Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones, left, scores a touchdown ahead of Green Bay Packers cornerback LaDarius Gunter during the second quarter in the 2017 NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, GA, on Jan. 22, 2017. Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports/Jason Getz

Does God give a holy hoot about the Super Bowl?

(RNS) Does God have his eye on the gridiron? Will he cheer for either the Atlanta Falcons or the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl on Feb. 5?

One-quarter (25 percent) of all Americans believe he does and he will, according to a new survey released today (Jan. 30) by the Public Religion Research Institute.

That’s slightly less than the number — 28 percent — who believe the Almighty had “a major role” in placing Donald Trump in the White House, the same study shows. Another 13 percent say God played a “minor role” — a backup quarterback, if you will — in the results of the 2016 presidential election.

Americans More Likely to Say God Rewards Devout Players than Determins Fate of Entire Teams. Graphic courtesy of PRRI

Americans More Likely to Say God Rewards Devout Players than Determines Fate of Entire Teams. Graphic courtesy of PRRI

 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

"For people who believe this, it is deeply felt that God is alive in the world and plays a role in all aspects of human affairs, even sports" and elections, said Dan Cox, director of research at PRRI. "If you are an enthusiastic fan, why would God be absent from the pitch?"

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The current findings closely mirror the results of previous PRRI surveys with some of the same questions. In 2013, 27 percent of Americans said they believed God was involved in sports outcomes, and in 2015 that number was 26 percent.

READ: What's God go to do with football devotion? Plenty

Not everyone thinks God is a sports fan. Almost three-quarters of Americans — 73 percent — say God doesn’t follow sports, and many of these beliefs break down along denominational lines:

  • White evangelicals and nonwhite Protestants are more likely to see God behind the lines on a field of play, with more than one-third (36 percent) and four-in-ten (41 percent) respectively saying God involves himself in the outcome of sports.
  • Only one quarter of all white mainline Protestants and Catholics think God concerns himself with sports — 25 percent each.
  • Americans with no religious affiliation — “nones” — are the least likely to say God gives a hoot about sports, with only 9 percent agreeing.

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But the study found something different when it asked about the role God plays in the career of faithful athletes — people like tennis champions Venus and Serena Williams, who are Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Olympic champion Simone Biles, a Catholic, or Seattle Seahawks quarterback and evangelical Christian Russell Wilson, who once said he and girlfriend Ciara, the singer, were dating "Jesus' way" — abstaining from premarital sex.

READ: Faith at the Olympics: Does it give athletes an edge?

Asked whether God rewards them with “good health and success,” almost half of respondents — 49 percent — agreed. Another 47 percent disagreed.

Again, the responses broke down along denominational lines. About two-thirds of nonwhite Protestants and white evangelicals say they believe God rewards faithful athletes (65 percent and 62 percent respectively), while almost half of Catholics (48 percent) agreed followed by 29 percent of nones.

These numbers are much higher than those who believe God directs the outcomes of games. Why?

"If people believe in a personal relationship with God it is not such a big step for them to say God rewards people who are faithful," Cox said. "For athletes, the rewards would be good health and success."

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But Lee DelleMonache, director of the Institute of Sport, Spirituality and Character Development at Neumann University, cautions against a downside of such a belief.

"Athletes are not 'handed'  losses, injuries or illnesses," she said in an email. "In fact, it saddens me that there are people who feel loss, injury, or illness is a punishment or the result of not having a strong faith life."

And remember back in 2012 when people got all worked up about quarterback Tim Tebow dropping to one knee and praying in the end zone? The survey found that nearly half of all American approve of athletes making public displays of religion, while only four percent said they disapproved. The rest — 47 percent — said they don't much care.

There's a flip side to believing God gives a holy hoot about sports teams. The study also found that 20 percent of sports fans believe their teams have been "cursed" at some point — that's down from 25 percent when researchers asked the question in early 2016.

Could that drop have to do with the fact that the Chicago Cubs broke a 108-year drought after the "Curse of the Billy Goat" with their rousing win over the Cleveland Indians at the 2016 World Series?

It's fun to think about, Cox said, but "all we can do is speculate."


  1. Of course god gives a hoot about the Super Bowl, elections, other people’s dangly bits.

    Starving children…not so much.

  2. I’m reminded of the comment made by the great Joe Lapchick to his players on the St. John’s basketball team. “Don’t cross yourself before you take free throws; you might embarrass God!”

  3. Another great example of how those who seek power and control over others manipulate people’s tendencies to believe in the divine.

  4. Hmm. Are you trash-talking on God again, Ben? Lashing out at Him again because of deep anger, painful past, unhealed wounds, and/or a lifetime of self-admitted behavior that’s contrary to God’s intentions expressed in Scripture? Is that it?

    C’mon now. Even a watered-down, take-it-easy, lighter-side RNS article like this one, is apparently enough to get you dissing God again. Why is that?

    Now a couple of folks, they gave you an Up-Vote here. I guess they liked you directly impugning & insulting God’s very deep caring & love for the children. Me, I don’t play that.

    Sure, I got issues & temptations to deal with, I’m not “Holier-n-Thou.” But ragging on God doesn’t even make horse sense. Jesus is my only hope in this life, and He’s YOUR only hope too.

    By the way, (for anyone interested), sometimes the skeptics do try to play games by pointing to the reality of starving children. So please bookmark this brief explanation, just in case.

  5. Nah, as usual, you have it completely wrong.

    I’m not lashing out at your version of God because of any of those reasons. I’m “lashing out” at him– although I don’t believe in him, so it’s as hard to lash out at him as it is to lash out at pookahs and banshees– because he, like so many of his followers, seems to be an immoral, uncompassionate d**k.

    Yah, he’s compassionate all right. That’s why there are children starving.

    Yes, you do have issues and temptations to deal with, which you do by giving into them, especially when you can attack other people, as you are doing now. And holier-than-thou is what you do constantly. It’s what every judgmental Christian of your sort does, when you are not busy sinning and repenting and re-sinning and repenting and then claiming Jesus forgave you.

    Great explanation of why there are starving children. More religious blather, excusing what is, in favor of yet another statement about how god loves the little children. It’s not an explanation, its an excuse. It’s enabling. It’s lack of critical thinking. So there are Christians who fight against hunger? There are also Christians who think that going to war is good, that spending $40 million attacking my marriage instead of feeding starving children is good, or that yet another mansion or jet is good.

    All this piece of trash is really saying is that good people do good things. You don’t need to be a Christian to feed starving children. You do need to be one to ignore them in favor of your religious agenda.

  6. Church sign in front of Forest Presbyterian Church in Forest, Virginia:
    “God doesn’t have favorites. But the sign guy does. Go Falcons!”

  7. I dunno.
    Maybe provide food? Maybe cause peace to break out? Maybe provide rain?

  8. What I just said. God picking winners and losers in sporting events? It’s just silly.

  9. “I dunno.” No. You don’t.

    Isn’t it time to give up your grade-school images and concepts of the Divine?

  10. Isn’t it time for the divine to start acting like it cares about anything except for bigger and grander churches or what people do with their dangly bits and with whom? Isn’t it time for the divine to start living up to its promises to mankind? Isn’t it time for the divine to start showing what compassion means?

    “Not a sparrow falls but God knows of it.” But the sparrow still falls, doesn’t it? So of what use is god knowing? Likewise, these trashy articles claim that god just loves the little children. But the little children still starve to death, suffering horribly, by the hundreds of thousands while god “loves” them, apparently to death.

    If I wanted a “grade school” image of the divine, the one portrayed in Floyd’s reference would be the perfect exemplar. I gave that one up years ago. Why don’t you? If I wanted a “grade school” image of the divine, I have one: the grade school bully. “Believe in me or else. Don’t make me send you to hell because you don’t believe in me.”

    Actually, I gave up god years ago, because his actions simply do not match his press kit, and his believers do not match their behavior to their gushing proclamations of love.

  11. Given what I have read about concussions, maybe we should pray that no one suffers brain damage.

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