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Bobby’s sports banter

When you think of sports, you probably think some of the following: body paint on a middle-aged man’s beer belly; chest-bumps; foam fingers that read “#1”; a 300-plus-pound behemoth of an athlete nicknamed Tiny; and religion.

Whoa, wait; double-take. Religion?

That’s exactly right. After the 2011-2012 National Football League season, it’s probably true for many sports fans. One Tim Tebow, quarterback for the Denver Broncos, made sure of it.

Tebow has lit up the online discussion boards and media outlets for the past several months by a) winning the most improbable of football games, despite a lack of traditional “quarterback skills”; and b) displaying his religious faith openly (some say aggressively), as if at a kindergarten show-and-tell.

While it made for good media fodder, water cooler small talk and Saturday Night Live skits, the situation also begged the serious question: does religion belong so openly (flagrantly?) on the field?

And what does the controversy mean for sports at small, religious-based colleges such as Concordia?

Granted, the NFL and Concordia College are beasts of completely different natures; still, the same conversation begs to be had in both cases.

But where does that conversation begin? The argument is loaded with biases on both sides—and how can it not be? How are religious preferences set aside? Should they be at all, for that matter?

Coach Terry Horan of the Concordia College Football team—who does not shy away from supporting “open displays of your faith”—is someone that pictures a happy medium for the conflict.

“Tim Tebow is a perfect example,” said Horan. “He is who he is, and he’s not bashful about sharing that. People can listen and join in, or choose to go in another direction.”

Yet, is it as easy as just turning the other cheek? Concordia College is Luthern-based, but a significant enough portion of the student body either practices another religion or is not religious at all. What of them?

Horan reconciles this while remarking on his own practices.

“I’m here at Concordia for a reason: to guide and lead young [students] not only on the football field, but also off. Our mission statement says it all for me.” (Concordia’s mission involves ‘sending into society thoughtful and informed men and women dedicated to the Christian life.’)

Here lies the solution, the reconciliation. Perhaps religion on the field is not about religion (or even the specific “Christian life”) at all. As in the case of Coach Horan, open displays of faith can be more about setting an example for leadership and a good lifestyle to follow.

These are traits that transcend any religion and instead define what people everywhere strive towards.

So, can religion belong on the sports field? At colleges like Concordia, but even on a national scale, it’s hard to say “no.” In fact, this could be a great opportunity for interfaith dialogue. Sports can provide a forum for people of all religions (or lack thereof) to have meaningful conversations, especially as a way to help define and realize the things that unite everyone.

Interfaith is hardly about the indie-intellectual tucked away in expensive coffee shops or scholars in their ivory towers. It comes down to the everyday human connection, even in sports.

So good ahead, be proud and steadfast in what you believe, on or off the field. Sports can be more about chest-bumps with Tiny, and that’s just fine.

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