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00000176-770f-dc2f-ad76-7f0fad990000Monday at 5:44 pmEmail Sports at Large

Sports At Large: Is There True Religious Freedom In The NFL?

AJ Guel

For most Americans, Sunday is the day of the week where two of our most significant institutions, religion and professional football are most visibly on display. The two entities intersect in a big way on most Sundays. Many people of faith slide comfortably from their spiritual houses of worship to their secular ones, the stadiums where their football gods have taken up residence. Inside those football tabernacles, religion is freely and fervently practiced, with the usually tacit, but sometimes vocal approval of the spectators.

The players kneel in prayer before games in the sanctity and privacy of their locker rooms, but they also genuflect when a comrade has fallen during play and immediately after a contest, giving thanks that all have survived. Teams have always had chaplains and players and coaches have always spoken openly of the role their faith plays in their lives.

In recent seasons, we’ve seen one player in particular, nomadic quarterback Tim Tebow profess his faith very publicly and unapologetically, seemingly violating Jesus’ request in the sixth chapter of Matthew that a person pray to God in secret, in the eyes of some.

“Tebowing,” as it has come to be known, became all the rage as Tebow’s fame spread through his college days at Florida and into NFL stops with the Broncos, the Jets and the Patriots. Tebow, who is with Philadelphia this season after two seasons out of the NFL, has become the lightning rod for people on both sides of the question of how much should religion be a part of our public life.

But now, on the other side of the issue comes Houston Texans running back Arian Foster, who, in a new ESPN The Magazine piece, has declared that he doesn’t believe in God. Foster, who has run for just over 6,300 yards in six seasons and been named an All-Star four times, has apparently never shied away from discussing his non-belief in his locker room, in a decidedly smaller circle. According to the article, Foster asked in college at Tennessee to be excused from team exercises that involved religion, but was denied.

Foster, who is out for two months with a groin pull, takes a position that not only places him at odds with fellow football players, but against others of African-American descent. The church, generally, and the Christian church, specifically, is a major thread in the quilt that is the Black community.

Yet, Foster appears content to seemingly swim against the cultural currents.

In the ESPN piece, Foster says, quote "If there is a God and he's watching football, there are so many other things he could be doing. There are hungry children and diseases and famine and so much important stuff going on in the world, and he's really blessed your team? It's just weird to me."

The NFL supposedly embraces the American ideal, even incorporating the flag into its logo. That ideal, in theory, is about allowing each person to walk their own individual path, provided it doesn’t interfere with another person’s path.

Let’s see if the league and its fans are as willing to let Arian Foster walk his walk as it has Tim Tebow.