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?
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.
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.