Does God Care Who Wins the Super Bowl?
‘Whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.’ (1 Corinthians 10:31)
A football player pointing to heaven after a touchdown, a sign of the cross made before a game, and giving God credit for a victory are all beautiful moments in sports. But is God really involved in athletic competitions like the Super Bowl? Does he care who wins?
When women’s soccer star Megan Rapinoe (NWSL) suffered an Achilles tendon injury six minutes into the final game of her career during the NWSL Championship, she expressed frustration in postgame remarks.
“I mean, I don’t deserve this, I’ll tell you that much,” she said. “If there was a God, like, this is proof that there isn’t.”
Then there’s quarterback Tom Brady, with 10 Super Bowl appearances and seven victories, who credits witchcraft for his last two Superbowl wins. Occult practices seek to use power not from God. But do any of these practices make a difference in the outcome of the game?
Deeper Meaning in Sports
I don’t know the mind of God, but since it is our soul that is of greatest value, it seems he would be more concerned with character and faith than who wins or loses.
Another high-performing athlete who suffered a season-ending Achilles injury like Rapinoe is Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. He had a very different response, however. In an interview with Focus on the Family, Cousins recalled a college game where he caused an interception that cost his team the game. He said, “I thought, ‘Thank you for the Gospel and thank you, God, that my life is not built on football, but my life is built on you — and you’re not changing.’ God saw this event before it happened. He is sovereign over it. He allowed it to happen. And I have to trust him that he is going to make good out of it and he is not going to waste it.”
Before his injury in Week 8 of the 2023 NFL season, Cousins was second in league passing yards. Since then, he was seen on crutches serving Thanksgiving meals alongside his team at the Salvation Army and said that he has “learned that it is truly more happy-making to give than to receive.”
Catholic Schools Bring God into Sports
As a cheerleader at St. Alphonsus High School, before each game, we gathered in a circle and prayed a “Memorare.” We prayed to win. Back then, most Catholics sent their children to Catholic schools, so there were enough schools in suburban Detroit to have Class A, B, C and D divisions. That meant that before every sporting event, dueling Catholic prayers went up for the win. Did the victors just pray better?
Outside of saying a prayer before a game, religion and sports didn’t seem to mix. But in recent years, having had children in sports at a Catholic school, we witnessed a new generation of Catholic athletes bringing God into sports as more than just a side hustle. There is an acknowledgment that sports can bring out the best and the worst, but Christians should choose the best on and off the field through the virtues of greatness. Even fans have been included with expectations that everyone should conduct themselves in a Christian manner.
Pope St. John Paul II, the “sportsman pope,” spoke frequently about sports as a potential training ground of virtue. In a 1990 address at a conference on sports and ethics in Rome, he explained, “Christian life is like a rather demanding sport combining all a person’s energies to direct them toward the perfection of character, toward a goal which realizes in our humanity the ‘measure of Christ’s gift’ (Ephesians 4:7).”
Recognizing the natural relationship between sports and virtue, a number of Catholic programs have formed around the idea that sports can help put athletes on a path to eternal life.
The University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota, offers Greatness in Virtue as an extension of the school’s mission of holiness for all students. The 31-page strategic plan outlines how athletics can develop six virtues — magnanimity, humility, prudence, courage, justice and temperance — to pursue greatness. “They [student athletes] will realize that to aspire simply to a championship is not to set a goal too high, but far too low, and that authentic greatness pursues much more,” it states.
Barry Dean, president and executive director of the Alabama Baseball Coaches Association, reawakened his faith in 2010 after binge-listening to Lighthouse Catholic Media talks. The following year, he founded the Association of Catholic Coaches and Athletes to educate, honor, inspire and evangelize coaches and athletes.
Another program, Varsity Catholic, was launched by Thomas Wurtz in 2007 as part of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) to seek out athletes and draw them deeper into their faith. He had played a semester of football and then rugby in college and realized that while athletes are influencers, they also face unique challenges and pressures. Varsity Catholic missionaries seek to help athletes realize that their deepest identity is in Christ, and they can glorify him in their sport and in their daily lives.
Notre Dame addresses sports at the youth and high school levels with Play Like a Champion. It was developed in 2006 as a result of research that identified many kids were learning poor character traits in sports. Through primarily coaches’ training, it elevates sports as fun and includes Catholic faith formation.
Coaches teach athletes how to treat teammates and officials respectfully and how to encourage leadership, fairness and spirituality. Participants receive daily athletic reflections in their inbox such as the “Sports Stations of the Cross,” which reflects on Jesus falling three times but still getting back up. Coaches are encouraged to pray before and after practices and games, go to Mass as a team, make a retreat, and teach the children about St. Sebastian, the patron saint of athletes.
So, while it is a beautiful thing when God is given glory during sporting events, the deeper impact is when he is given glory, win or lose, both on and off the field.