When the Denver Broncos square off against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII today, the all-important “12th Man” may not be the fans, but an altogether higher power. According to a recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), half of American sports fans “see some aspect of the supernatural at play in sports.”About a quarter of fans report having prayed for God to help their team or believe that their team has been cursed at some point in time. Roughly one in five believe that God plays a role in determining the outcomes of sporting events or perform a ritual before or while watching their favorite team. Half of all respondents fall within at least one of these categories, and football fans are more likely than those of other sports to express a belief in supernatural forces.“America’s football fans stand out from other fans in their belief in the supernatural, which may not be surprising after last year’s Blackout Bowl,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI’s Research Director. A press release issued by the Institute also notes that these differences may reflect the fact that football fans are concentrated most heavily in the Midwest and South, regions that also include large religious populations.Thirty-eight percent of white Evangelicals say they have prayed for their team while fans in the Midwest are especially prone to believing that their team has been cursed (38%). Meanwhile, 62% of white evangelical Protestants and 65% of minority Protestants believe that God rewards athletes who have faith with good health and success.Americans are not only more religious than most of their European counterparts as measured in church attendance, they also believe in a more active God who responds to prayer and directs everyday events. As one theologian, William Lane Craig, mused in response to the survey’s findings:
God’s providence rules all of life, even down to the smallest details. Nothing happens without either God’s direct will or at least his permission of that event. That includes every fumble, every catch, every run. All of these things are in the providence of God, and therefore, we should not think that these things are a matter of indifference. These are of importance to God as well even though they seem trivial.
For all those preparing to put on your lucky pair of socks, do that ritual dance of yours in front of the television screen, and say a little prayer for your team we do have one little question: what team did Job play for?Faith involves accepting God’s will; superstition is about trying to trick or coerce God into complying with yours. Christians especially should understand this; Jesus of Nazareth got the cross, not a Superbowl ring.God doesn’t hate sports and he doesn’t hate contests. He isn’t a blue-nosed puritan who gets bent out of shape when people have fun. But cheap and silly attempts to cajole the maker of the universe into favoring your special team are not the kinds of spiritual exertion that God wants.