Sunday, February 2, 2020

Faith and Football: Lessons from my students in Sports and Spirituality (Redux)

This semester I am teaching a senior course slightly different than the one I usually do; it is entitled Christian Spirituality. With the tragic death of Kobe and Gianna Bryant and the joy an anticipation of Super Bowl, however, there has been a lot of sport in this spirituality.

I wasn't planning on including Faith and Football—an annual presentation for Sports and Spirituality— into our curriculum, until the local team made good. I informed my students of the project and its purpose and I put it to a vote. Some admitted they don't watch any football and were slightly hesitant, but the overall enthusiasm and excitement galvanized this somewhat-quiet group to take the challenge. This posting highlights what we learned. Feel free to integrate the following ideas and information into your Super Bowl party!
Niners Fans' Theme Song
My students walked into the classroom with this Remix of the 1984 song "We're the 49ers." It's really hard NOT to move to when you hear the beat—whether it's today's cut, one that features the names of today's players or the voices of those from the Super Bowl XVIII championship team! It's unfortunate that crew didn't create a music video of their own in the way the 1985 Chicago Bears did. I decided to play the video of that hit single and am glad I did. The real football fans in the room couldn't help but appreciate the Sweetness of Walton Payton, among several other Hall of Famers. The white pants and dance moves—added bonus.
Following the musical frenzy, I wanted my class to give a nod to the all time epic performance of the late Whitney Houston as she sang our national anthem at Super Bowl Greatness needs to introduction or explanation. Demi Lovato will sing our national anthem at this year's contest.

Coin Toss Plus
With the class divided into two groups: Chiefs vs Niners, I asked the two captains to come forward for the coin toss. Heads or tails, in this case, would not determine who would punt or receive. No, the winner in this case was able get our Super Bowl snacks first. 

This group did not hold back. Students created a taco bar since we met after lunch. Move over stone soup! Kids brought different toppings and some exercised the option to bring in a can of food for the San Francisco Food Bank. 

After Thanksgiving Day, Americans consume more on Super Bowl Sunday than any other day of the year. With this project, it felt like another holiday weekend.

“What I love about the Chiefs is they’ve got each other’s backs always. On the field and off the field, they’re brothers. They’re all accountable and step up when called. It’s not offense, defense, coaches, all separate. It’s one big family. And I love that.” — Heidi Gardner, SNL
Two Player Profiles: Formed in Faith
Harrison Butler: Roman Catholic

  • Born July 14, 1995
  • Attended and played football at Georgia Tech
  • Nickname: "Butt Kicker" is a play on words for his name and position
  • Married with one child
  • Sometimes serves traditional Latin Mass at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Independence, MO

Mitchell Schwartz: Jewish

  • Born June 8, 1989 in Pacific Palisades, CA
  • Attended and played football at UC Berkeley 
  • 2nd round draft pick in 2012
  • Offensive tackle
  • Born and raised conservative Jewish
  • Hebrew name is Mendel
  • Schwartz wasn't allowed to play football until his freshman year of high school as his parents wanted him to study for his Bar Mitzvah instead. Furthermore, in middle school he was already 6’5 and 240 lbs—too big for Pop Warner


The Faithful
Growing up 25 east of San Francisco, the Niners were always our home team. Now that I live in San Francisco, it's strange that the city this classic NFL franchise calls home is 49 miles from where they play. Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara is but a few miles from where I work (in Mountain View). Something about it all feels disingenuous....but the Bay Area is known for tolerance. Our sports fandom is no different.

While this group struggled to find much about the faith of players, their report on the fan base was fascinating.

Known around here as "The Faithful" Niner fans rank eleventh out of 32 for the most annoying fanbase. I would love to see the criteria for this metric. They report, "fans are delusional and unfriendly." 

The Niners do however, have several fan clubs, including WON: Women of the Niners (they have a magazine!), the Kids Club, the Crib Club, and 49ers Pride, a group for the LGBTQ communities. Furthermore, the Niners maintain fan chapters throughout the country.
The Glory of God is the human person fully alive
Watching football has become a moral issue for many people I know. I understand. I also know when I see a play like the one my students chose, something inside of me catches fire. When I see such athleticism, the execution, the vision, and the glory of a great play I stand in awe of the athletes before me. These are the tensions those of us who love football must hold. The guts, the glory, the qualms and questions.

Two teams, similar colors. Chiefs fans have waited 50 years for the Lombardi trophy, Niner fans 25. The Super Bowl brings us together—for food, family and of course football. At mass this morning, I had to laugh as one of the intentions was "For the San Francisco 49ers. That they display great sportsmanship upon winning the Super Bowl. For this, we pray to the Lord!" Before the community could respond, the lector--my friend Rick said "I swear I didn't write that." 
In 2017, the Holy Father gave a message to the world before this non-religious feast day. In the message, the pope says he hopes the Super Bowl will be “a sign of peace, friendship and solidarity for the world.”

AP News reports "Francis is an avid sports fan who often speaks of how sports can bring about social change. He has previously taken to Twitter for the Olympics and soccer’s World Cup. This is his first Super Bowl message."

I was looking for one for today. Hoping he sends hails to the victors....and all The Faithful!

Photo Credits
The Faithful
We are the 49ers
Harrison Butler

Mitchell Schwartz

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