Football is big business in America and so is religion so blending the two is as natural as sap on a tree but is there constitutional trouble ahead for public institutions that require prayer from their football players? Today’s New York Times addresses this matter:

As in politics and culture in the United States, college football is increasingly becoming a more visible home for the Gospel. In the past year more than 2,000 college football coaches participated in events sponsored by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which said that more than 1.4 million athletes and coaches from youth to professional levels had attended in 2005, up from 500,000 in 1990.

Voluntary prayer in a non-sponsored manner by the public institution’s
football program is fine, but when students are required to participate
in a religious ceremony problems of separation of church and state
naturally arise:

“This is a lawsuit waiting to happen, and I believe
university administrations are playing a game of chicken,” the Rev.
Barry W. Lynn, a lawyer and executive director of Americans United for
Separation of Church and State, said. “But eventually, you got to
believe that one kid is going to say, ‘I’ve had enough,’ and step

Peer pressure and pleasing the coach has a chilling effect on
non-religious players: Pray Or You Don’t Play is the silent, but not
always unspoken, threat in the lockeroom.

The United States Supreme
Court in 2000 came down solidly on the side of separation by deciding
officially sponsored prayers over a loudspeaker in Santa Fe, Texas
before games was not enough separation:

The 6-to-3 majority opinion by Justice John Paul Stevens said that even
when attendance is voluntary and when the decision to pray is made by
students, “the delivery of a pregame prayer has the improper effect of
coercing those present to participate in an act of religious worship,”
which violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

When students and coaches and fans use religion to elevate their
demolition of the opposing side in the name of God — “God wanted us to
win” or “God was with us” or “God blessed our team today” — one is
selfishly demonizing the losing team by accusing them in their defeat
of not being in God’s good graces. If one claims victory in God’s name
then one must claim defeat in God’s name as well.


  1. Tom Osborne was big on God. Still is. Don’t think he forces it but he doesn’t hide it, either.

  2. I agree there was too much God talk from Osborne and some of his staff in his role as head football coach at UNL — if God is truly in you save it for the appropriate time and place and keep it out of the locker room.

  3. I think that’s probably the best way. These are young kids. Even if you ask if they’re uncomfortable they will give you the answer they think they want to hear because they want to play and fit in. It takes years to not care if you give the right answer or not.

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