Forty years ago, after a professional American football player threw the game-winning pass, he told reporters that before throwing the ball, “I closed my eyes and said a ‘Hail Mary’ [prayer].”
There’s no way to confirm whether a higher being had a hand in the outcome of that game, but it turns out that more than half of Americans do believe that God rewards religious athletes.
A new survey finds that 53 percent of Americans believe God rewards pious athletes with good health and success. However, 45 percent of people surveyed–about four out of every 10–disagreed.
Professional athlete Aaron Rodgers is one of them. The quarterback’s Green Bay Packers football team blew a big lead to lose a critical conference championship game earlier this month.
“I don’t think God cares a whole lot about the outcome,” Rodgers said when a fan asked whether he thought God intervenes or plays a role in the outcome of football games. “He cares about the people involved, but I don’t think he’s a big football fan.”
It is common for American athletes to thank God for their successes. Rodger’s counterpart on the opposing team, Seahawks’ quarterback Russell Wilson, credited God for his team’s overtime win.
“That’s God setting it up, to make it so dramatic, so rewarding, so special,” he said about the come-from-behind win.
Catholics (65%) and Protestants (68%) were the most likely to believe God rewards pious athletes. By contrast, about one out of every three people who say they are religiously unaffiliated believe athletes with faith are rewarded.
“I think God has a hand in the gift of talent in the athletes,” said Betty Mattimore, a Virginia mother whose daughter is an accomplished high school athlete. “The rest is up to them.”
When it comes to winning, about one out of every four Americans–26 percent–believe God plays a role in determining which team wins a sporting event. The majority of Americans (71%) disagree with that notion.
“I do not believe God directly carries the baseball over the wall or pushes the field goal attempt through the uprights,” said Cleveland, Ohio resident Daune Robinson, who majored in theology and religious studies in college. “I think God put all things in motion but does not intervene in a sporting event.”
Still, as an avid sports fan, Robinson isn’t above asking for a little divine intervention when her team is in a tight spot.
“I have to admit to praying about these things, but I usually just ask for my team/players to be blessed or helped by God’s grace, knowing its a silly request, but it helps me in the moment to feel I’m helping,” she said.