The Ultimate Hail Mary Play: Half of Americans Believe Supernatural Forces Play A Role In Sporting Events

s-TIM-TEBOW-JESUS-SNL-large300A poll was released this month that may (or may not) surprise some people: half of sports fans believe that games are influenced by supernatural powers. This belief ranges from the idea that prayers help a team win to the belief that some teams are cursed. God is viewed by many to even intervene on individual plays if you are looking for a divine hand in that Hail Mary pass.

The poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found that the greatest belief in divine intervention is found among football fans. Of course, Tebow and other players have made religious displays part of their game even though God did not carry the ball through the playoffs for the players. That is not the point however according to the hilarious skit on Saturday Night Live with Tebow.

Some of the supernatural displays are all to familiar for those (among the 60 percent of Americans) who support a particular team. Some 21 percent (including one in four football fans) will wear special clothes or do special rituals. (Madie and I wear lucky robes for the Bears but there is nothing strange about that!) Some 26 percent pray for the right outcome in a game under the theory that God will reward their faith by throwing the game. That goes up to over 33 percent among football fans.

On the darker side, some Donning a team jersey leads the way (66 percent). But some admit they get a little funky with their underwear. One 25 percent believe that their team is simply cursed. (By the way, that percentage goes up to 31 percent for football fans).

Now three-quarters of respondents did say that God plays no role in actual wins, but they break down on other questions. For example, 48 percent believe that God does favor particular athletes and gives them more success due to faith.

In terms of faith and sports, Evangelical Protestants are the most likely to pray for divine intervention (38 percent) while Catholics (21 percent) and religiously unaffiliated (15 percent) are the least likely.

It is a testament to religious faith that seasons do not produce rising numbers of atheists and agnostics. One would think that Steelers territory this year would be one big meeting of American Humanist Association after this season. However, it is the same phenomenon that we discussed with regard to people praying to be spared from hurricane and tornadoes. Faith supports the prayer but the outcome is still “God will” and unknown plan. That appears to apply to the gridiron and other sporting locales.

Now it is true that I have often called the Chicago Bears “God’s Team” but that is not some supernatural religious obsession. Everyone knows that.

48 thoughts on “The Ultimate Hail Mary Play: Half of Americans Believe Supernatural Forces Play A Role In Sporting Events”

  1. hsk, Hopefully you learned how to compete, how to focus, how to be a team member and do what is best for the team. Hell, in baseball there are credits for “sacrifices.” I coached for 30 years. Some went on to play college ball but I taught all my players the importance of respect for all[other team, umps, etc.] honesty and trust. Maybe you didn’t learn the intangibles, most do. I have said here many times baseball has the best system. MLB has minor leagues for US kids who don’t want to go onto college. The NCAA has great baseball w/ NO SCANDALS. Kids have a choice. The kids who choose college are using that to progress just as the kids who choose to go the minor league route. The NFL and NBA uses the NCAA as their minor leagues, kids have no choice. That’s why you have so many abuses.

    1. Hey Nick, I learned that by the time I was 12. That’s my point. We’re continuing to foster game playing beyond the point of necessity. They best become superstars worth millions playing games.

  2. “One would think that Steelers territory this year would be one big meeting of American Humanist Association after this season.”


    Ok, JT, I’l take the bait. After starting 0-4 (and losing all 4 preseason games, too) the Steelers’ clawed back to 8-8 missing the playoffs when a ref failed to penalize an obvious penalty in the KC/San Diego game on a late field goal attempt.
    Over the last half of the season, the Steelers went 6-2 and QB Ben Rothlisberger enjoyed one of his finest seasons despite a patchwork O-Line (lost an all-pro center in the first game and had to use 7 different o-line combinations). Plus, the Steelers’ apparently found a receiver (Antonio Brown — 5 catches and 50 yds in every game – an NFL record) and a running back (Le’ Veon Bell) who set the Steelers’ record for scrimmage yards by a rookie. The guy who held the record, Franco Harris, is someone you might have heard about. He’s the guy with all those really big rings on his hand.

    BTW, the hapless Bears finished up a glowing 8-8 after a ho-hum 2- 5 start start and dropped 4 of their last 6. I think the Bears need lots of prayers. Maybe a candle or two.

  3. The only religion truly applicable to professional sport is The Church of the Almighty Dollar.

  4. The best way in which a Catholic Christian can mingle sport with religion is to follow the guys from the horse track over to the nearby Catholic Church and then listen in from the booth next door on their Confession. Five will get you ten that they will confess to horse race fixing and if the Priest inquires will reveal the lowdown on the next day at Churchhill Downs or where ever. We had a guy do this in East Saint Louis near Fairmont Park and we made a killing.

    Another trick is to follow the workers in the horse barn over to the ticket window where the bets are placed. Get right behind him and see what horse he bets on. This too is termed a Christian Mingle. If you hear that a horse is a “ringer” then that means that it has a false name and a better reputation back in Louisville where it was recently brought from. It will be a 20 to 1 or better and you might say a prayer and bet on that one. If they name the ringer after a gal at the cathouse then it will have a special charm and bet heavy. But say a prayer. Never call a bad horse or jockey a “dog” because dog spelled backwards is God.

  5. I question how seriously any of the participants took the survey. I’ve made comments about how I thought activities I was involved in were cursed, but I don’t actually believe in curses.

  6. hsk, To each their own. I was merely telling you what the prayers and sign of the cross signify for some people, that’s all. I’m the opposite of evangelical. My faith is quiet and private. I have NO interest in imparting my beliefs on others. You’re a Unitarian, I’m a libertarian. But, don’t disparage “playing games” in high school. I learned as much on the fields as I did in the classrooms.

    1. Hey Nick. When do we cut them off. College? The last time I played baseball is when I was 19. Won both Games I pitched. Big deal!!

      It’s like the Olympics are supposed to be for amateur athletes with BMW designed bob sleds.

  7. More than half the voters thought that Obummer was the right choice, he turned out to be an empty suit. O = zero

  8. Some people would rather be at a football game than church. God loves football too ya know and players are his chosen people.

    1. As a child it was surely fun. As an adult, I find it quite mindless, boring and barbaric, as grown men on stroids vie for field position, risking their health and welfare for money. I do not pay for tickets to such events as it provides other the incentive to continue. I rather go down and watch the Little Leaguers. Even the high schoolers get to be a bit foolish. Grow up and get to work doing something constructive instead of playing games.

  9. Catallus,
    I have to agree that the heavens favor Da Bears! Just not on the field, unfortunately.

  10. Until mankind shakes off these absurd beliefs we are doomed to struggle in a world full of hate and irrational nonsense. To that we can add nationalism/patriotism and, of course, racism.

    Someday, just maybe, the mindset of rational thought will pervade and mankind can truly reach a peaceful existence. Won’t be in my day though. Several (at minimum) generations in the future, I’m afraid, based on evidence such as this.

  11. When I played Catholic high school football our principal, a priest, would say a simple prayer. He asked God to protect ALL players on the field from injury. That left a big impression on me. Regarding the sign of the cross when coming to bat. That is almost exclusively Latin players. I grew up playing baseball w/ and against Puerto Rican players. I had spoken w/ a few about that and for them, it was asking God to protect them from getting hit in the head. Pretty specific! They would take one for God and their team, just not in the head. Now, I coached some Mexican kids but I never asked them. As their coach, I didn’t think it proper. But, knowing them, my sense was the same, a brief payer to protect from injury. I abide those prayers.

    1. Nick, and Nascar prays for the safety of the car drivers at every race, yet still go out on the Tract and some die. Christians and other religious people die everyday. Thinking that a prayer or crossing is really going to protect you is not realistic. Remember, I’m a Unitarian with a bit of agnosticism wrapped in, knowing that I cannot prove God exists, but instead it is only a belief system. I cannot prove that God doesn’t exist either. I’ve heard most of the arguments and I it appears to be purely a belief system with many contradictory aspects. We appear to have embraces many attributes of older traditions that were not based on reality and truth. We do need to stop those that are logically flawed as they continue to cause dispute, warfare and horrible atrocities.

      It is hard enough to build a civil world, than we arbitrarily allow it to be destroyed for some silly beliefs.

  12. Half of all Americans are infected with and are victims of religious indoctrination. No news there. Shaking off that monkey is a good thing.

  13. Gambling of any sort is probably weighted by religionists as one would need to believe that god favors their own position. It is generally a selfish outlook on life.

  14. I notice some prayer groupings by players before and after games. Sometimes after a game players from both teams do a prayer together.

  15. I have often wondered about the civility of such sports, such as boxing, football and professional wrestling and the effects they have on society.

    I remember that several of the boys that where my Little League opponents, when I was pitching, would do the cross gesture when they came up to plate against me. I had two no hitters in little league, and we never lost a game in two years, so it obviously did not have any effect on the outcome. It actually made me pitch a little harder against them, as even as a child, thinking that God was going to help them, be safe, get a hit and win the game, I thought was ridiculous.

  16. Professor Turley–The notion that the Bears are God’s team is false; God obviously favors the Packers. Recall if you will that the hand of God directed the 4th and 8 Cobb touchdown.

  17. Players who espouse such belief should willingly take a pay-cut, because clearly they’re not responsible for the outcome.

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