Does God care who wins the Super Bowl?



HACKENSACK, N.J. — More than 100 million people will watch the Super Bowl on television, with another 78,000 packing MetLife Stadium, but will there be another set of eyes looking down on the Meadowlands? Could an Almighty fan be preparing to pull up a lounge chair a week from Sunday, take in the game and orchestrate the outcome?

More than 20 percent of Americans believe God has a say in who wins sporting events, according to a survey conducted this month by the Public Religion Research Institute.

Religion and sports, especially football, are deeply connected in American culture. Fans pray for victories, and many believe that players who pray are more likely to win. According to the institute’s poll, 48 percent of Americans believe athletes of faith are rewarded with good health and success. That number jumps to 62 and 65 percent when asking white evangelical Protestants and minority Protestants, respectively.

So are the truly faithful rewarded with success on the field?

“It’s one of those tricky questions,” said former quarterback and current NFL Network analyst Kurt Warner, a devout Christian. “I believe God has your best interest in mind. How that correlates to winning and losing football games, I’m not fully sure.”

Warner won and lost a Super Bowl in his 12-year NFL career, during which he played for the Rams, Giants and Cardinals.

“Do I believe that as a son of God that my life is important to him? No question about it,” said Warner who was named Most Valuable Player when he led the St. Louis Rams to the Super Bowl title in 2000. “Where do we draw that line between what’s important to him and what’s not? I believe it’s all important to him. But I don’t know how exactly that fits into winning and losing per se.”

We put the question to some members of the clergy: Does God care who wins the Super Bowl?

“No,” said Rabbi Arthur Weiner of the Jewish Community Center of Paramus Congregation Beth Tikvah. “And it’s not a question of God (having) bigger things on his plate. We live in a world where we have a religious understanding that God cares about everything, but the truth is we don’t believe that this is the kind of thing God needs to or should be getting involved with.

“The world plays out the way it does to its own laws and logic, so when you’re praying for your team to win, you’re praying for the way the world operates to be upset for your own rather small and limited personal need.”

The Rev. George McGovern of Oradell, N.J., an interdenominational Christian minister who is team chaplain for the Giants and Yankees, agrees.

“I don’t think so,” he said when posed the same question. “I hate to be his spokesman because he might care. I don’t know. He hasn’t revealed that to me. He might be a secret fan of one of the teams.

“My thought is God is not nearly as concerned with the performance or the play on the field, as he is the hearts of the guys who are performing or playing on the field. What are their motives, effort, character; are they men of integrity? That kind of stuff is much more important to God than the scoreboard.”

But the effort that affects the scoreboard creates a gray area for some.

“My gut would say I don’t think so,” said the Rev. Warren Hall, director of campus ministry at Seton Hall University. “I do think what goes into it is what is the effort on behalf of who was playing. I think that is more so what makes an outcome happen. So if, therefore, you want to say that effort was a strength given to a team by God, then we’d say well, yeah, God was part of that outcome.”

Hall pointed out that people should remember that winning isn’t the only reward. Good can come from apparently negative circumstances. Losing can have its merits.

“Maybe I don’t know what that benefit is just yet, maybe it’s going to strengthen my character or maybe it’s going to motivate me to be better,” said Hall, who is teaching a course at Seton Hall on sports and spirituality. “I think we have to look a little more deeply.”

Most sports fans don’t think past wins and losses, and some are uncomfortable with a player’s public profession of faith, Hall said. At the same time, the truly faithful can be disappointed by their teammates who don’t follow the life they proclaim.

“People are always watching,” said Warner. “People always want to see if what you say is backed up by how you live, especially when it comes to faith. … I guess that’s what disappointed me the most, when you say one thing and then you saw a completely different kind of living. Nobody is perfect. We all misrepresent our faith at times or even numerous times but to say something very forthright and act outright contradictory, I always thought that would hurt the cause.”

McGovern and Warner caution that people not read too much into the fact that faith seems to be announced after a win.

“When you thank God, I don’t think it’s necessarily always about ‘Thank you for making me win today’ as much as it is ‘Thank you for the gifts you’ve given me, the place you’ve put me in,'” Warner said.