English: Tim Tebow, a player on the Denver Broncos American football team. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When Kansas City Chief’s safety Husain Abdullah was flagged for kneeling in prayer after his pick six touchdown against the New England Patriots, voices of protest prompted the NFL to admit that it erred in assessing a penalty. Realizing that it was not excessive celebration, but a religious gesture permitted by league rules, the NFL assured fans that it doesn’t have a double standard. If Tim Tebow was allowed to do the “Tim Tebow” as religious expression, then players of any faith should be be given the same treatment. No doubt that what is good for one player in the NFL should be good for all. But why does the NFL or any professional sports league feel compelled to allow players to publicly express their “religious beliefs”? How often do your office co-workers prostrate themselves after the closing of a successful business transaction, the receiving of a promotion or exceeding a quarterly budget goal? I certainly never did. The truth is that “religious expression” for most professional athletes is nothing more than thinly veiled self adulation and ego pumping. Allowing athletes to express their appreciation to a higher being is not protection of religious freedom, its a mockery of it.
Although not a devout Jew, I am proud of my faith and have a strong belief in G-d. I look to G-d for help when in need as well as show gratitude for good fortune. But unless I’m in a house of worship, the connection I feel to G-d is never on public display. Amazingly, at a recent little league baseball game for my son, I saw one of his teammates approach the batter’s box, do the sign of the cross, look up at the sky and send it a kiss. Afterwards, I said to the kid, “I saw you kiss the sky before you batted, I didn’t realize you were religious”. He simply responded, “I’m not, it’s just fun to do”. It’s not too difficult to figure out where he learned the routine. It is common practice to see MLB players across the league perform the same cross ritual before a turn at bat or after a successful plate appearance. These players, whether its baseball, football or any other sport, want to let the fans know that G-d is responsible for their success and the multi million dollar contracts they are blessed to have. That very well may be true.
But isn’t that same G-d responsible for their failures as well? After a disappointing loss, do we hear players comment that “G-d did not want us to win or I am in a terrible hitting slump because G-d does not want me to hit the ball”? Of course not. Because its not about players having strong religious convictions, its about showmanship. I’m sure there are many athletes out there where the religious expressions and gestures are heartfelt. Wouldn’t it be nice to see how these athletes demonstrate their love and appreciation of G-d when they are not scoring touchdowns, not hitting home runs or not scoring baskets?
Are these athletes kissing the sky after their planes successfully land coming home from a road game? Are they bowing down in the hospital after the birth of their children? Are they praising the lord when they safely get out of their car and arrive at the stadium. And are they quickly getting on their knees in prayer when seeing a fellow teammate get injured? Wouldn’t all of these things fall under G-d’s will?
Humility is endearing and good to see when players sincerely attribute their successes in life to their religious faith. But no matter what the sport might be, we don’t need to see the theatrics on the field. Husain Abdullah, did G-d have so much time on his hands Monday night that he wanted to make sure you would intercept a pass by Tom Brady and return it for a touchdown? Is that why you bowed? I’m sure controlling the spread of the Ebola virus was the least of G-d’s concerns when you had a football game to play. To all of you athletes that want to thank G-d for your success, show it to us off the field. Go help someone that can’t help himself. I can’t think of a better way to show your love of G-d and appreciation for your success than by simply giving back. And there are no 15 yard penalties for doing that.