Christian Athletes: Past and Present

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From both a historical and modern perspective, Christian athletes have impacted the professional sports setting.  Olympic Gold Medalist, Eric Liddell (1902-1945), was a devout Christian and one of the fastest sprinters of his time.  In the Oscar-winning film, Chariots of Fire (1981), Liddell expresses his integrated understanding of his faith and his passion for running when he says,

“I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast.  And, when I run, I feel his pleasure” (Chariots of Fire, 1981).

As a Christian athlete, much of Liddell’s identity was tied to running.  Blazer (2015), makes an interesting observation when she states that the Liddell’s quote “When I run, I feel his pleasure” could be understood in the context of “a causal connection between athletic activity and the sensory experience of transcendent pleasure” (p. 55).

Modern athletes have also referenced their faith as an important component in their athletic performance.  Bethany Hamilton, the professional surfer who lost her left arm in a shark attack in 2003, credits her faith in Christ as a central piece for overcoming difficulties.  In her acceptance speech at the 2004 Teen Choice Courage Awards, Hamilton said,

“I think I got my courage from Jesus Christ.  He says, ‘Be strong and very courageous….’” (Soul Surfer, 2011).

The former National Football League (NFL) quarterback, Tim Tebow, made national headlines when his faith in Christ and logic-defying wins were seen as part of the reason the 2011 Denver Broncos made the playoffs (Scholes & Sassower, 2014).  In 2018, Nick Foles, the quarterback for Philadelphia Eagles, led the team to their first Super Bowl victory with a 41-33 win over the defending champions, the New England Patriots.  Foles is among several Eagles players who are born again Christians.  In a recent interview, Eagles offensive coordinator, Frank Reich, commented on Foles’ faith:

“Nick is the real deal – an authentic Christian who has a contagious love for Christ and for others” (Johnston, 2018).

In the National Basketball Association (NBA), the Golden State Warriors have established a firm presence in the league under the leadership of Stephen Curry, also a devout Christian.  For Curry, his faith is the driving force of his life:

“The Lord has blessed me with these talents to do something special. But it’s not about me. Winning games, losing games, missing shots, making shots, it doesn’t matter. It’s all about giving glory to God” (Romano, 2017).

Blazer’s (2015) “causal connection,” then, warrants further reflection as the spiritual implications of an athlete’s faith in competitive sport are clearly present (p. 55).

References:

Blazer, A. (2015). Playing for god. New York, NY: New York University Press.

Johnston, L. (2018, February 5). ‘Nick is the real deal’: The Christian faith of super bowl mvp quarterback nick foles. The Washington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2018/02/05/nick-is-the-real-deal-the-christian-faith-of-super-bowl-mvp-quarterback-nick-foles/?utm_term=.db4269f0e85c

Puttnam, D. (Producer), & Hudson, H. (Director). (1981). Chariots of fire [Motion picture]. United States of America: Warner Bros.

Romano, J. (2017, March 3). Stephen curry shares christian testimony at liberty. Sports Spectrum. Retrieved from https://sportsspectrum.com/sport/basketball/2017/03/03/stephen-curry-shares-testimony-liberty/

Zelon, D., Schwartz, D., Hofstetter, D., Brookwell, D., & McNamara, S. (Producers), & McNamara, S. (Director). (2011). Soul Surfer [Motion picture]. United States of America: Brookwell McNamara Entertainment, Life’s a Beach Entertainment & Mandalay Vision.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Ed Sloane / AFP – Getty Images

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