Should LDS athletes play on Sunday?

So what about football and the Sabbath? Are they compatible?

It’s an issue that has been discussed for decades. In a Sports Illustrated story that will be published this week, writer Mark Oppenheimer attempts to address the complex dynamic. The issue: Is pro football really in keeping with Christian values?

Chad Lewis

Numerous LDS athletes have played on Sunday. Generally they say that it’s a personal decision.  I  know plenty of LDS pro athletes who have maintained a high degree of spirituality, despite having a job that requires Sunday work – Chad Lewis, Dale Murphy and Andy Toolson, to name a few.

I also have done stories on Eli Herring, the former BYU football player who chose to forgo the NFL Draft, rather than play on Sunday. He has never once, to my knowledge, passed judgment on other LDS athletes who play on the Sabbath. Yet when I asked if he had regrets over his choice, his response was this: “The Lord has been true to his promises to me. And I’ve always been happy with the decision.”

Numerous NFL players, of many faiths, are spiritual people. Luther Elliss, an openly practicing Christian, and former Ute player, spent much of his fortune taking care of others while in the NFL.

Eli Herring

Ultimately it comes down to personal decisions and how they live their faith. Pro sports don’t last forever and many athletes recognize that Sunday games aren’t a lifetime commitment. Some athletes attend church meetings in the mornings before going to the stadium

So is it hypocritical to profess religious belief, but smash mouths on Sunday? Not necessarily. I’ve known quite a few outstanding Christian people who played pro football. And it was more than just talk.

I  admire Herring for his decision. I have always been impressed with him when we’ve talked. He would probably be the first to say that when it comes to religion, it’s not just a matter of attending church; it’s about how one lives his life. As far as I can tell, Herring has done a fine job in all those areas.

At the same time, I’d put some pro athletes’ spiritual strength up there with any regular church-goer.

I’m not sure there’s a one-size-fits-all answer here. Lots of religious people have to work on Sundays. I’d just say that God knows where peoples’ hearts are.




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  1. bublnet

    I think Rock you nailed it, it’s a personal decision. It’s also personal to attend a sporting event on Sunday. Larry Miller struggled with that a lot.

    Personally we should look for ways to keep the sabbath rather than vice versa. Steve Young got permission to have the sacrament on Saturday nights with other 49er Mormons. So I think it’s a little more complex than a “Sunday” issue. Before a person can decide they need to know what the day is actually for.

  2. SloppyJ30

    I have nothing in common with anyone who asserts that pro athletes are breaking the sabbath by playing on Sunday. It’s an attitude that irritates me no end. The world doesn’t shut down every seven days; that’s the reality. For those who would respond “the world is wrong,” I would ask you to look at your own Sunday activities and tell me if your money is where you mouth is.

    Many Latter-day Saints who wouldn’t dream of going out to play sports on Sunday will gladly sit down to watch a game. That small fraction that do not watch television (other than church programs or other “uplifting” fare) on Sunday and really do try to reserve the day for church-related or tacitly approved family activities are at least more genuine, but tend to come off as a little pious.

    Pro athletes have to balance career demands with spiritual convictions, same as many other professions. No God I have any regard for would condemn someone over making a choice to work when an employer needs them.

  3. Howard S.

    Last Saturday Rock accused the University of Utah of selling its soul to the devil by playing on Sunday.

    Today he gives a pass to LDS players who play on Sunday.

    Hypocritcal or just covering his bases with his LDS readership?

    Or both?

  4. Edward Bailey

    Many sports represent an inner struggle both mental and physical which translates to many spiritual struggles we must conquer through Christ. Christ represented correctly that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath, yet Jesus obeyed the Sabbath. A christian believer may be a fantastic accountant who has never worked a Sunday in his life, yet may find yawns and wandering eyes when converting metaphors from career into spiritual allegories when speaking about accounting principles to the young priest’s quorum. There is a reason millions like a game. The good thing with Eli Herring, is that he avoided the 100’s of minor concussions which produce dementia, and slowness and problems with analysis, complexity, and critical thinking later in life.

  5. Charles Castleberry

    I agree with the sentiments, but the situation is so much larger than decisions facing professional athletes. Youth soccer and baseball, college sports and other recreational decisions face nearly the entire populace. Instead of passing judgement (or not) on professional athletes, we ought to see what we can do to help our youngsters.

    As an example of the pressure our young soccer players are under, competition teams are required to play a certain number of out-of-state tournaments each year. Most of these tourneys have Sunday Play for teams that advance. Some Christian team members opt not to play on those days, so substitute players from other teams are often required to fill the required number of players. Some of those who do play wish they did not have to play on Sunday, but feel they would let the team down if they don’t play. They feel they would be hypocrites if they play other than Sunday dates, but take advantage of being on a competition team which had qualified only because others play on Sunday to qualify the team for competition.

    It seems that with so many youth playing in states like Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Nevada and California where a majority of the youth and their coaches and parents would like to avoid Sunday play that more tournaments could be sponsored that avoid Sunday. Perhaps leaders and coaches BYU and BYU Idaho might have enough influence to drive such efforts.

    We always left the decision to our children, but agonized over the fact that a 12 year old had to decide. It doesn’t seem fair… To play or not to play in the Super Bowl? It really is a lot bigger issue than that.

    • Desert

      I’m embarrassed to say that some coaches at BYU do the opposite of what you suggest. Go to a few Sunday tournaments in Phoenix and see who is there recruiting LDS kids.

    • Sandee Spencer

      While it’s wonderful that BYU players aren’t required to participate in sports on Sunday many of them never would have gotten to the level required to make an intercollegiate team without playing in club sports during their high school years that did require Sunday play.

      It’s a tough one. Sure wish the world kept the Sabbath.

  6. Donna Bateman

    Should LDS athletes play on Sunday???? REALLY? With everything going on in this world, you write this piece? I know you’re a sports writer, but come on! How about Baptists? Catholics? Methodists? Last I heard, they still believe in the 10 commandments. How anyone—even an athlete—practices their religion should not be up for public fodder. It’s not just a personal decision, it’s a PRIVATE decision—and that means it’s not for the newspapers to discuss.

    • Eric Gibbons

      Donna, I think the paper you meant to read was the Salt Lake Tribune. The Deseret News is owned by a religeous institution and Brad Rock is only further soliciting feedback on a hot topic from last week when Utah was forced to play a basketball game on Sunday night. Oh and last time I checked, the newspapers can discuss whatever they want. I agree with Charles, the bigger issue is the kids and the decisions they are making very young in life. I don’t live in Utah and its very difficult to participate in any sports as almost all teams either practice or play on Sundays. I’m grateful that my kids have chosen not to play. They’re also up front with their coaches when the season starts so there aren’t any surprises. To me, it all goes back to if Sunday work is required for your livelihood. This is why comparing the Utes playing on Sunday to Dennis Pitta or Alex Smith is not even the same argument. The last I checked college kids weren’t required to play on Sundays to support their family.

  7. RN

    We are talking about professional athletes. Their profession is participating in a sport that is primarily played on Sunday (at least the NFL). What about other professionals whose professions require Sunday participation? Should there be no Christian / LDS doctors, nurses, police officers, fire fighters, airline pilots, or any other professsion with Sunday work required? There is currently an LDS apostle who was a cardiac surgeon. I doubt he ever refused to perform surgery on the Sabbath. I’m not trying to justify breaking the Sabbath. As the scriptures say, man looks on the outward appearance while the Lord looks on the heart.

  8. Hans Hansen

    Only in Utah would a poll ask “if it’s there livelihood”, instead of “if it’s their livelihood”!

  9. nothegame

    They are having this discussion right now at SLCC baseball there are 4 rm’s that wont play on Sunday. I can understand their beliefs but this is not BYU, you are the one’s that choose to play at slcc. not the other players or the coaches. This also happened in a baseball tournament in comp baseball years ago. where the team from sf did not play in the championship game that was on Sunday. My only problem with that is you new going in that if you made it that far you would have to play the game on Sunday, so don’t go to the tournament.

    • Desert

      Or, you’ve organized a sporting event for which you know that many would like to participate, but will either abstain all together or remove themselves from competition prematurely rather than compromise their principles.
      You would not dare to require a commitment to Sunday participation for fear of missing out on talented players or being seen as an ogre by the community. The outcome you are complaining about is logical.
      Whether the finalist removes them self from competition or never participates, not all of the best players are participating.
      I think you are frustrated because you would like to have it both ways.
      Finding a way to be more inclusive is, in my opinion, good sportsmanship. Expecting people to exclude themselves based on an unwritten requirement which you do not dare make public is not honorable.

  10. Russ Hall

    Great discussion, and as stated above, it’s for all Christians who believe in the Sabbath. The DNews is in Utah, so the headline fits. I live in Montana and have 4 children in sports. The competition teams are on Sundays. The first couple years our oldest boy was on a team we told him no Sundays. When he turned 13 we realized he needed to make that decision. He has chosen to play on most Sundays. I’ve attended some tournaments on the Sabbath and I don’t like they way I feel after going to the games as I get riled up and it’s fitting of the day. I now drop him off and pick him up when he’s done. A Bishop in our building has kids in sports and they are a Sunday playing family. It works for them. Others choose to not let their kids play on Sundays. It’s a personal decision and one that should be made as a family decision, and no judgment to any family or individual who makes a choice different from what you see as the right choice. Please.

    • Deanna Tolman

      No one is “required” to go on a mission. Everyone makes that choice personally. We believe choice, which we call “free agency,” is an essential part of this life — we can’t learn anything if we’re being directed in all things. We’re given guidance, and then told to govern ourselves.

  11. PGVikingDad

    I was an athlete at BYU when Eli was playing football, and I have been a fan of his for two decades, now. I have no problem with someone who chooses to play professionally on Sundays, but I also can’t help but admire a man who stands true to his convictions like Eli has. He advised all NFL teams not to waste a pick on him, but the Raiders drafted him anyway, and continued to dangle that carrot for the months that followed. He could’ve changed his mind at any time, but he never did. Amazing. For the record and for what it’s worth, I would have played on.

  12. mcp

    Over the past 10 years of general conference, I bet you could count at least 15-20 stories about people who chose not to participate in athletics on Sunday. It seems there’s one every conference, and these stories are told by general authorities to present examples of appropriate Sabbath observance.

    We can try to sugar coat things, but let’s be frank — athletics are not appropriate for the Sabbath, at least according to the brethren. For every law there can be exceptions as the Spirit dictates. For this reason, it’s best not to judge those who choose to participate in athletics on Sunday. But the letter is what it is, and I’d imagine that valid exceptions to this rule are likely far and few between.

    Sabbath observance shouldn’t be based on a list of do’s and don’ts, it’s about more than that, but athletics are one specific activity the brethren mention again and again as on the don’t list, if one does exist.

  13. Tom Brown

    It is a personal decision and is not for me to judge what others do. However, He who will judge us all has stated, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.”

    Some day every one of us will stand before our Lord and give an accounting for every choice we made in life, every commandment we did not keep. Then,as it is now, it will be a VERY PERSONAL thing. Christ used the “ox in the mire” analogy to say there are times when one must work on the Sabbath. If you think playing sports falls within His guidelines then play on. And be prepared to explain it to Him when that day comes.

  14. David potter

    For LDS members, we make a commitment to obey the laws of God. To justify breaking a law of God by saying ‘Its my job and my living … hence it is okay” just doesn’t seem right. Would this justify an LDS member to run a bar, to sell pornography, to sell cigarettes, or anything less contrary to our beliefs? Is it a personal decision … Yes … But breaking any of God’s laws is a personal decision. What good is faith if one doesn’t have to live it and be tried by it? Our test here is to pass the test … not to justify breaking our covenants. What do we teach our children? do we teach them to Honor and keep the sabbath when you are young but when you are an adult let the almighty dollar rule! But some will ask,”If I leave the devil’s employment … What will I do?” Someone in the bible might have had the right idea when he said “choose you this day whom ye will serve; … But as for me and my house, we will serve The Lord. “.

  15. mc

    The judgements and accusations may fly, but ultimately until a handful of Steve Young or Jabari Parker caliber athletes take a stand and say no to sabbath games, we will never see how strong our negotiation power is. A Saturday superbowl? Not that far fetched if the athletes themselves would raise the bar and recognize the influence and power they wield, not just with the fans, but with the owners and rulemakers.

  16. Ten Commandment

    The bigger issue are those of us that Watch the games on Sunday. I always watch football on Sunday and I do it knowing I am violating the Sabbath. I guess I’m not ready to change yet but I realize I am breaking the Sabbath while I do it. Could you really see the Pope or President Monson rush home from Church each week and plop down on the recliner with a soda in hand to watch their favorite football team? Of course not. They would focus on Family and Faith on the Lords Sabbath. I know I am a sinner and I will violate Fast Sunday in three days by pigging out on Super Bowl foods while I watch the Go Daddy commercials and wild half time show.

  17. Howard S.

    Last Saturday Rock said of the Ute’s decision to play on Sunday… “They’ve made their deal with the devil, so to speak.”

    On Wednesday, instead of saying they’ve made their deal with the devil, Rock says of LDS members that play on Sunday… “Lots of religious people have to work on Sundays. I’d just say that God knows where peoples’ hearts are.”

    Seems to me a curious change of tone from Rock with regard to playing games on Sunday.

    What gives?

  18. Old Law

    This is not a Christian issue, it’s only a Mormon issue. Any true Christian knows that keeping the sabath day holy was an old testament law that no longer exists. And if the Mormons were really trying to follow the law they would keep Saturday holy and not Sunday like they did in the old testament. True Christians keep every day holy and avoid all the hypocritical Mormon man made games.

    • J-TX

      It is NOT an “old law”, it is Christ’s law, as he observed and preached Sabbath observance. What has happened is that “true Christians” have decided that any one of the 10 commandments they don’t want to observe is an “old law”.

      I live in a community in Texas where many of my neighbors are good Christians of various faiths. There are also many of them who profess Christianity, but pick and choose, choosing to not keep the Sabbath, to fornicate, to use the Lord’s name in vain, to steal, to bear false witness. Not that there aren’t Mormons doing these things, too.

      But how can you presume to speak for Christ and to state that His commandments are no longer valid? I guess it is convenient for your hypocrisy.

  19. Mark Stoddard

    Sabbath observance has long been a slippery slope, mine-field, a puzzle wrapped in an enigma. Even the 7th Day commandment had exceptions. Jesus fought against the Pharisees who had a line and law for almost any action on the Sabbath. Christ further blurred those lines and laws of behavior/judgement by saying the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

    In short, it’s a lousy topic to get worked up over. Everything is defensible and indefensible by some logic. It’s best left a very personal thing and live it as you think you ought and leave others to live as they think.

    But that’s not a bad standard for most things.

  20. Mark Stoddard

    I won’t cower out of the discussion and not give my personal standard, but, I greatly admire the Chariot’s of Fire approach. In most cases I will keep the Sabbath strictly, but, when I travel Sunday is a problem that I deal with in my own way. I don’t like Sunday closing laws but will shop at stores who do. Free market of ideas. I also found in my travel business that when we put the Free Day on the Sabbath we had much happier people on Monday. But, that’s my opinion, not dictatum.

  21. Susan

    This article bring to the table a controversial point especially between members who are athletes or have kids who play travel sports.
    It is a hard especially if you live in the East Coast. Let me tell you my experience; my kid play travel soccer and we become very involved in sports because he has ADHD/ODD with all its plus and it was a school counselor suggestion because we were against medicine.The sport turned around his life 360 degrees in couple years. He become a great kid, student, son and a friend.
    I looked everywhere for options outside Sunday , it was imposible, nothing ,zero!!! And I made my decision , a hard one… He is going to play Sundays but I made a commintment too that all the free Sundays he is going to be at Church with me.
    I believe sports can’t harm your relationship with God what erode this ,it is your attitude and reaction to the sports events.If you keep your mouth free of bad language and a positive spirit and mind in the games you have so much to contribute and to learn from others and especially from your son. You can praise the Lord using your sport skills as many use the music .You can be a good rol model especially when today everybody it is absorve by the TV and videogames and we are becoming a obese nation.
    So I encourage my kid to do a prayer before the games and put his trust in God in everything he does. I encourage my kid to be a excellent teammate, respectful player, hardworker , responsable one and a good friend. Today I can see all this skills couldn’t be accomplished without the sport.

  22. Stephen Douglas

    I love it when the “true” Christians try to tell us Mormons how they don’t live the Old Testament Law of the Sabbath, as it was not continued into the New Testament. Funny, but the “true” Christians kept the Sabbath up until just a few decades ago? Ever heard of Blue Laws? I guess that means they just learned about it not being a New Testament Law. For you “true” Christians, perhaps you should go back and read Exodus 31:16,17, which states God implemented the Sabbath to be perpetual, forever. He implemented the Sabbath right when He finished creating this world, way before the Law of Moses. In the New Testament, Matthew 24, Christ warned us to be ready and not be caught unawares in the Sabbath, which means even He taught of a future Sabbath. Your sarcastic condescension is not appreciated. If your intent is to inspire us to see the error of our ways, you are mistaken.

  23. Old Law

    Stephen Douglas……I guess if we’re using Exodus as our guide we better go to one verse 15 where it says that anyone who breaks the Sabbath should be put to death. Lucky for us God replaced the Old Law. As far as Blue Laws, you are right. However, I would classify the Puritans and others that implemented these laws in the same category as Mormons who didn’t understand then New Testament and came up with their own man made laws. You also need to reread Matthew 24, you are taking what is said about the Sabbath and stretching it to fit your belief.

    God Bless

  24. AZKID

    I am an active, committed, and believing Latter-day Saint. While I reject Old Law’s obvious disdain for my religion, I must agree that we make it more of an issue than we should. The Savior clearly condemned those in his day who did so, and I believe that he would likewise condemn much of what goes on in His church today in the context of “keeping the Sabbath”.

    My children at BYU have often been criticized and judged by roommates for their appropriate practice of studying on Sundays when the need arises (which is most Sundays–they are great students and are committed to making the best of their tithing-subsidized educations).

    To me, the “Mormon Sabbath” is all about setting aside a day to gather together and worship and strengthen one another, to try to keep ourselves “unspotted” from an increasingly chaotic society, as well as to rest and rejuvenate so that we can weather the next 6 days in the trenches. It is a real “spirit of the law” sort of thing in my mind. The point is to get to a church meeting, partake of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and renew. Those who engage in the finger pointing and judging and splitting of hairs, are nothing more than modern-day pharisees (who have my pity).

    For my part, I have served in many high-profile leadership positions in the church, and have found Sundays to often be one the most exhausting days of my week. There are times when I need to unwind by watching a rented (on Saturday) movie, or a televised sporting event. It is indeed a restful, rejuvenating activity for me. There is only so much renewal that can come from doing family history work (just sayin…).

    Nevertheless, I completely avoid shopping, live sporting events, or any other “optional” activity which, by my presence / participation, would cause another person in my community to not have the opportunity to attend worship services with their family. Yes, I have filled a prescription on Sunday. I have spent a Sunday in the hospital. I have purchased a meal when travelling on Sunday so that I could arrive at my destination without being in hypoglycemic shock. And I appreciate the sacrifice that those people made to fulfill my needs in those instances.

    So back to Old Law’s point above. Sabbath observance, or more precisely, observance of the Lord’s Day, is, to the enlightened Latter-day saint, an enabling practice and NOT a moral imperative (i.e. “commandment”). Fact: I have never been asked about my Sabbath observance in a temple recommend interview. I HAVE been asked about whether or not I attend my sacrament and priesthood meetings. This fact, although perhaps unsettling to those who want to wear their so called “Sabbath observance” on their sleeves, ought to inform our discussion here.

    P.S. My guess is that someone will probably quote D&C 59:9-13 back at me. To that point, I choose to be informed primarily by verses 9-12; you, by verse 13 alone.

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