God and Football

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With both college and professional football season in full swing, I am once again struck by how often football players thank God for helping them win a game.

I’m just going to say it: I don’t think God gives a damn about the outcome of a football game.  As Albert Einstein noted, God doesn’t even play dice.  The idea that He would take the Patriots and six-and-a-half over the Browns simply does not make sense, even if your bookie assures you it’s a lock. Tim Tebow can kneel all he wants, I’m pretty sure that God really doesn’t care that the NFL’s most prominent Christian just scrambled for a touchdown.

Of course, God loves every player on the field.  He must marvel, as most football fans do, at how the human body can be trained and honed to such remarkable levels of athleticism and skill. I’m sure He’s pleased that at least some of the players devote their on-field achievements ad maiorem Dei gloriam, as the Jesuits say.

But despite countless “Hail Mary” passes and “The Immaculate Reception,” the idea that God cares about the outcome of a sporting event, to me, contradicts a fundamental reality about God.  Football is a zero sum game.  For someone to win, someone else must lose.

I like to think of God as win-win.

I thought about this last month when my fellow IVC board members and I had an opportunity to visit sites in New York City where IVC volunteers serve the poor.  I spent 90 minutes at the Terence Cardinal Cook Health Center on the Upper East Side, a long-term nursing facility that overlooks the sculptured gardens at the north end of Central Park. The Cook Center cares for hundreds of New York’s forgotten: those with terminal HIV/AIDS or in late-stage dementia, those who need chronic care but have no families to provide it, those in hospice who seek only a dignified death. For these patients the Cook Center is the last thin line between human decency and the street.

In this environment, an IVC volunteer, Eva, described how she spends two days a week visiting with patients and helping them get to and from Mass in the Center’s chapel. Eva described her sense of fulfillment at often doing nothing more than simply talking or reading to a patient, or holding a hand. The Center’s assistant director told us how Eva’s enthusiasm, energy, and creativity was valued by both the staff and the patients.  This is what God cares about: that an IVC volunteer, by her actions in service to the poor, increases and embodies God’s love in the world—for herself and others.

There was not a goal post or first-down marker in sight.


Richard Wells serves on the board of directors of the Ignatian Volunteer Corp.  He was born and raised in the Philadelphia area, and runs a consulting firm, The Wellynn Group, that focuses on marketing and communications.  He and his wife live in Bala Cynwyd, PA, along with three children and three dogs.  You may contact Richard at richard@thewellynngroup.com.


6 Responses to “God and Football”

  1. Fran Prell

    Richard, I so appreciated this post – you hit it all on the head. God sent us here to take the journey with one another, hoping we could figure out that what matters is the win-win, not win-lose. Thank you for your insightfulness and the poetry of your writing to express these simple truths so well. It is our privilege to serve as IVC volunteers. Thanks again, Fran

  2. Loretta Calfee

    AMEN AND AMEN again. I also have the privilege of serving at a nursing home. These truly are the most beautiful people to serve when one looks beyond the surface.

  3. Bill Barry, S.J.

    You nail it about God and football games, or any other contest, or war for that matter. God is on both sides, loves us all. One of the reasons John Macmurray, the late Scottish philospher, left the Christian churches and later joined the Quakers was that during the First World War, when he was in the trenches, he realized that European Christians really worshipped a tribal God, a god who loved them but not their enemies.

  4. Liz McMahon

    Eva is love in action and always a woman for others. Thank you for your faithful service at Terence Cardinal Cooke Eva!

  5. Jim Haggerty

    Richard: Your post focuses on what is the central mission of IVC, the extraordinary good work of the volunteers. thanks

  6. Pat Durkin

    Yes, yes and yes!! Richard, you spoke well. Also Bill Barry– I agree with with John Macmurray in that I have a Quaker heart. I have been saying to people for almost 20 years that competition is not good and find it amazing that amost people look at me like I have just said the craziest thing. Competition is embedded in our culture. Why do we think something that guarantees half the players will lose is a good thing? Competition is not a gospel value.


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