POSTED AT 9:45 AM ET, 03/ 2/2009
The Bible is His Playbook
Ritchie McKay seems to have found a home at Liberty. Some would say the Lynchburg, Va., school, founded in 1971 by the late Jerry Falwell as an independent fundamentalist Baptist university, is the ideal place for McKay, an outspoken Christian whose statements to the media five years ago led the ACLU to question his coaching methods at New Mexico, his previous coaching job.
Grateful to be at a place where he can freely express his beliefs, McKay, 43, seemingly has put his New Mexico days behind him and thrived at Liberty. In just his second year, the Flames (21-10, 12-6 Big South Conference) are enjoying their first winning season in five years, despite having the fourth-youngest roster in Division I. Led by Seth Curry, the highest scoring freshman in league history, and Jesse Sanders, a freshman point guard who recorded the fifth triple-double in Big South history, Liberty won 20 games for the first time since 1996-97 and only the third time since the school joined Division I.
On Tuesday, the third-seeded Flames host Gardner-Webb in the Big South Conference tournament quarterfinals. Because the league receives only one automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, Liberty must win the conference tournament in order to make its third NCAA appearance in school history.
Below, McKay talks about being a Christian, a coach and a Christian coach.Continue reading this post »
POSTED AT 10:34 AM ET, 02/17/2009
Iverson and the Afterlife
Allen Iverson, sporting a new hairstyle reminiscent of his days at Georgetown, was sitting around one of those NBA all-star weekend media sessions when he was asked by a reporter about whether he thought some of the NBA charity events -- reading books to kids, handing out Thanksgiving turkeys -- were a bit staged.
"Fake," said the 10-time all-star who plays for the Detroit Pistons.
Iverson went on to say that he prefers the cameras not be around when he helps others less fortunate than him.
"I just look forward to doing it. I don't need all the publicity that comes with it. I don't need that. When it's time for me to get toward that gate, either He [is] gonna say, 'Come in,' or He [is] gonna say, 'Turn around.' And a camera won't decide whether I get in or not."Continue reading this post »
POSTED AT 9:32 AM ET, 02/ 5/2009
Faithful How, Pray Tell
Written in response to The League's question: Is there too much God in football?
As someone who writes regularly about how sports and religion intersect over on "On Faith," you probably think I am thrilled by all the God talk at the Super Bowl.
After listening to player after player spout religious bromides, I was ready to scream: "Enough already!" Don't get me wrong. I believe faith plays an important role in some athletes' lives, and I am more than willing to listen to them explain how their beliefs helped them achieve success.Continue reading this post »
POSTED AT 2:28 PM ET, 01/30/2009
Kurt Warner and his Holybowlers
I'm beginning to wonder if God is playing in Super Bowl XLIII, or the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers. I had avoided participating in the faith talk surrounding this Super Bowl, but after a week of Kurt Warner-carrying-his-Bible-everywhere stories, I can't help myself. I'm tired of listening to Warner and his evangelical cohorts sell Jesus to the masses.
Given that I write about the intersection of sports and religion for Praying Fields, you probably think I'd be eager to jump into the conversation. After all, God is getting more play at this Super Bowl than the credit card companies and soft drink makers that are paying big bucks to sponsor the event. As Associated Press's Tim Dahlberg wrote, it's surprising "how so many players on both teams aren't hesitating to invoke the name of God as they prepare to play a violent game where there will be no mercy shown on either side."
Having interviewed athletes about their faith during the past year, I have learned that the best way to get them to open up about their beliefs is to sit down with them for a one-on-one conversation. You can't do that at a Super Bowl media session.Continue reading this post »
POSTED AT 12:02 PM ET, 01/27/2009
Kay Yow: Coach and Christian Missionary
In all the years I spent covering ACC women's basketball, I don't think I ever came across anyone who didn't love Kay Yow. Her folksy manner and graciousness endeared her to everyone she met.
Yow, who died Jan. 24 at age 66, was an accomplished basketball coach, ranking fourth among active Division I coaches in victories - behind only Tennessee's Pat Summit, Rutgers' Vivian Stringer and North Carolina's Sylvia Hatchell. She coached the 1988 U.S. Olympic women's basketball team to a gold medal and became only the fifth female coach inducted in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002.
Her legacy extends far beyond the court, however. Yow, who first was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987, was tireless in raising awareness of the disease. Using basketball as her platform, she brought attention and dollars to the fight.
Perhaps because I only talked basketball with her, I was unaware until her death of her "bottomless Christian faith." According to a story in the Greensboro News and Record, Yow smuggled Bibles into the former Soviet Union during the 1986 women's basketball world championships. She later recounted the experience to members of the Morris Chapel United Methodist Church in Walkertown, N.C.
"I'm not sure I will ever take anything for granted again," Yow told the congregation. "I have to believe that the Lord placed me in the Soviet Union this summer. There were a lot of miracles."
POSTED AT 12:28 PM ET, 01/22/2009
Hallowed Be Thy Habs
Rev. Joseph Kerrigan apparently isn't the only one who finds a connection between faith and hockey. Since I spoke with Kerrigan last month, I came across a couple articles about a theologian who is leading a course at the Universite de Montreal called, "Religion of the Canadiens."
Olivier Bauer, a Swiss-born professor at the school, recently wrote a book that he has developed into a 16-week course on the relics and rituals that surround Montreal's NHL team.
"It was a divine inspiration," Bauer told the Canadian Press. "It was clear that the Canadiens were a kind of religion. For me, it was amazing that in Montreal there was a hockey jersey that is holy."
Bauer was referring to la Sainte-Flanelle, or the holy flannel, worn by the players. He also cites the nicknames of the Canadiens' most famous players -- Saint Patrick (Patrick Roy), Le Demon Blond, or the Blond Demon (Guy Lafleur), and Jesus Price (goaltender Carey Price) -- as further evidence of Les Habitants', or Habs, as they are affectionately known, link to religion.
The Montreal Canadiens, who are celebrating their 100th season this year, are the oldest continuously operating professional hockey team and are one of the "Original Six" teams that formed the NHL. The Habs have won 24 Stanley Cups and are the last Canadian team to win the championship (1993). The city hosts the NHL all-star game this weekend.
Besides examining the link between sports and religion, the course will also look at the broader question of what constitutes religion. According to the article in the (Montreal) Gazette, "Bauer is curious to see how Quebec's Roman Catholic traditions and Montreal's perceptions of itself as hockey's birthplace have combined to create a particularly potent liturgy."
POSTED AT 10:34 AM ET, 01/14/2009
NFL's Loss Is Society's Gain
It's clear from everything that's been written about Tony Dungy's retirement from the NFL that his faith is a large part of who he is. Perhaps it is not surprising then, that what people remember most about Dungy's time in the NFL has less to do with what he accomplished on the field - becoming the first black coach to win a Super Bowl two years ago - and more to do with what he achieved away from it.
Sally Jenkins, writing in The Washington Post, quoted Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay as saying Dungy "pushed me as a man and made me a better person."
Clark Judge of CBSSports.com wrote how Dungy always treated everyone he met with respect, a rarity among NFL coaches. He quoted Dungy as once saying: "That's one of the reasons I stayed in coaching to prove you can win with Christian principles."
Chris Mortensen of ESPN.com examines Dungy's faith most closely. He quoted Dungy as saying: "I'm at a point, kind of like the Apostle Paul, he said, 'If I live, it's good. If I die and go home with the Lord, it's better.'"
"Somewhere in our city there is a guy who doesn't realize how his life changed for the better late Monday afternoon," wrote Joe Henderson in the Tampa Tribune. "The headlines will say that Indianapolis lost a top football coach, but Tampa gained a friend. [Dungy] will visit prisons, work with fathers and be a force for good in a turbulent time."
Meanwhile, Robert King of the Indianapolis Star is lamenting the city's loss. King wrote: "When he came to Indianapolis seven years ago, Dungy said faith would come before football, and he has been true to his word."
Certainly the NFL lost a decent, caring, compassionate man. But if Dungy is true to his word, and there's reason to doubt otherwise, society gained one.
POSTED AT 10:47 AM ET, 01/ 7/2009
A Quarterback of Faith
Washington Post staff writer Amy Shipley takes a look at University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow and how his faith influences him in a story in Wednesday's paper.
As noted before in this space, sports reporters have gone out of their way to avoid mentioning Tebow's strong religious beliefs. But Shipley doesn't shy away from the topic. Instead, she explores how it has helped make him the player he is.
Tebow's parents are quoted in the article, and I found this statement by his father enlightening.
"I learned as a college student that whatever platform you have . . . you can take that platform and influence people for bad or influence people for good," Bob Tebow said. "In our country, people look up to, and listen to, football players. Is that right? They do, so it doesn't matter if it's right or wrong.
"I wanted all of my kids, not just Timmy, to use whatever they were good at for God's glory."
POSTED AT 10:47 AM ET, 01/ 6/2009
'Signs' Lead NFL Player to God
I'm a bit baffled by this story I came across about former Denver Broncos offensive tackle Matt Lepsis, who played 11 seasons in the NFL before retiring in 2007. Lepsis started 133 games and helped the Broncos win a Super Bowl in 1999. He recounts how he became caught up in the fast-pace lifestyle of professional sports and started abusing drugs, often playing games while high.
Then one day, Lepsis reportedly received these "signs" -- lyrics from a Dave Matthews Band song, Jesus written on a foggy bathroom mirror -- and he becomes devoutly religious. Forgive me for being cynical but there has to be more to it than that.Continue reading this post »
POSTED AT 1:58 PM ET, 12/23/2008
Will There Ever Be Another Tamir Goodman?
It has been almost 10 years since Tamir Goodman caused a stir in this area. For those of you who have forgotten, Goodman was a star player at Talmudical Academy in northwest Baltimore who was offered a scholarship to the University of Maryland to play basketball.
Dubbed the "Jewish Jordan," Goodman gained national media attention - ESPN, the New York Times and Sports Illustrated profiled him - and he was expected to test how accommodating a high-level Division I basketball program would be to an Orthodox Jew.
But Goodman never attended Maryland, instead opting to play basketball at Towson University. He lasted only two seasons at Towson before leaving to play professionally in Israel. According to this article in Newsday, Goodman seems to have no regrets about how the situation at Maryland unfolded and is happy with his life.
While it is good to hear that things turned out well for Goodman, I wonder if there ever will be an Orthodox Jew who will play basketball at an ACC school. Or are religion and Division I basketball incompatible?
POSTED AT 2:50 PM ET, 12/18/2008
What Does God Think About Hockey?
My curiosity piqued after my recent conversation with Rev. Joseph Kerrigan about the relationship between hockey and faith, I dropped by Kettler Capitals Iceplex to speak with Washington Capitals defenseman Brian Pothier.
Pothier grew up in a Catholic family in New Bedford, Mass., but never really connected with his faith. One day, a friend invited him to a Bible study. "This guy, he was preaching from the Bible and just wasn't doing the ritual, repetitive thing," Pothier said. "It just clicked for me and made sense, and at that moment, I wanted that. . . . It's not like everything was different after that forever. I still had a lot of growing to do, a lot of stuff to go through. That was sort of the starting point."Continue reading this post »