Being at a liberal arts college means to be well rounded in the classes you take. One of those classes required by USF is a theology class. I will not hesitate to say that I was less than excited to take this class and learn about something that usually makes people feel uncomfortable when talking about it outside of their place of worship. Being Catholic, I have only really learned about that religion and how it works, but after learning about what qualifies something as a religion, I can safely say that sports fit the description. I am a proud member of the church of sports.
Sports fans in general are very passionate people who are very protective of their teams. The more I thought about it the more I realized that people worshiped teams and different sports just as they would their religion, with different rituals, attire, foods, and history.
The rituals of most religions are prayer, going to church, doing special things for different holidays, etc. Sports are very similar. Prayer is also usually involved when your team is down two points with seven seconds to go or the game is tied and there are two outs with a man on third. Attending your place of worship whether it is a baseball stadium, football stadium, hockey arena, or a basketball court there are many places of worship for sports fans and there are usually as many sporting arenas around as there are churches. Once in those sporting arenas it is a lot like going to church. There is a lot of sitting and standing and various call and response traditions. When the priest stands up in church, the congregation usually follows. And when a three point shot is thrown up at the buzzer, the stands go to their feet. When the priest says, “Peace be with you,” the response “And also with you” usually follows. When someone in the stands of Fenway Park says, “Here we go Red Sox! Here we go!” two claps are usually the response of the crowd.
Fans are not the only ones with rituals. Some players do the same stretching routine before every game. Some players wear the same protective pads without washing them because they feel it gives them a little bit of luck when they are out on the field. Some baseball players refuse to touch the lines when going on and off the field because they think it will bring their team bad luck. Some may call these things superstitions, but these are rituals inside their arena of worship.
The phrase “looking your Sunday best” usually refers to people being dressed for church by wearing nice pants and a nice shirt. Looking nice going into church is expected, and seeing someone on the street on Sunday in the afternoon looking nice, you usually think, “They’re probably just getting out of church.” Same goes with people going to a sporting event; they are expected to show what team they are affiliated with. When there is a Giants game and you see people wearing a Tim Lincecum jersey you are probably thinking, “They must be going to the game.”
Being Catholic, I am aware that there is food that is associated with my religion: bread and wine. There are also quintessential sports foods like hot dogs, cracker jacks, and beer. When at church you receive these foods at communion; when at the game you receive these foods while tailgating in the parking lot. Although the rituals are not as serious and elegant as the ones done in church, they are nonetheless rituals that go along with being a part of the church of sports.
The Bible has taught many people the history of Christ and Jesus’ travels and miracles. When practicing your religion it is important to know the history of your religion to know what you are worshiping and why. Sports are no different. For example, the history of the Red Sox is very important for fans to know. The Curse of the Bambino is the story of the Red Sox’s failure to bring a World Title home to Boston for 86 years. Fans still stayed loyal even after year after year of disappointment. Fans who consider themselves “practicing Red Sox fans” should know this history to actually feel true jubilation for the day when the Red Sox’s World Series title would become a reality. Thankfully that day came in 2004 and made the whole city of Boston rejoice. Their savior that year was David “Big Papi” Ortiz with his clutch hitting and walk-off homeruns.
Sports can supply feelings, passion, and loyalty like religion can. Finding something bigger than yourself to look to that gives you hope and makes you believe in the impossible is a very healthy thing. Looking at sports, an objective onlooker could not say that religion is not very tied into it. Where else would the term “hail Mary” come from? And why do pitchers point to the sky after throwing a no hitter?
Although some people think that being that involved with sports is a bit silly and not a very religious experience, sports fans know different and love every minute of their time in the church of sports.