The Question is: What Kind of Football Does God Fancy?

Aaron Rodgers (Todd Rosenberg/NFL)

After leading his team to victory over the Seattle Seahawks last Sunday, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers told reporters that God “was a Packers fan tonight”—a retort to Russell Wilson’s comment that God had “set up” the Seahawks’ win over the Packers in the NFC Championship game nine months ago.

The back-and-forth (if one that allows nine months to respond can rightly use the term) elicits eye-rolling from most serious sports fans and consternation from some of the more theologically minded. To most, it looks like another case of athletes enlisting God for their own, very secular purpose; another reason to reject God or professional sports, or both.

And if this kind of God-talk provokes the Nation‘s Dave Zirin to agitate for the removal of a politicized God from football, there are plenty of David Frenches out there to vociferously reject that, thus creating another back-in-forth in the media. But if we resist the urge to untangle God from the performative quality of verbal sparring between professional athletes, we may find something about the mentality of one-upsmanship in sports and something that is theologically interesting. Perhaps even more interesting than @NFLJesus who has, to date, nearly twenty thousand followers.

The game that prompted Wilson’s original comments, back in late January 2015, was a wild one. The Seahawks were down to Rodgers’ Packers for almost the entire game (16-0 at one point), largely due to Wilson’s 4 interceptions. A furious comeback, marked most memorably by a fluky mishap on a fluky play, led to the Seahawks victory in overtime.

Wilson’s explanation of his Jekyll-and-Hyde performance relied not on something he did or did not do, nor was his God there merely to give him “the strength to endure” the trial of the first 55 minutes of the 60 minute game. Instead, it was “God setting it up, to make it so dramatic, so rewarding, so special.” Reminiscent of the biblical story of Job, Wilson’s God intentionally made things difficult for most of the game only to guide Seattle to the improbable win—all as a test of the main character (Wilson), and presumably for the sake of a dramatic ending.

While he may practice silence when it comes to expressing his Christian faith, it’s no surprise that Rodgers would take issue with any explanation of the Seahawks victory that was verbose and/or strayed from the facts of the game. Ask diehard fans, much less a participating athlete and you’ll find that the less the victorious party says after a stinging loss in a consequential game, the better.

So for Wilson to enlist God as the puppet master for the entire game indicts the Packers’ good play as much as it sanctifies everything the Seahawks did—good and bad. Unbeknownst to Rodgers (and the rest of us), all of the Packers effort for 90% of the game was in the service of an 11th hour drama—just as the holy screenwriter drew it up.

Two days after the NFC Championship, Rodgers countered Wilson’s theology by quipping, “I don’t think God cares a whole lot about the outcome. He cares about the people involved, but I don’t think he’s a big football fan.” We can read this rejoinder as a classic minimization of the opposing teams’ skill and a maximization of “we had it in the bag and let it slip away.”

Rodgers’ God wouldn’t/couldn’t care enough about football to engineer a victory, much less turn the tables on the “more-deserving” team with lucky bounces on special teams plays. God puts order into chaos and most certainly does not lodge the latter into the midst of order to create the kind of drama that results in a team and its fans being the punchline of a cruel joke.

But after this past Sunday night’s game, apparently God is once again a football fan, and a partisan one at that. Even if we agree with Zirin that Rodgers’ comments were tongue-in-cheek, he didn’t have to make this comment at all. What likely encouraged it, aside from good old retribution, was the type of game that these two teams played. It lacked late-stage drama (though the Packers did come back), game-changing luck, and late-season consequence.

What the game did possess was the kind of order and stability that permitted Rodgers to inject his God into it. The God that rewards hard work, not magic; is reliable, not capricious; and honors skill, not chance is the one that was the Packers’ fan on Sunday night, according to Rodgers. Or at least this is the God who can be used to rebuke bad theologies given at bad times by the opposing team. We can only hope that Wilson’s God will rear its head during their next matchup because if God is still a Packers’ fan, then the game may be more informative than the Bible.

23 Comments

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    These men are professionals, and I am confident they can handle the spirituality. I would be more concerned about the high school level where many players are spiritually weaker, and the prayers are taken far more seriously, and likely to influence impressionable youth.

  • chris@east20thst.net' cmbennett01 says:

    If only gods favor and caprice were limited to football…

  • thinkingcriminal@gmail.com' Camera Obscura says:

    Do unto others as you would have them do unto you pretty much marks all of competitive sports, especially those which are intrinsically violent and homicidal, like American football, from being an expression of the Gospel of Jesus. Not to mention the fact that it’s pretty much a bacchanalian festival of sex, alcohol, gluttony and, again, violence, actual violence and violence and hatred by proxy.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    That is all true, but maybe it can be turned into an expression of the Gospel of Jesus through prayer.

  • thinkingcriminal@gmail.com' Camera Obscura says:

    No it can’t, Jesus specifically said that prayer, especially prayer in public as a form of display of religiosity was absolutely not what he meant. He specifically said those who did what God wanted them to were his followers, not those who professed beliefs.

    American football is the modern day equivalent to the Roman games, it is far more coherently seen as an expression of paganism than it is Christianity which it is an absolute violation of.

  • joerogers67@gmail.com' joeyj1220 says:

    “These men are professionals”?? “Spiritually weaker”??? You cannot possibly be serious. Many high school students are much more intellectually aware than the majority of professional athletes. I think you’re giving way too much credit to the sports crowd

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    That is also all true, but it might depend on what you see as Christianity. Christianity has the flexibility to accommodate many things that are much worse then American football.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Some of those high school students are taking the spirituality too far, something that their wiser and older professional peers are better able to control.

  • thinkingcriminal@gmail.com' Camera Obscura says:

    There is no Christianity which doesn’t claim to take what Jesus said seriously, that is the defining characteristic of Christianity. To refuse to take what Jesus said seriously was exactly what he was talking about when he said that those who took those teachings seriously were his real followers;

    Atheists might not like it but they are not qualified to define Christianity, especially as they can be counted on to define it falsely in a way that promotes their ideology. They are like Muslim haters who define Islam and creationists who define evolution.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Christians do take the religion in some very different directions. The primary definition of Christianity is seeing their group as the true one, and the others as false. To truly see this, you probably have to be a non-believer, and take a step back to take it all in. If you are an actual Christian, you tend to get absorbed in your own denomination, and see things from that point of view. It is the workings of groupthink. You go to church, and everyone else thinks a certain way, so you think that way too.

  • thinkingcriminal@gmail.com' Camera Obscura says:

    Christians can be as wrong about the teachings of Jesus as scientists can be about the requirements of scientific method, these days, about as frequently, especially in fields such as cosmology and even in entire fields such as evo-psy.

    “To truly see this, you probably have to be a non-believer….” Logically fallacious, not to mention complete nonsense as anyone who had actually read the scriptures and the internal criticism of religion, some of it contained in scripture, would know.

    Atheists are quite ignorant of atheism and of religion.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Christians and scientists are heading in opposite directions. Science asks the big questions, and rejects what turns out to be false, and makes progress towards better understanding over time.

    Christians use apologetics to cover over problems and keep the faith in things untrue for as long as their public will allow, then when things get too bad they split off another denomination.

  • thinkingcriminal@gmail.com' Camera Obscura says:

    1. You don’t know what the meaning of “apologetics” is so you should stop using it in arguments.
    2. Your concept of religion and science are simplistic and foolish in the typical atheist manner. Science, as you present it, is ridiculously romantic and silly. Science deals with a tiny percentage of life, it is entirely unequipped to deal with anything which can’t be fit into its methodology. Anyone who believes that all of what we need can come from or through science is too silly to take seriously. Science can’t even tell you why you should value science over myth, you have to exit science to come up with that judgement.

    Christians invented science, which I might get tired of repeating here but I will as long as atheists lie about that, which they never will because they don’t think there’s anything wrong with lying when they believe it will get them what they want.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    1. I know what apologetics is and how it works even if I don’t know the technical definition.

    2. Science is a method to zero in on truth by eliminating what is not true. Religion is the opposite of that to the extent it teaches God has revealed truth which can’t be questioned. That is pretty simple. Science deals with reality. Religion often deals with what is not real, and that has value only in their own eyes. The fact is if you really want to understand religion, you need to scientifically look at it.

    Why do people believe in religion? That is a question that science could study.

  • thinkingcriminal@gmail.com' Camera Obscura says:

    “even if I don’t know the technical definition”

    It is a technical term, if you don’t know that definition, you don’t know what it means.

    “Why do people believe in religion? That is a question that science could study.”

    Pseudo-science maybe, not science. The range of reasons that people believe what they believe is something that science cannot study scientifically, it’s too big, too varied, the presence of any particular reason in any particular believers’ life cannot be gotten at without asking the person for their subjective experience, there is no way to determine the accuracy or even veracity of that reporting, there is no way to quantify something that can’t be determined to really be all the same “thing” even if two people using the same word mean the same thing when they call it that…..

    That hasn’t prevented pseudo-social-scientists to study that by aping, loosely and dishonestly, some sciency looking methods but what they come up with is not the same kind of thing which physicists and chemists do when they do real science. I remember some neo-atheist throwing some survey or other that claimed that psychology had the highest percentage of atheists in it of all the sciences, my answer was that they were welcome to them. Psychology is a pseudo-science, it always was and there is no prospect for it ever being anything but one. Sociology may be even worse.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Science absolutely could study why groups of people tend to think the same way and follow religions. They could study how this evolved in earlier ages. They could probably even study simple religious type behaviors in certain non-human species if they wanted to. It might have to be somewhere besides the US because we are too sensitive about everything here, and so many are anti-science. If we can’t even study climate change here then studying religion would be beyond our capabilities, not scientifically beyond, but psychologically beyond what we could get involved in without tearing each other apart.

  • thinkingcriminal@gmail.com' Camera Obscura says:

    Pretending to do science about things like religious belief in evolutionary terms is one of the more absurd and grotesque of current pseudo-scientific nonsense. It is about as stupid as it could possibly be to pretend that anyone can know anything about the motives of belief of people before they were able to write down anything about their experience and their beliefs.

    It doesn’t surprise me that you pretend that this kind of junk is science because it is largely the product of those promissory notes of materialism, issued in scads as the previously issued ones failed to pay out. It is quite often a bald-faced attempt to prop up atheist-materialist ideology through what Richard Feynman aptly called “cargo-cult science”.

    Evolutionary psychology is as much a pseudo-science as Freudian psychology is. It’s use of natural selection is question-begging from beginning to end, its reasoning is circular and its assertions frequently violate mathematical coherence and even Darwinian theory. It is one of the most massively incompetent efforts pretending to be science in the history of science.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    This is the basic disagreement between science and religion. Science says they can study the beginnings and behavior of early man, and religion says there is no way outside of the Bible to know what God told Adam as they were walking alone in the garden.

  • thinkingcriminal@gmail.com' Camera Obscura says:

    Makes absolutely no difference if someone with a science degree claims it, there is no way to study behavior when that behavior can’t be observed, it is even more absurd to assert you could discern the reason for the behavior which you can’t observe. Ironically, what they do when they pretend they can is to make up creation myths that are far more dishonest than the one in Genesis, it is more dishonest because they pretend that what they come up with is science. Gould rightly called what they did as making up Just-so stories.

    I have never believed that the story of Adam and Eve was history, I never believed any of that was more than allegorical, just as millions and millions of other Jews and Christians never believed it was the “literal truth” in the form of history or science. You are barking up the wrong tree with trying to use that against me, but atheists often eat the fruit of the tree of their own bigotry instead of knowledge.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    THE QUESTION IS: WHAT KIND OF FOOTBALL DOES GOD FANCY?

    I would hate to think the answer might be European.

  • glorybe99@gmail.com' Gloria Sullivan says:

    A good honest game , well thought out and graciously played.

  • fishmanlm@guilford.edu' AriaKittan08 says:

    Never really thought about whether or not God watched sports, was a football fan, etc but very interesting to think about. Although I highly doubt God is a packers fan, god can be anything and to anyone so to each their own! Great read!

  • bw40ny@gmail.com' Bee Wald says:

    Although crediting a victorious football game to God is wonderful and very spiritual, I believe that the popular sport of football has become football players’ church itself. If one only remembers God after a victorious game, that is not right. One should remember God during all aspects of their life to consider themselves spiritual. Football, a game created to fulfill the pleasures of an audience and increase popularity for the players, should not relate to religion.

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