Red Sox Chick/Toeing the Rubber

Because you always need a backup plan

My God Rant

You know he does.

You know he does.

I don’t consider myself overly religious.  I’m more spiritual than specifically religious but I do believe in God and Jesus Christ.  I’m Catholic by birth and still believe in and follow many tenets of that religion.  I share this here so folks know where I coming from when I write the rant I’m about to write.

The religious beliefs of famous people, including athletes, was never something I paid much attention to.  I’m not one of those people who wants to know every intimate detail about the personal lives of the folks I choose to follow whether as actors or writers or athletes.  Entertain me and I’m happy.  Which is one of the reasons, as much as I love technology and the Internet especially, all of this access we now have has always been a little disturbing to me.  I don’t want to know who Tiger Woods is banging or which football players bring guns to every party they attend.  Sadly, that ship has sailed and I practically have no choice.  If I spend time online, I’m going to eventually come across information I could have done without.  It seems to me that there was a time when religious beliefs were held closely to each individual and not something that was put out there for the public to dissect.  Those times, if they ever really did exist, are gone.  People seem to be more willing and happy to share their beliefs with the world which automatically sets them up for criticism.

For years the famous have thanked God, most notably in award ceremony speeches.  But it wasn’t until 2003 that I actually paid close attention to a player thanking God so specifically as I did Bill Mueller.  After one particularly good game, Mueller told an ESPN  reporter that before he would answer any questions he wanted to “thank the Lord for blessing me with the gifts he did that helped me help the team tonight”.  I use quotation marks but that isn’t a direct quote – just as close as my memory will let me get.

I was blown away by his forthrightness, knowing full well the shitstorm that was going to crop up on the Red Sox message board I frequented at the time.  I wasn’t wrong.  A debate began over at the Red Sox fan forum about whether he should have said what he said.  The people complaining about him trotted out the oft-used “we don’t need baseball players preaching to us” argument while folks on the other side of the argument felt it was his right to say whatever he wanted in the moment and thanking God wasn’t the same as preaching to people.  That same season, well in that POST season, Trot Nixon got a pinch hit, extra innings, 2-run home run against the Oakland A’s during the ALDS that kept the Sox alive and led them back to Oakland where they eventually won the series.  In his post-game comments, he said that Jesus was holding the bat for him when he swung (Trot was banged up which was one reason didn’t start the game – the other being left-hander Ted Lilly was the starting pitcher).  You can imagine the online controversy THAT caused.  In the post-season of 2004, in the presser after his amazing Game 6 “Bloody Sock” start, Curt Schilling announced to the world that he was a Christian.  Each of these moments were followed by passionate arguments for and against the players having the “right” to do this.  All of that was followed up in 2005 with an interesting article written by Bob Hohler detailing the Evangelical Christians in the clubhouse with this supportive quote by Gabe Kapler:

”Everyone is very respectful of one another and what they choose to believe in,” said Gabe Kapler, who is Jewish. ”The guys in this clubhouse live in harmony when it comes to that kind of stuff.”

So the bottom line of the Hohler piece seemed to me to be that there were an awful lot of Evangelical Christians on the team but, unlike the reputation of that group, they weren’t making the non-Evangelicals feel left out or intimidated. Works for me.

Anyone who visited Fenway Park during the Nomar Garciaparra era knew that he took a knee and said a prayer (or two) during warmups before each game.  Pedro Martinez built a Catholic church in  his hometown back in the Dominican Republic.  There were (are) little signs of religion everywhere in baseball (cameras are always picking up fans in the stands with their hands clasped together in prayer, hoping for a ‘miracle’ for their team) and I have not once felt like baseball or specific baseball players were trying to convert me.

The overt tips of the hat to their God are much more obvious in baseball now than possibly any other time.  Many pitchers take a moment before they take the mound to do what looks like praying (in many cases we don’t really know  – maybe they’re just meditating?) and many batters cross themselves while at bat or give a point up to heaven once they take a base.  And with the more obvious shout outs to religion come the more heavy handed criticisms of it.  My favorite (and I say that with great sarcasm) is the argument that even if there is a God (which most people who use this argument believe there isn’t…which is fine, to each their own), he doesn’t care which team wins a game.  I happen to agree with this argument fully.  I don’t believe for a minute that my God is up there laying bets on his favorite teams.  But my issue here isn’t about the existence (or not) of God it’s about the idea that people claim that players believe God wants “their” team to win.

In all the outward gushings of the believers, I’ve never heard one or read one quote that said “God wanted our team to win today!”.  Those quotes could be out there but I’ve not been made aware of them.  Here’s a short primer for the unaware:  People who believe in God, regardless of which God it is and how they celebrate this, believe God has an interest in them.  The bottom line for praying is that if you ask God for help, you might get it.  It’s really just as simple as that.

Bill Mueller believes that God gave him a talent that made it possible for him to sustain a career in professional baseball.  Trot Nixon believes that Jesus was with him in what he (Nixon) considered a time of struggle.  Curt Schilling believes that in a moment where the hopes and dreams of millions of people were square on his shoulders and he was in a weakened physical state, God helped him through.  I have no idea if any of them are right.  My struggles with my faith are many and too private to fully share here but I don’t see any reason to take issue with those who publicly articulate that they believe a higher power is helping them out.

I would take tremendous issue with, say, Jon Lester going on NESN and telling people the only path to a fulfilling life is through Jesus Christ.  The flip side of that is that I’d be offended if Jacoby Ellsbury told Heidi Watney that God was dead and all who believed were fools.  We don’t watch baseball to be preached to, from either side.  But if Jonathan Papelbon went on NESN and said that he felt like God blessed him for whatever reasons, where is the harm there?  To me, that is the equal of what the players do when they thank God or Jesus or the saints or their dead mothers.  They aren’t telling us we need to be next to them believing what they do, they’re just comfortable enough with who they are to share that with us.  Why is this a problem for people?  Why use the dismissive “God doesn’t care” argument just because you don’t care?  The “God doesn’t care” line reeks of willful ignorance.  I honestly can’t think of anyone who has ever argued that their God genuinely wants one team to win over another.

It isn’t my business if people want to thank God or the Goddess or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  I happen to think there’s enough room for all of us.

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July 1, 2010 - Posted by | 2010 | , , , , , ,

7 Comments »

  1. This was a great article Cyn, I really, really enjoyed it. I agree with you that it isn’t a big deal when a player thanks God for blessing them with strength or a victory or whatever they want to thank him for. I’ve also never been pressured to follow a certain religion by a professional athlete as well, and just because they play at a high level, does not make them exempt from being able to follow a religion and share their opinion during a post-game interview, as long as they don’t cross the line that you drew in your final paragraph.

    Again, this was a very enjoyable post, thanks.

    Comment by Josh G | July 1, 2010 | Reply

  2. This was one of your best blogs ever.

    Noni

    Comment by Noni | July 2, 2010 | Reply

  3. Fabulous blog Cyn, sat here nodding my head at every paragraph. Well done you.

    Comment by Dawn | July 2, 2010 | Reply

  4. :applauds:

    Just wondering what a stink would be caused should a player thank their voodoo god for doing well.

    I still believe that any celebrity has the right to talk about their beliefs, religious, moral or political. Doesn’t mean I listen..I just think they have the right.

    Comment by Tex19 | July 2, 2010 | Reply

  5. well written. I remember hearing somewhere – and I wish I could remember exactly where – that God doesn’t always answer prayers in a manner we might recognize. For example, if we pray for strength, does God grant strength or do we find God the opportunity to be strong? When praying for love, is love given or the opportunity to be loving? etc. Just thought I would throw that out there. 🙂

    Comment by KrisinF | July 2, 2010 | Reply

  6. Really nice post…I enjoyed reading your viewpoint. I have never understood when people criticize atheletes (or anyone else in the public eye) for “preaching” when they thank God. I just don’t see “I feel blessed by the Lord for being able to play well today” as “You’d better believe in the same God I believe in or you are doomed!”

    And as for the post above, that phrase might have originated elsewhere but as soon as I read it I thought of Morgan Freeman reciting it in “Even Almighty!” LOL!

    Comment by Kristine | July 2, 2010 | Reply

  7. Bravo, well stated.

    Comment by Stephen | July 2, 2010 | Reply


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