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Showing posts from 2018

The Philadelphia Eagles Get the ‘God Squad’ Treatment

Over at Christianity Today I reviewed a new book that examines the Christian faith of the 2017-18 Super Bowl champs, the Philadelphia Eagles. The intro is below. You can read the rest of my review here. The annals of football are filled with “God squads,” teams with widely publicized reputations for Christian faith. As far back as the 1890s, Yale football enthusiasts attributed the team’s success to the number of “praying men” on the squad. The undefeated 1954 UCLA team, with over half the starting lineup involved with Campus Crusade for Christ, was nicknamed the “Eleven from Heaven.” And professional football has had plenty of teams with strong Christian contingents, too: the Baltimore Colts of the late 1960s, the Miami Dolphins of the early 1970s, the Washington Redskins of the 1980s and early 1990s, the St. Louis Rams circa 1999, and the Seattle Seahawks circa 2013, to name just a few. It would probably be more newsworthy if a successful football team did not have a handful of out…

The Fundamentalist Frank Merriwell

"Of all the bold Americans who have appeared on the sporting scene," Robert Boyle wrote for Sports Illustrated in 1962, "none ever aroused the admiration or left so enduring an impression as one who never really existed: Frank Merriwell of Fardale Academy, Yale College and the world at large."

Frank Merriwell is not a household name today, but for much of the twentieth century he was. The hero of a dime novel series for boys that ran in Tip Top Weekly from 1896 to 1912 (and in other media endeavors into the 1930s), Merriwell became the prototype for the All-American schoolboy athlete. In the eyes of white middle-class Americans, Merriwell represented the best possible version of a young man. As scholar Ryan Anderson put it: "He was handsome but not vain; an Ivy Leaguer with a common touch; an individual but not self-interested; a physical specimen with a sound mind; a talented youth with a solid work ethic; desirable to girls and relatively chaste...He always …

Historical Reflections on Brian Smith's "The Assist"

Last weekend while visiting my home state of Nebraska, I ran into my old high school basketball coach. He was the leader of my school's Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) huddle group, and is still involved in FCA. Although it's been fifteen years since I played for him, we still keep in touch. In fact, I have it on good authority that he reads this website from time to time (what's up, coach?).

I bring up my former coach because when I read books geared towards sports and Christian living, I often think of him. These books are not written primarily for me, a historian who is not actively engaged in organized athletic competition or sports ministry. They are written for my high school basketball coach and the Christian athletes who play for him.

But even if I am not necessarily the primary intended audience for books in the sports-and-Christian-living genre, I like to read them and consider how they fit within the broad historical context of American Christian engageme…

The Role of Sports Ministries in the NFL Protests

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Over at Religion & Politics, I wrote about the connection between Christian sports ministry organizations and the NFL players protesting racial injustice. You can read the piece here:

How Billy Graham Made Peace With Sunday Sports

Early in his evangelistic career, Billy Graham had a sermon in his repertoire based on Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s classic baseball poem “Casey at the Bat.” Delivered in the 1940s and 1950s, it was geared towards a Cold War age of atomic anxiety. The threat of nuclear warfare loomed; God’s judgment was at hand; America was like mighty Casey with two strikes against her.
 "Some of us have struck once, some twice. But you'll all, every last one of you, strike out when the Great Umpire of the Ages calls the balls and strikes," Graham warned his listeners. "The count is three and two, the next pitch is the last one. Decide now, before it's too late."
By the 1960s, Graham seems to have retired his “Casey at the Bat” sermon. Yet his take on Thayer’s poem nevertheless fits with two themes that remained consistent throughout Graham’s long ministry: his focus on a moment of spiritual decision, and his interest in sports. Indeed, Graham’s ministry provides a useful lens i…