Asking God To Cheat In Sports
by Dexter Martin
Should people pray for their team to win? Isn't that asking God to cheat (if there is
one)? The rules of a game permit only a certain number of players. If God were to help one
side more than the other, wouldn't he be breaking the rules? Wouldn't he be dishonest and
And wouldn't he be unfair? God's power is said to be infinite; and if that is true,
he's irresistible, isn't he? (I'm using masculine pronouns for convenience, instead of
clumsily repeating "he or she or it.") A team with God behind it or in it would
be unbeatable, wouldn't it?
And if God were to favor one team more than another, he wouldn't be acting like a
father, would he? If we're all his children, shouldn't he treat us equally? Would a decent
father like to see some of his children defeat his other ones and make them feel
miserable? Would he be proud to be the cause of their loss?
If you beg God to give your team victory, aren't you unconsciously hoping he'll be
unlawful, unjust and unpaternal?
If you thank him afterwards, shouldn't you also say, "I'm grateful to you God, for
granting us an unfair advantage by your invisible presence and influence?" And
shouldn't you add, "I'm happy you didn't behave as a father should"? In sports,
you want God to be unethical, don't you?
You don't? Then stop praying before, during and after games. Coaches leading teams in
the Lord's Prayer in locker rooms; spectators imploring God visibly and audibly; the wife
of a notorious basketball coach frantically repeating her rosary behind him and rushing
off to church afterwards to thank God, Jesus, Mary and a favorite saint; baseball players
crossing themselves before they bat (or strike out); a Protestant pitcher falling to his
knees on the mound to thank God for letting him win the final game of the World Series;
pro football players who kneel in the end zone after their touchdowns and thank the Lord;
Notre Dame appealing to Jesus by installing a mural of him in the football stadium,
holding up his arms like a referee signaling, "Touchdown!" - such people
unwittingly want an immoral God, a divinity who would be considered guilty of
unsportsmanlike conduct if he were a human being. Aren't I right?
Some editors may be afraid of this article because some Christians will disagree with
me. But only a very few will, I'm sure, because I've tested these opinions of mine on
numerous students at several universities when I was an English professor. I told them,
"I'm not attacking your denominations or preaching atheism. I'm merely suggesting
that you should draw a distinction between childish religion and adult religion." As
a beautiful nun said in class, "There's a difference between superstition and
religion. Praying for a team is just superstition. I agree with you."
In sports, you want God to be unethical, don't you?
And she said in a paper, "Catholics used to call Notre Dame God's Team because it
was usually ranked first in the nation. I called it that myself when I was much younger.
But then Gerry Faust became coach and the team slumped for four years, even though he was
extremely pious. His record was only 30-26-1. He was fired. Now that Lou Holtz has made
Our Lady Number One again, I suppose some Catholics are thinking of it as God's Team
again. But the phrase seems very childish to me now. Religion isn't the secret of Notre
Dame's success. Coaching is, and that includes recruiting." She told me, "If I
weren't a nun, I'd be a sports reporter."
In pro football, the Dallas Cowboys were Number One so often that some fans called them
God's Team. I knew one who was serious and so there were probably more. But then America's
Team (as it was also known) sank into a slump even worse than Notre Dame's. Coach Landry
had to be fired, although he had become more religious than ever. And now Skip Bayles has
written an irreverent biography of him, God's Coach: The Hymns, Hype and Hypocrisy
of Tom Landry's Cowboys.
There's no evidence that any team has ever been God's. If there were one, it would be
easily recognizable because it would never lose. How could Almighty God be clobbered?
Shouldn't we assume that God realizes he shouldn't interfere in games, that he'd be
cheating if he guided footballs and baseballs and basketballs, that he'd be unsporting if
he provided an athlete with an extra spurt, that spiritual steroids are as dishonest as
If you were running the universe, would you cheat for your favorite athletes? Of course
not. Why would God?
Dexter Martin is a writer and retired English professor.