USA Today basketball writer Sam Amick recently wrote a good, objective article about the effect of overt religion on NBA teams, sharing stories of how coaches have used their religious convictions in leadership. Examples included Mark Jackson (Christian) and Phil Jackson (Buddhist/Eastern mystic), who have shared their faith rigorously, and Doc Rivers (Christian), who has done so in a more private way. Amick said that some coaches see religion as a unifying force while others see it as divisive. (Mark Jackson was fired by the Golden State Warriors earlier this week.)
Over the years many sports figures like Tim Tebow, A.C. Green, and Jeremy Lin have publicly professed their Christian beliefs. Muhammad Ali and Mahmoud Abdul Rauf stood firmly and openly by their Muslim faith. Phil Jackson earned the nickname “the Zen Master” for his use of meditation and other mystic practices. All of these instances, though, are expressions of personal belief and do not really answer the question: What is the professional place of religion in sports? Does religion belong in the locker room?
As Christians it is easy to defend the Mark Jacksons and Tim Tebows who boldly proclaim their faith in every context. But would we react the same way if it were a Muslim or a Mormon? Would we find it reasonable for a Muslim coach to encourage players to go to the mosque with him the way Jackson encouraged his players to attend church with him? Is it OK for a coach’s religious beliefs to be woven overtly into his standards for players?
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