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9 Devoutly Religious Athletes
“Here are some athletes that were known for being pretty religious.”
Not the most compelling lead for an article, but what can be said? Athletes find themselves answering to a higher power (sometimes) because they live off the bounty of gifts. What does that mean to the fans? Well, normally it doesn’t mean a damn thing. Some devotees are outspoken, some are not. There’s not much to be said, though it’s interesting to see how religion can affect a legacy despite the beliefs having nothing to do with on-field performance. Take a look and add your own in the comments. This list is by no means exhaustive, but serves as an example of exactly how church can play a role in so many different success stories.
9. Muhammad Ali
There’s little question as to his devotion, as Ali, nee Cassius Clay, changed his name in order to display his devotion to the Islamic faith. In 1964, a popular athlete saying they were going to change his religion to Islam was about as conventional as Peyton Manning declaring that he was going to speak in Spanish for the rest of his career, both personally and professionally. While his devotion to his faith (and just about every other aspect of the superstar’s life) has been called into question, especially since declaring himself a conscientious objector from the Vietnam War, time has proved kind to both Ali and his decision, demonstrating a new chapter of his life, early in his career.
8. Tim Tebow
The patron saint of college football, Tebow was (very arguably) the best player on the best team in football. And because college football is college football, detractors took potshots at every aspect of the poster boy, including his outspoken Christian devotion. Unsurprisingly, Tebow’s critics brought to light his religious affiliation and branded him a “goody-goody.” There’s really not much else to say. He participated in a divisive Super Bowl ad. When most ad buyers were selling beer and domain names, Tebow was part of a campaign funded by a pro-life group. As far as controversies go, Tebow emerged unscathed and lives well with his religion as a QB from the Denver Broncos.
7. Kurt Warner
Warner caught some flack for this exchange with Mike Tirico after winning Super Bowl 34,
Mike Tirico from ABC: “Kurt, first things first — tell me about the final touchdown pass to Isaac.”
Kurt Warner: “Well, first things first, I’ve got to thank my Lord and Savior up above — thank you, Jesus!”
He got made fun of for his religious beliefs because sports fans use what’s available. Some people were made upset by this statement, some were made happy. However, if you’re going to make fun of Warner for thanking God before his receivers and coaching staff – tread lightly. There’s a decent chance God does have his back, so you best behave.
6. Josh Hamilton
Josh Hamilton had struggled with substance abuse early in his career and has been outspoken about his devotion and Christianity ever since. While he still bears the hallmarks of his “previous” life in the form of big flame tattoos all over his forearms, that might be his last and only remaining link to his old life, as he even got his fellow Rangers to rock non-alcoholic soft drinks when celebrating their pennant victory. Gotta love the camaraderie, even if they’re not step-for-step with him on his religion.
5. Hakeem Olajuwon
The story of the most dynamic big man in NBA history (my opinion, not necessarily anyone else’s) is pretty familiar to basketball fans. Olajuwon added an “H” to his first name, changing the pronunciation and spelling 1991. After this period, his outbursts were more contained as he more strictly adhered to Islam. Observing Ramadan, Hakeem went without food from sun-up to sun-down in the middle of the season for a month. Perhaps in a testament to his spirituality, he actually performed better during those months, once garnering NBA’s player of the month, despite the fact that he wasn’t, you know..EATING during those days. He never made a big deal out of his sacrifices, but he never needed to. He was the only player picked ahead of Jordan that no one second guessed after his career was over. (Sorry, Sam Bowie.)
4. Carl Everett
Everett has some sincere beliefs that are in accordance with the Bible, but he might not be the good book’s most compelling spokesman. On account of his craziness. He infamously spoke out against evolution, saying, “God created the sun, the stars, the heavens and the earth, and then made Adam and Eve. The Bible never says anything about dinosaurs. You can’t say there were dinosaurs when you never saw them. Somebody actually saw Adam and Eve. No one ever saw a Tyrannosaurus Rex.”
And it’s true. They didn’t. His statements may have been better-received had he not, with the same interviewer not so long after, questioned the veracity of the Apollo moon landings. He’s a baseball player that’s also an expert in dinosaurs and space travel. He’s what every 9 year-old aspires to be.
3. Curt Schilling
Curt Schilling has been derided as a loudmouth for not only his Internet activity, but his radio call-in appearances, car dealership appearances, and every other type of appearance that can be quantified. He identifies himself as a born-again Christian, which resonates with many as a hallmark of someone who wasn’t in on the ground floor of an idea. Born-agains have developed a reputation as a people who found religion to fill a gap, and are perceived to be “preachier” than most when it comes to espousing their religion. To be fair though, Schilling is kinda preachy about everything, so to single him out for that one aspect seems a little misguided.
2. Deion Sanders
The flashy two-sport (sorta) athlete, Deion “Prime Time” Sanders is known for being a bit of an ass. I don’t think anyone, Deion included, would argue that. In fact, in the twilight of his career, he started counseling with a Bishop in order to divorce himself from the secular world.
Honestly, the bishop probably only did an okay job. Sanders was always outspoken, but never found himself in the same scandals as his teammates. What does it mean?
Well, he didn’t seem to have the prurient vices that Playmaker and the rest of the gang had, but all the counseling in the world hasn’t fixed his proclivity for 18-button pinstripe suits. What does one say? Maybe it’s not high on the Almighty’s to-do list, but we’d all appreciate it if the Bug Guy could get to that one sooner rather than later.
1. Reggie White
The Eagles and Packers DE was known as the “Minister of Defense,” which resonates because he was a) the poster boy for NFL defenses, and b) he took a deep interest in religion. Not just Christianity, but religion at large, having even studied the Torah to get a more complete understanding of the non-secular world.
His religion was most notable in the mid-90’s, when a church in Knoxville, where he ministered, was burned to the ground in a string of arsons. Having passed away in 2004, he left behind him a legacy that was construed by some to be seated in intolerance, whereas others saw him as the paradigm of a gracious athlete.