On Faith


PRRI 2014 survey mapTwo weeks ahead of the Super Bowl, half of American sports fans say they believe God or a supernatural force is at play in the games they watch, according to a new survey.

That percentage includes Americans who pray for God to help their team (26 percent), think their team has been cursed (25 percent) or more generally believe God is involved in determining who wins on the court or in the field (19 percent). Overall, half of Americans fall into one of these groups, according to the survey Public Religion Research Institute released Tuesday.

“As Americans tune in to the Super Bowl this year, fully half of fans — as many as 70 million Americans — believe there may be a twelfth man on the field influencing the outcome,” Public Religion Research Institute CEO Robert Jones said in a statement. “Significant numbers of American sports fans believe in invoking assistance from God on behalf of their favorite team, or believe the divine may be playing out its own purpose in the game.”

Football fans were the most likely to pray for their own teams to win, with 33 percent saying they ask God to intervene in games, compared to 21 percent of fans of other sports. They were also more likely to think their teams were cursed (31 percent compared to 18 percent) and to take part in rituals before or during games (25 percent to compared to 18 percent).


It is time to actually stop and think about this, for minute. No, no, don’t pray about it. Think.

Having graduated from a Jesuit school, I am more than familiar with the Hail Mary pass. Indeed, listening to Catholic football mothers try to recite the passages while the ball is in the air makes for a reasonably entertaining side attraction.

Touchdown JesusSo let’s start with Touchdown Jesus, the graven image of the Son of God watching over the University of Notre Dame football team.

Like reciting the Hail Mary, it’s a cute idea with some sentimental tug. But it’s not actually an article of faith is it? After all, Notre Dame is one of the nation’s preeminent academic institutions; they certainly wouldn’t foment this kind of superstitious belief, or denigrate their Lord and Saviour that way … right?

It’s one thing to thank God for the opportunities. But stop crediting touchdowns, or home runs, or whatever, to divine intervention. (I might promise my cousin’s evangelical ex-husband who picked up herpes through adultery that, no, Jesus did not run that marathon twenty years ago, sir—you did.)

We all used to groan and tune out during morning prayers when it came to student petitions unto God, because one of our classmates routinely stuffed the box with the usual pleas to the Lord to take care of the starving babies in Africa, and all that. It’s not that this is just about not praying, or something. But a couple of minutes into the same cycle of petitions you hear every day, you start to tune out.

To her credit, though, the one thing our classmate didn’t do was ask God to intervene in school football games. That was left to the priests.

Let us dare, however, to attempt sympathy with God. I mean, it’s got to be tough, deciding who to smite with a hurricane or tsunami, and all these people running around with bombs and bullets, and speaking of which, what’s up with that guy in the middle of Africa who butchers people and drugs up children to turn them into soldiers and breeders in order to bring the Ten Commandments to the force of civil law among men? You know what, it’s the Seventh Day, so it’s fair to rest. I mean, sure, Kony’s going to keep on—wait, what? The Irish are playing? And they’re behind? Uh-oh, better reach down the Divine Hand and throw the game.


Even in a more localized context: Dear God, would You please do something about these baby murdering doctors, homosexuals, and uppity women? Oh, and by the way, while You’re at it, would you please throw the football game this weekend in order to demonstrate Your Holy Justice and its triumph in fair competition?

To the other, perhaps the stellar professional career of Tim Tebow ought to be evidence enough that God plays favorites.

There are, of course, caveats to the PRRI study, including the sample size for two categories. However, that does not erase the general consideration. As people evangelize their faith in order to deliver God to others, or votes to the ballot box, it might behoove them to understand that it’s really hard to take the idea of God reaching down His Divine Hand and fixing a game seriously. Indeed, it is hard to take the notion of such a ludicrous, tiny, petty God seriously.

Then again, that’s the sort of God they want to believe in.


Kaleem, Jaweed. “Half Of Americans Say God Plays A Role In Super Bowl Winner: Survey”. The Huffington Post. Jnauary 16, 2014.

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