Some athletes kneel and pray after scoring the big play. Others thank God after winning the game. Either way, they are competitors who attribute success to their religious faith.
“Sports builds character,” said David Holmes, a religion professor at the College of William & Mary. “Living by the principles of ‘muscular Christianity’ an athlete wins gracefully, loses graciously and never wins through trickery or foul play.”
A movement in England during the 1800s helped define these principles. The purpose was to prepare pastors to present themselves as men of strength instead of bookish individuals.
“Christ was used as the example for all athletes,” Holmes said in an interview. “A masculine leader sets a moral example for behavior in life and on the playing field.”
For athletes who maintain their Christian principles on and off the field, the stereotype they sometimes carry is that of a timid, weak competitor.
“It’s easy to lose your self control in a game, but faith can help keep you focused,” said Edgar Randall, athletic director at Williamsburg Christian Academy. “Mental sharpness can provide the winning edge.”
Randall played and coached basketball at West Virginia State University. Like many young athletes, he struggled trying to become a good Christian in an area that rewarded aggression.
“I still always tried to live by the Golden Rule,” Randall said. “You never want to burn your bridges. You never know when you might have to go back.”
He didn’t see his faith as keeping him from winning . And yet, some people still consider such athletes weaker because they hold onto their faith in a secular world.
“God doesn’t want us to be wimps because we’re Christians,” he said “you can play tough. You just don’t have to try and hurt someone.”
“Of course, people grow at different rates, so how much they lean on their faith as an athlete and person depends on where they are in life,” Randall said.
Chris Haywood also believes that faith can play an important role in an athlete’s life. He is a former college All-American and Walshingham Academy soccer coach.
“My father was a minister, so I grew up in an environment where faith was important,” Haywood said. “I carried that with me into sports, and it made a difference.”
As he moved up through the ranks of soccer, Haywood had to learn to deal with the different temptations and problems that come with each level.
“It was hard to be in the spotlight as an athlete all the time. While everyone was going out to parties and doing different things, I was working on school or practicing. I felt alone a lot.”
His faith kept him committed to his goals. Haywood would be the first to tell you that he is as competitive as anyone. When he steps between the lines on the soccer field, he becomes a different person. He wants to win.
According to Holmes, this attitude is hardly a contradiction to the tenets of the Christian faith. Haywood and Randall agree.
“Playing aggressive is fine, but when the game is over, you move on,” Randall said. “You have to remember that in the end it’s just a game.”