, stammering commentators struggling to say something intelligent afterwards…

It's even harder to proclaim your minority faith when your teammates are almost all evangelical Christians. Sometimes, not participating in team prayers can cut you from the team:

According to Zimmerman, in 2005, when three Muslim football players at New Mexico State University chose to pray on their own after a new coach instituted the Lord's Prayer following practices, one was asked repeatedly by the coach what he thought of Al Qaeda. All three Muslims were eventually dismissed from the team, with the coach labeling them "troublemakers."

The real trouble was the prayer, of course, not the players. They sued the university, which settled with them out of court.

This isn't a hard problem to fix. It's smart policy and good for team morale to let religion be a personal issue. Officials should not let players wear their faith on their sleeves (or under their eyes) and coaches should never assume the whole team feels the way that they do.

As for Drew Brees' comment, I don't really mind it. That's a personal expression of his faith. But it would've been nicer to see him thank his coaches and teammates first. They're the ones who actually helped him win.


About Hemant Mehta, The Friendly Atheist

(Hemant Mehta is the Chair of the Secular Student Alliance (SSA) Board of Directors. He has worked with the Center for Inquiry and is also an SSA representative to the Secular Coalition for America. Hemant received national attention, including being featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, for his work as the "eBay Atheist." Hemant's blog can be read at and his book "I Sold My Soul on eBay" (WaterBrook Press) is now in bookstores everywhere. He currently works as a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago.)