Rich Copley: Sports victories bring out the faith in athletes

Auburn quarterback Cam Newton was among the many athletes who have credited God or Jesus for their success.
Auburn quarterback Cam Newton was among the many athletes who have credited God or Jesus for their success. AP

You probably won't hear more about God and Jesus on mainstream TV than this time of year. We have come out of the Christmas holiday season — when even some of the most secular shows suddenly find religion — but there is something about winning a major football championship or, in a few months, a basketball championship that brings out the religion in people.

For someone who thinks the Bowl (alleged) Championship Series is a load of malarkey, I did find myself watching a number of games involving teams I'm interested in — War Eagle! — the past few weeks. And as trophies were handed out, a steady pattern played out when an ESPN reporter shoved a microphone into the winning coaches' or jocks' faces.

"I'd like to thank my lord and savior, Jesus Christ."

"I have to give all the glory to God."

"All the credit goes to Jesus."

You'd think this was the Ecclesiastical Sports Programming Network with the amount of shouts to the Lord we hear, and that often causes a little consternation among some viewers.

Some people just don't want to hear about religion at all. Some people doubt the sincerity of some of the statements of faith. And some people are uncomfortable with an assertion that God was backing a particular team.

The thinking goes that when there are wars and famine around the globe, why does anyone think God is concerned with whether Kentucky or Louisiana State will win today (amazing as God's lack of concern might seem)?

Hey, religion and sports have been intertwined for decades, if not centuries.

I remember back in the 1970s, when the Dallas Cowboys were not just called America's Team. With evangelical Christians Tom Landry as the coach and Roger Staubach at quarterback, they were known in some quarters as God's Team — kind of annoying to us Washington Redskins fans.

But really, there is nothing wrong with someone who has a sincere religious faith expressing that in a moment of triumph. Clearly, they believe that faith — whether in God, Allah or Buddha — has helped them achieve.

Speaking on ESPN after his team's victory on Monday night, Auburn quarterback Cam Newtown seemed to be sincerely searching for a way to express thanks to God for helping him reach the pinnacle of his sport — as manufactured as that pinnacle is.

We all have seen those athletes and coaches whose shout out to Jesus sounds about as programmed as the steady stream of sports clichés that they have ready for reporters. You can see it: I just won, I'm supposed to thank God.

And that's annoying, but really no more than "You've got to play one game at a time," "It was a real team effort," or other phrases that are as overused as a yellowed pair of gym socks.

But making a religious statement that is not sincere is really pointless, because people are pretty good at sniffing out insincerity, and really, I think God doesn't like being used.

Saying an athlete should keep it in church is pretty much asking him or her to do something for which people are often criticized: praising God in church on Sunday morning, then living as if faith has no impact on their lives.