Published in The Arizona Republic on August 11, 1991


With all the hoopla over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday issue and Arizona's loss of the 1993 Super Bowl, another almost equally infuriating decision by National Football League owners went virtually unnoticed: this season, on field displays of religious faith by NFL players will be severely curtailed.

It has long seemed that sports is the only remaining institution in America in which Christians -- or for that matter, people of any religious persuasion -- are accorded any degree of respect. That Kevin Johnson, Orel Hershiser, Mike Singletary, George Foreman and so many other superb athletes unabashedly proclaim profound reverence for their Creator is extremely refreshing in our nihilistic society.

To be sure, God has far more important things on His mind than who wins athletic contests. However, as Grantland Rice one wrote, He is deeply concerned with "how we play the game." Do we play by the rules? Are we humble in victory and gracious in defeat? Is the Christian athlete's demeanor a positive testimony to the presence of Jesus in his life and a worthy example for players and spectators?

In other areas of our public life -- business, government, the arts -- wealthy parents, good looks, "connections" and slick ad campaigns often help propel one to the top. This is not true in sports. Here, one's achievements are products of one's own determination and persistence. It is a doubly powerful example for anyone watching when someone whose achievements are so much his own takes so little credit for them and resists the temptation to bask in self-worship.

This decision by NFL owners may seem small, but the principle it illustrates is large: it seems that no part of society is safe from contamination by trendiness among its elites.

Douglas F. Newman

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