“God is a concept by which we measure our pain” - John Lennon … Professional sports in their own right can border on religious experience. The pain is very real on a physical and emotional level and the conception of God is often very present. Each season, no matter which sport, millions of prayers are sent to the heavens by fans and players alike in hopes of divine intervention and championship glory. Which in itself is completely vain – to ask for your own specific success.
Nevertheless, religion remains a strong and very vocal part of professional sports. Speaking to a higher power has become as common place as play-calling. Spirituality is at the forefront for many athletes who often accredited such higher powers for their individual talents.
What gets lost in all this religious thinking is the ability to doubt – for doubt is all powerful. Perhaps a spiritual being caused you to strike out in the World Series or perhaps you just couldn't make contact on an excellent breaking ball.
The best course of action when dealing with religion and sport, no matter which side your allegiance lies, is to remain humble. The silence of the servants and awareness of the atheists is certainly the easiest way to get along.
The constant portrayal of God or any other higher power to justify wins and loses is not proper. Sport is based off talent, determination, and will to win as opposed to the “will of the Lord.” After all, there can only be one winner, so somewhere along the line a prayer was left unanswered.
Of course, nobody can put a stop to anybody else practicing their beliefs, it is their right and unlike sports, the religious debate is one that can never be won or lost. In this article we will take a look at some of those true believers.
These are the top 15 most religious athletes …
15 Clint Dempsey
Clint Dempsey is a star of Major League Soccer, playing for the Seattle Sounders FC. He is also the captain of the United States national team. Dempsey is a well-established professional athlete in a nation where soccer in not the most anticipated or beloved sport. Despite his achievements on the soccer field, Dempsey attributes all of his success to God. “I play to the best of my abilities and am thankful for the many opportunities and amazing success He has given me. Through it all, I want to do right, not make mistakes, and live a life that is pleasing to Him.” I wonder if God can sit through an entire soccer game?
14 Jimmer Fredette
Currently a member of the New Orleans Pelicans, Jimmer Fredette has been fitting in nicely in the NBA during his young professional career. In college, Fredette drew a lot of attention to himself while playing for Brigham Young University – a university he chose from twelve perusing schools. His reason for choosing BYU? The school is owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Jimmy Fredette is the son of a Mormon father and Catholic mother but when he and his sister were given the right to chose their religious path, they ultimately chose Mormonism to which Fredette has remained devout.
13 Kurt Warner
Kurt Warner is considered to be the best undrafted player in the history of the NFL. His story is that of a Cinderella-like tale. Warner would go on to win two NFL MVP Awards as well as the MVP of Super Bowl XXIV. Warner of course had a higher power to thank for his victory in a post-game interview: “Well, first things first, I've got to thank my Lord and Savior up above – thank you, Jesus.” Kurt Warner is a devout Evangelical Christian and even believes that God healed him from a concussion he suffered during the 2000 NFL season.
12 Steve Young
One of the best quarterbacks to ever played the game of football, Steve Young is not only a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame but also a member of College Football Hall of Fame. Young was the backup QB for several years in San Francisco, backing his eventual predecessor, the legendary Joe Montana. When he finally stepped in for Joe he manged to fill Montana's cleats with great vigor. Young is the great-great-great-grandson of Brigham Young – the very man who BYU is named after. Coming from such a lineage, there was really no other way to go for Steve Young other than Mormonism which he practices in full. In fact, Young was originally offered the role played by Bret Farve in the movie, There's Something About Mary but turned it down due to the coarse nature of the film and his morals.
11 A.C. Green
A.C. Green was the Cal Ripken of basketball having played in the most consecutive games all time at 1192 and just like Ripken would earned himself the nickname, “Iron Man.” While in high school, Green converted to Christianity. This conversion would have a massive impact on his life and career. Green has proclaimed that he began and ended his NBA career a virgin and despite teammates encouraging women to seduce Green and compromise his morals, he would not give in to temptation. In fact, Green runs youth camps through his A.C. Green Youth Foundation which promotes abstinence until marriage.
10 Chad Curtis
Chad Curtis is a disgraced former Major League ball player who is currently serving a seven to fifteen year prison sentence in Michigan on counts of criminal conduct. Curtis is a prime example of a religious man gone wrong as he spent his career often preaching to fellow ball players about accepting Jesus into their lives or facing eternal damnation. As a member of the New York Yankees, Curtis would lead the team's prayer group and religious study but was snubbed by one of the greatest Yankees of all time, Derek Jeter. If you ever watched Derek Jeter play, it was fairly obvious that he had great vision. I suppose he was able to see straight through Chad Curtis.
9 Hakeem Olajuwon
The NBA's all time leader in blocked shots was born, “Akeem” Olajuwon but would later change his name to “Hakeem” as a devotion to his Muslim faith. Olajuwon is recognized as one of the best defensive players to ever step foot on a basketball court despite his strict observance of Ramadan where he would abstain from food and drink throughout daylight hours. While such a circumstance would restrict a player from performing to his fullest potential due to the lack of hydration and nutrition, there are many who believe that Olajuwon played at his best often times during his spiritual observance.
8 Manny Pacquiao
The current WBO Welterweight Champion, Manny Pacquiao is not only a boxer but a basketball player in the Philippine Basketball Association, a politician, and an aspiring “singer.” But above all of that, Pacquiao is a man of God. The superstar has stated that his life was at one point spinning out of control as he became enthralled with his high-profile lifestyle – owning a casino and even a cockfighting operation while womanizing and partying all night long. But then, Pacquiao made a promise to God that he would change his ways. He sold his operations and reportedly gave up his womanizing and partying. Their replacement? The Bible, which according to Pacquiao, he reads constantly. I suppose Pacquiao needed repentance before he had to step into the ring with God.
7 Josh Hamilton
Everybody has heard a story about a lost soul who overcame addiction by finding Jesus, right? Well, Josh Hamilton is another one of those stories. Hamilton is currently a massive star in Major League Baseball but his road to the big leagues was plagued with personal struggle. Originally drafted in 1999, his career would soon fall prey to his addictions. In 2007, a clean and sober Josh Hamilton finally made his MLB debut as a member of the Cincinnati Reds. Hamilton cites a relationship with God as his saving grace and is not afraid to openly discuss his past and ultimate salvation. Triple Play Ministries is a foundation founded by Hamilton and his wife in 2008. The foundation has since built an orphanage in Uganda.
6 Curt Schilling
Curt Schilling has always been one of the most outspoken ball players around causing a number of problems between himself and fellow players as well as with the media. Schilling was a big intimidating, right-handed pitcher with a right-winged outlook on the world and as a born-again Christian with Conservative leanings, you could bet that his speech could invoke some emotion. Schilling testified in front of congress and condemned ex-ball players for their use of steroids. While standing firm in his religious and political beliefs, Schilling is very easily disliked by many of peers, but you have to respect a man who stands his ground.
5 Philip Rivers
Philip Rivers is often overshadowed in today's NFL from the likes of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees. However, he has gradually turned himself into one of the league's most prominent quarterbacks. Rivers is a seasoned veteran and hands-down leader of the San Diego Chargers. Rivers is a member of the Catholic Church while his wife, Tiffany, who just happens to be his junior high sweetheart is a devout convert. The couple have seven children together and take part in a number of charitable activities including the Rivers of Hope Foundation which has helped abandoned and orphaned children.
4 Jeff Kent
Jeff Kent was always a solid baseball player but his worldly view is definitely cracked. Kent converted to Mormonism in 1989 which of course “changed his life.” But Kent's conversion and spirituality is unlike some of the others on this list. It is less a tale of redemption and more a tale of a close-minded man who uses his faith as a reason to be a jerk. In recent years, Jeff Kent has donated money to Proposition 8 which is in favor of banning same-sex marriage in the state of California. Pretty tough stuff coming from a guy who once played ball and was beloved in the city of San Francisco.
3 Muhammad Ali
The iconic and polarizing boxer who was born Cassius Clay only to drop what he refereed to as his “slave name” following his discovery of the Nation of Islam. Ali is to boxing what Babe Ruth is to baseball but in better shape. Ali and his outrageous banter would often cause great controversy and uproar among the public. His outright defiance of the Vietnam War was a testament to his Muslim faith. Ali was a proponent of civil rights and liberties and helped inspire a generation of young African-Americans to rise up in protest of inequalities and injustice.
2 Tim Tebow
Tim Tebow in second? Sure, why not? I think he is still an athlete … Many have ragged on Tim Tebow quite a bit during his short football career but aside from his in-your-face religious jargon, he seems like a decent human being. Tebow is involved in a great deal of charity work and truly does do his best to improve the lives of others. It's a little ironic how one of God's most loyal servants is stuck kneeling in abstinence and sucking thumb as a free agent while Tom Brady gets to play in the Super Bowl and go home to a super model wife.
1 Sandy Koufax
During the 1965 World Series, Sandy Koufax made what was possibly the biggest religious statement in the history of professional sports when he decided to sit out game one because it fell on Yom Kippur. Koufax is perhaps the most gifted Jewish athlete to ever participate in American sports and on that day he refused to bow down to the pressures of his professional career and chose to remain true to himself and his own beliefs. Sandy Koufax is an admired pitcher and one of the game's best who on any given day, whether he played or not, always displayed a tremendous amount of heart and courage.