Haven’t you heard? God’s into sports!

Faith in Sports;

Athletes and Their Religion

On and Off the Field

by: Steve Hubbard

Doubleday $19.95

Reviewed by: Sandi Dolbee

San Diego-Union Tribune


• After Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, New York Mets catcher Gary Carter declared that God was a Mets fan.

• Golfer Steve Jones won the U.S. Open in 1996 by one stroke after a fellow Christian — and opponent — calmed him down with a verse from the Bible.

• After his team upset the Denver Broncos in 1997, Jacksonville Jaguars quarter-back Mark Brunell announced that God was with them.

In example after example, author Steve Hubbard chronicles how religion has been drop-kicked onto the playing field. Athletes today, he writes, “are turning to faith for answers to their questions about their riches, their temptations, and their stresses.”

Hubbard, a senior writer for Inside Sports magazine, indicates early on that he hopes “Faith in Sports” is inspiring . “May these stones encourage you in times of

trouble,” he writes.

His book, as the saying goes, is in the right place at the right time.

 While Hubbard tracks the mingling of religious and physical contests back to David and Goliath, this latest union has taken off in recent years like a stone from David’s slingshot.

If it’s not football teams huddled in prayer at the 50-yard line, it’s hitters making the sign of the cross as they step up to home plate.

Written more as a litany than a narrative, Hubbard uses newspaper clippings, excerpts from books and highlights from interviews to compile an impressive who’s who of this spirituality explosion:

• Earl Woods says he was “personally selected by God himself to raise golfing phenomenon Tiger Woods. Tiger, by the way, wears a gold Buddha on a chain around his neck. “I like Buddhism because it’s a whole way of being and living,” he says.

• World heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield adds the Bible verse from Philippians 4:13 to his autographs (“I can do all things through Christ.......”).

• Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon fasts during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, even though the basketball star could get a dispensation. Still, he remains one of the game’s greats.

• Tennis player Mary Joe Fernandez, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, says if she focuses on God, everything else falls into place. “My faith just helps me guard against all problems that come your way,” she says.

This is where “Faith in Sports” shines . The book is diverse, not just in its variety of sports but also in its plurality of faiths.

Fittingly, Hubbard doesn’t shy away from the obvious hypocrisy element — starting with boxer Mike Tyson, who one minute uses his mouth to declare his Muslim conversion and the next minute uses it to chomp down on Holyfield s ear.

Hubbard says in his epilogue that he is a sportswriter, not a religious scholar. For that reason, he says, he does not attempt to provide definitive answers.

That’s a cop-out. And it brings me to my biggest gripe about this book: “Faith in Sports” barely scratches the surface.

As a sportswriter, Hubbard should have the kind of access and insight into these players to take us beyond the rhetoric . How active are they in their temples and mosques and churches? What do their families and teammates say about their faith? How do they behave in their everyday lives? We hear the talk, but what about the walk?

Without these answers, “Faith in Sports” remains a timely chronicle of this new explosion among athletes . But that’s as far as it goes.

To use the language of sports: Hubbard moves nicely down the field, but he fails to Score.

Sandl Dolbee writes about religion

and ethics for the Union-Tribune

Sunday, February 22, 1998.

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