God and Sports

by Johnny S.

Religion and sports don’t necessarily seem to go hand in hand but, in many cities across the country, these two things make up a large part of life. Whether it is Friday Night Lights or Sunday morning mass, both religion and sports create a sense of community and passion for millions of people.

I was surprised when I saw that a survey done by the Public Religion Research Institute showed that 27% of Americans believe that “God plays a role in determining which team wins a sports event.”

A further 53% believed that God rewards athletes who have good faith with success on the field. You see many athletes thanking God for helping them in their sports games, and, over half of Americans agree that God played a role in their incredible athletic feats. The survey results are shown below:

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One question that popped into my head while I was looking through these statistics was if there is a relationship between how successful local sports teams are and the percentage of people who attribute the success to God.

To see if there was a relationship between winning percentages and whether people believe God influences sports events, I mapped the 5 most winning teams historically in the NFL, college football, NBA, and college basketball. I chose these four sports because, also in the survey conducted by Public Religion Research Institute, these were identified to be the four most popular sports in America.

Out of the 20 teams I looked at, 8 fell below parallel 36º 30’, the longitude which was used in the Missouri Compromise to define the South (not including the Lakers and 49ers who, even though they fell below the line, are not in the South).

Seven were in the Midwest, three in the West, and two in the Northeast. When comparing the location of America’s most winning teams to the percentage of people in that region who believe God chooses outcomes of sport games, there is a perfect relationship, the more winning, the more believing that God is choosing whether you’re winning or not.

This being said, the fact that the Southern states believe God plays a role in sports events is not surprising.

A recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life showed that 76% of Southerners identify as Christian compared to 73% in the Midwest, 65% in the Northeast, and 64% in the West. The higher percentages of people who believe God affects sports games makes more sense given the higher percentages of christian affiliation in the respective region.

Based on these results, I question which came first. Do people believe God is helping them win games because they are winning more, or are they winning more because they believe God is helping them? We might never know.

If you want more information about either survey, click the links below:

http://publicreligion.org/research/2013/01/january-2013-tracking-poll-2/#.VgLgQCBViko

http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/

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