A few weeks ago, the NFL Channel broadcasted a special program entitled, “Touchdown Israel”. The program featured approximately 20 Hall of Fame football players accompanying the New England Patriots owner, Robert Kraft, to Israel. Amongst those in attendance were Jim Brown, Chris Carter, Anise Williams, Marshall Faulk, and Joe Montana. Some of the athletes had converted to Judaism while others were Christian and Muslim in their religious beliefs. What was unique about the event was that regardless of each individual’s religious affiliation, they were moved by the experience. Many were brought to tears, while others felt a deep need to express their faith. As a group, they were able to visit many biblical sites associated with the Bible, Torah, and the Koran. But in a broader sense, visiting these religious sites appeared to connect those in attendance with a deeper sense of self that would make them better influences within their communities and more importantly, better husbands and fathers. Watching the program made me think of how religion has played a significant role throughout the history of sports.
My research found that the ancient Olympic Games were held as part of a religious festival honoring the Greek God, Zeus. Mesa American ball games were played as part of Mayan and Aztec religious rituals. And, the gladiator games were at times played as a way to please the Gods, particularly when there was great imminent danger facing the Roman Empire. So, in connecting the dots it’s clear that religion has played a major role in the annals of athletics. Those core principles of respect and fairness can easily be associated with being grounded in faith religiously.
I take my hat off to Robert Kraft. If his intent was to demonstrate that bringing a group of fellow athletes with highly diverse religious backgrounds, but can still connect on a broader scale—I get it. Social pundits continuously draw parallels to the civil mores of society and the transitional life skills of sports. I personally feel the foundations of civility do exist on the playing fields. Now, if only our civil leadership could be so smart.