Does God pick sides in sporting events?
It’s not uncommon in the closing seconds of a tense game for sports fans to instinctively say a quick prayer on behalf of their favorite team, hoping for a bit of divine intervention. In my lifetime as a sports player and fan, I can think of only one time when I sent a prayer heavenward asking for God to intervene.
It was April of 2002 and I was at the NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey championship game, watching my beloved Minnesota Golden Gophers play for the title in front of a record-setting crowd at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. With a minute left in the game the Gophers trailed the Maine Black Bears by a goal and called timeout with a faceoff deep in the Maine end. While the team took the opportunity to devise a game plan, I did my part and took the opportunity to say a prayer. Please God, I begged, Let them score here!
A mere six seconds later, the Gophers scored a goal off the faceoff, answering my prayer and forcing overtime, where they eventually won the game and the national championship. I remember thinking, That was quick! and I said thank you to God, in case a divine helping hand had played a part in the victory. However, I decided to retire from my sports praying career at the height of my game (1 for 1, not bad).
In spite of this incident at the national championship, you can count me among those in the recent Public Religion Research Institute survey on God, religion, and sports who don’t believe that God picks a side during sports games. According to the survey, about a third of Catholics (29 percent) believe that God plays a role in determining the winner of a sporting event. Additionally, the survey found that 56 percent of Catholics believe that God rewards athletes who have faith with good health and success. (We could have Tim Tebow to thank for that, though let’s keep in mind God’s thoughts about that whole situation.)
I attended a Catholic high school and university that both had very visible sports programs, so I’ve participated in more than a few “God’s on our side” cheers in my day. But I also know that any unbelievable comeback is usually considered an epic collapse for the other side and that for each unbelievable comeback, a team will eventually see its own epic collapse. Though, perhaps that’s just God being fair.