Herbert London: God And Football

Jan 31, 2018

There were five seconds left in the playoff game between the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints. The Saints had a two point lead and a virtual lock on the victory. But in one of the strangest events in National Football, Case Keenum, the Vikings’ quarterback, threw a pass to Stefon Diggs in the flat. He jumped up and dashed to the end zone. What was a virtually assured Saints’ victory became a Vikings visit to the NFL championship game.

When asked about the circumstances surrounding his catch, Diggs said, “it happened so fast, I didn’t know what was happening.” He went on to note that he owes his success to God. “God made it happen.” Since this was a miracle of a kind that defies logic, there may be something to this argument. It is instructive that no one to my knowledge from the American Civil Liberties Union or Atheists of America have challenged Diggs’ judgement.

The reason this matter comes up at all is that football coaches across the country receive the wrath of the ACLU when they have asked their teams to pray to God before and after games. What was once a pre-game ritual has been ridiculed to the point where it is rarely employed. I doubt Mr. Diggs will start a trend–as an NBC official said, “religion and politics don’t mix.” Well they do mix in ways he will never recognize.

Materialists will judge you, all this transcendent talk is nonsense. Yet there is so much in the world that cannot be explained through science or rational thoughts. Perhaps it is the “five second catch,” or the immaculate reception,” or the inconceivable Super Bowl comeback. Life has a way of challenging what we think we know. So often the science of today becomes the mythology of tomorrow. There was a time when “phlogiston” was believed to add to the atomic weight of chemicals. There isn’t a scientist who believes this now.

There are, alas, many scientists that sneer at religious ideas. But Newton was a religious man; religion was an important development for Einstein (“God didn’t just throw dice at the universe”). Intelligent design is a preternaturally interesting way of looking at the world. The eye, for example, in humans and other primates has not undergone evolution. How can that be explained?

Football players occasionally make reference to their deep seated religious convictions, albeit this is done less frequently now than in the past. There is, of course, a natural tension between reason and revelation. But one should note that on the football field they often come together. Take, for example, the field goal kicker who carefully measures the appropriate steps before the placement of the ball and then takes practice kicks at the goal posts. As the football is in the air, every player on the sidelines is in an act of prayer hoping that ball is going through the goal posts.

Prayer is a part of sports because there are so many imponderables that can determine the outcome of the game and they are by no means logical. Why did the seagull fly in front of a left fielder as he was about the throw out an opposing player at home plate? Why did snowflakes in the middle of a football game alter a team’s passing attack?

And yet there are matters, entirely predictable, that are overlooked. Is it merely coincidental that Colin Kaepernick disrespected the American Flag and the Judeo-Christian tradition that upholds it? After all he is an admirer of Fidel Castro, an atheist.

I don’t know if God will make an appearance in the league championship games or in the Super Bowl. But it wouldn’t surprise me.

Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research,  a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). You can read all of Herb London’s commentaries at www.londoncenter.org

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