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Sports stars you didn't know were religious
January 31st, 2014
05:49 PM ET

For some fans, Super Bowl has supernatural twists

By Daniel Burke, Belief Blog Co-editor

(CNN) - Before he watches his beloved Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl this Sunday, Kyle Herman has some important rituals to perform.

Just as he has for years, in the morning he will pick out the Broncos jersey to wear for the game. He will slip on his high-school ring, refashioned in Broncos blue and orange, and surround his television with team paraphernalia, from signed footballs to a pillow.

Herman has several Broncos jerseys, and if a certain player is stinking up the field, the 21-year-old from Beaver Falls, Wisconsin, will put on that player's jersey. You know, to give them a little more mojo.

“I don’t know why,” he says with a loud laugh, “but I feel like it really works for some reason.”

Herman may think his rituals are silly, but he’s far from alone in his sports superstitions.

According to a poll released in January by the Public Religion Research Institute, about half of all Americans believe that some element of the supernatural plays a role in sporting events.

That could mean fearing your team is cursed, as a quarter of sports fans said they do. It could mean you’re among the 26% who said they pray for God to help their team. Or it could mean performing rites like Herman, believing that, by some mysterious force, they will affect the outcome of the big game.

Robert P. Jones, the CEO of PRRI, said he wanted to explore the remarkable parallels between religion and sports: the tribalism, the loyalty, the uniforms, the lore, and, of course, the rituals.

Hearing people describe their game-day rites and customs, was eye-opening, Jones said with a wide smile.

“People were very very specific. They put on certain underwear, danced in little circles, gave their TVs a pep talk. Some of these things were playful and some were more serious.”

To hear Tamara Murphy tell it, what she and her husband wear on Sunday could have win-or-lose consequences for the Seattle Seahawks.

Dustin wears a Seahawks jersey that he only washes when the team loses, which means that shirt should be pretty ripe right about now (their last loss was October 6). Tamara wears a pair of Seahawks underwear on Sundays.

“The one time I didn’t wear them during the first half we lost,” she wrote on CNN’s Facebook page. “Now my husband asks me before kickoff if I have them on.”

Football fans tend to be more supernaturally inclined than baseball or basketball devotees, the PRRI poll found. That’s probably because football is most popular in the South and Midwest, the most religious parts of the country, Jones said.

Football fans were more likely to pray for their teams, perform pre-game rituals or believe their teams are cursed, according to the poll, which surveyed 1,011 American adults between January 8-12.

Even football fans who are not especially religious said they are asking God to help their team this Sunday.

Michael Kung, for instance, penned a prayer on CNN’s Facebook page after we asked fans to share their supernatural Super Bowl plans.

“Dear God, I know that I don’t talk to you much and I haven’t been to church since middle school," he wrote, "but please, let the Seahawks win on Sunday.”

(Now would be a good time to mention that while CNN has many sources in high places, the last time we checked, God is not one of our Facebook followers.)

Other CNN Facebook friends challenged Kung’s priorities. Praying for a game while millions suffer in poverty is “sick,” said Jennifer Smith.

We wanted to explore the question a bit, so we asked well-known Christian theologian William Lane Craig: Does God really get involved in our games?

Craig’s answer: Yes and no.

“Everything that happens in this world is by his divine will or permission, and that includes fumbles and interceptions,” he said, “but it’s not as if God intervenes to deflect a pass in the end zone.”

Rather, God sets up the basic circumstances (kind of like the NFL commissioner) and allows the players to determine the outcome, said Craig, a professor at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California.

The Rev. Warren Hall, a Catholic priest at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, teaches a class on sports and spirituality and had roughly the same response.

God cares about the people on the field, their conduct and character, but not the outcome of games, said Hall. If God really were a sports fan, Catholic colleges would boast much better records, he said with a laugh.

While God may not be intervening in the field of play, Hall said he sees an element of the divine in the stands, in the communion of bleacher creatures.

“To be in a stadium with 60,000 people, and feel the energy of that, it touches on something transcendent,” the priest said. “I think God likes to see his people happy. He likes it when we gather together to enjoy each other’s company.”

Of course, any American crowd these days includes many atheists – and they’ll have a big presence on a billboard down the road from MetLife Stadium, the site of the Super Bowl.

The billboard depicts a priest holding a football and giving a thumbs-up sign. “A ‘Hail Mary’ only works in football,” it reads. “Enjoy the game!”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Atheism • Belief • Entertainment • Polls • Prayer • Sports

soundoff (598 Responses)
  1. Science Works

    Thanks for the comedy keep it up !

    April 22, 2014 at 11:59 am |
  2. E=MC2

    No area of our lives is too insignificant to escape God's loving concern. He is in love with our whole person. What matters to us matters to him. Look at the sparrows

    February 7, 2014 at 4:11 pm |
  3. wanalawn

    So this shows that wearing 'lucky' items, or doing lucky routines, or praying has no effect. Therefore people will stop.

    Sigh, or not.

    February 3, 2014 at 6:33 pm |
  4. Vic

    And the real Super Bowl 2014 is....Renée Fleming, stunning performance.

    Oh well, speechless and still having a hangover from last night blowout.

    For those who follow the game, it would seem obvious that the game was, let's say, sold—some say fixed, I call it allowed. It is unusual for the Seahawks to score that early in the game nor take control of it, let alone in Super Bowl. They usually are on the board somewhere around halftime of the regulation.

    Well, Peyton Manning is not alone in this. Tom Brady, the infamous No. 12, one of the most deserving quarterbacks in the NFL, has his share. The Patriots on several occasions gave conference and Super Bowl championships on a silver platter to their opponents.

    On the bright side, as always, outstanding—two—commercials by Budweiser.

    February 3, 2014 at 3:04 pm |
    • Vic

      "And the real Super Bowl 2014 "winner" is....Renée Fleming, stunning performance."

      February 3, 2014 at 3:07 pm |
      • Science Works

        Vic but who won ?

        ID is not science !

        How Bill Nye Won the Debate

        Posted on February 4, 2014 * Leave a comment

        Creationism

        NCSE

        Science

        Young-earth creationism

        http://ncse.com/blog/2014/02/how-bill-nye-won-debate-0015369

        February 5, 2014 at 5:44 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      That had to hurt. I looked for your "Go Broncos" post at half-time. Always next year.

      February 3, 2014 at 3:09 pm |
      • Vic

        Oh it hurt so bad. I hope it wasn't me or my "Go Broncos" that jinxed the game..LOL.

        Yeah, how about that Pepsi Halftime Show, Bruno Mars is so talented. Performing arts always impress me.

        Well, who knows if Peyton is going to stick around for next year; however, he is sure a high candidate for a Hall of Famer.

        February 3, 2014 at 3:17 pm |
        • Science Works

          It takes years Carl Eller knows that Vic – also the vote from the local big boy from the sporting market they are from maybe ?

          February 3, 2014 at 4:56 pm |
    • Dez

      I'd say it's more likely that Seattle scoring a safety 12 seconds into the game rattled Manning. Badly. And he never shook it off.

      And I LIKE Manning. He'll be known as one of the best QBs of all time. He'll be in the Hall of Fame, no problem.

      February 3, 2014 at 7:56 pm |
  5. "Sleepy" Slade Baroni

    "He will slip on his high-school ring"
    .
    Really??? lol

    February 3, 2014 at 12:56 pm |
  6. Dez

    Looks like Kyle's magic jersey wasn't so magical.

    February 3, 2014 at 12:56 pm |
  7. I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

    OK, this is the first of these billboards that is truly amusing.

    The billboard depicts a priest holding a football and giving a thumbs-up sign. “A ‘Hail Mary’ only works in football,” it reads. “Enjoy the game!”

    It's much less obnoxious than usual.

    February 3, 2014 at 12:16 pm |
  8. Reality #2

    Can we blame god for one of the worst Super "Dull" Bowls ever?? And twas really sad when Tim Tebow commercials were significantly better than the performance of the Denver Wroncos !!!

    February 3, 2014 at 7:49 am |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      According to Russell Wilson, who said (and tweeted) "God is great" apparently it was God who was responsible, rather than the Legion of Boom.

      So why didn't Peyton win if God was on his side too?

      February 3, 2014 at 12:18 pm |
    • Pete

      god thought it was a great Super Bowl since he apparently hates the Broncos.

      February 3, 2014 at 12:28 pm |
  9. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    Anyone wondering what the Pope is up to this week? Daniel Burke is on it, I presume.

    February 3, 2014 at 12:11 am |
    • Saraswati

      Thank goodness we had something other than the pope with a high search value that could be made into a story. It's thin pickings, though they use a more complete list.

      http://www.google.com/trends/hottrends

      February 3, 2014 at 8:05 am |
      • Science Works

        Published on Jan 27, 2014

        Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham Debate – Answers in Genesis – 11 Tips for Bill
        Hemant Mehta (http://www.friendlyatheist.com)

        Bill Nye can use the Talk Origins website to find rebuttals:
        http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/li...

        [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_oz7msbZu8&w=640&h=390]

        February 3, 2014 at 8:42 am |
        • iowasundevil

          I do admire Bill Nye for being willing to participate in that debate. It can't be easy participating in a "debate" of that nature. I wonder if Bill Nye lost IQ points or if Ken Ham gained IQ points from the encounter.

          April 17, 2014 at 9:55 am |
      • Science Works

        U.N. panel blasts Vatican handling of clergy se-x abuse, church teachings on gays, abortion

        http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/un-panel-blasts-vatican-handling-of-clergy-se-x-abuse-church-teachings-on-gays-abortion/2014/02/05/2a6f1b26-8e75-11e3-84e1-27626c5ef5fb_story.html

        February 6, 2014 at 2:31 pm |
    • CNN Belief Blog Co-EditorCNN

      Yawn, good one, Tom.

      February 3, 2014 at 1:10 pm |
      • OTOH

        Have you had any success in tracking down the person(s) deleting posts with the "Report Abuse" button?

        February 3, 2014 at 1:13 pm |
        • OTOH

          (I have to leave right now, but I'm sure others will discuss this with you)

          February 3, 2014 at 1:15 pm |
        • Science Works

          yeah and some of the best religious comedy is disappearing ?

          http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2014/01/28/new-discovery-raises-flood-of-questions-about-noahs-ark/#comments

          February 3, 2014 at 2:10 pm |
        • Science Works

          yeah looks like the breath of soul got suc-ked out of page above ?

          February 3, 2014 at 5:54 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.