The gap between faith and football seems wide, doesn’t it? Yet, for a number of top players in the game, the game and their faith are inherently connected. The presence of faith in the lives of the players on the field is so prominent, that professional football teams provide players with religious support, and many players attribute their professional success to their relationship with God.
Religion and the NFL
Officially, the NFL does not subscribe to a specific religion or require any players to practice any form of spirituality. Every football team in the NFL employs at least one chaplain who offers religious guidance to both coaches and players who desire it. The chaplains are charged with supporting the spiritual journeys of the players and reconcile God’s place in the sports arena.
In many cases, these chaplains are, themselves, former professional athletes, providing them with the context and experience to fully support players. Every Sunday, chaplains lead players who wish to participate in the Lord’s Prayer in the locker room prior to the game. They may also lead players in prayer following the game. Chapel services may be available as well. Participation in these activities is never required, but many players choose to join in the ritual.
Every team manages its spiritual offerings differently. For example, some teams focus on group services to players from different denominations. Other teams may offer only one spiritual advisor that covers all Christian denominations. If a player who isn’t Christian needs counsel, an additional chaplain may be brought in.
How Does Faith and Spirituality Help NFL Players?
Without a thorough understanding of spirituality, as well as the stresses of playing in the NFL, bringing spirituality on the field may seem strange. However, there are many benefits for both the players and the coaches.
Team owners, managers, and coaches want their players to be as successful as possible. They do everything in their power to take care of their players’ physical and emotional needs, so why wouldn’t they want to address their spiritual needs as well? After all, a player who is spiritually grounded and at peace is more likely to play well on the field than a player who is struggling.
Football season is an extremely stressful time for NFL players. As soon as training begins, players are on a strict schedule and have much less control over their day-to-day activity. They often follow a strict training regimen, alter their diet, and give up the majority of their free time. They will be spending less time with friends and family while putting their bodies through intense workouts.
Former NFL player, Ralph Brown understands the demands of the player’s schedule and attributes his faith to successfully navigating that part of his career. “God comes into play on and off the field for those of us who play by faith.,” says Brown. “My peace of mind, mental and physical discipline, and overall health were upheld by my faith. It was never about the win when it came to God but about the guidance, protection, and path forward He continuously revealed.”
For many players in the NFL, having access to spiritual counseling and support can make all the difference. These services keep players feeling more centered and less stressed, which is a benefit for everyone involved. When players are feeling particularly overwhelmed, they can reach out to chaplains who will offer the comfort and advice they need to get back on track.
Similar benefits are available for coaches, trainers, and other professionals who work with NFL players. Like the players themselves, these individuals make a lot of sacrifices for the sake of the team. They also deal with extreme amounts of stress during training and games. Spiritual advisors are made available before, during, and after games to help these individuals manage their anxiety and maintain good spiritual health throughout the season.
Faith, Football, and the Media
Whether you’re privy to the events off the field or a spectator watching from your couch, it’s evident that faith plays a large role in the lives of many NFL players. Sometimes, these expressions of faith become polarizing for fans and commentators. The NFL itself has not made any clear statements regarding its preferences on this issue. However, no clear rules exist that prohibit players or coaches from sharing their faith.
For many players, faith is such an important part of life and the game of football that not sharing it would be nearly impossible. Players often attribute their success on the field and in life to an intimate relationship with God, and they feel compelled to share this experience with NFL fans around the world. Public opinion on where religion belongs in professional sports continues to be divided, but it’s clear that players who express a strong faith will continue to acknowledge and share this most personal part of themselves as it impacts their lives, careers, and ultimate success.