Religious Athletes

Athletes and religion isn’t a topic which immediately comes to mind when discussing athletes. On the other hand stereotypes such as cool, dumb, fit and having more of a party lifestyle are associated when discussing athletes. I myself identify as a Christian, frequently play sports and very much into sports. So, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at how the media judges Christian athletes. Especially compared to the non-religious athlete. From personal experience I found the parents, players, coaches respected me more and where more polity towards me. Sort of the same can be said when it comes to the media on christian athletes today. The media portrays Christian athletes as better leaders and teammates with strong characters compared to non-religious athletes.

What the Media Says

He Got Game

The first artifact that I analyzed is the movie He Got Game by Spike Lee. It’s a movie about a father of a top ranked high school basketball prospect in the country, Jesus Shuttlesworth (played by Ray Allen). The father is a prison inmate sentenced for murdering his wife. The detail that stood out the most was the fact that his name was Jesus. The name was used in the movie to show that people looked up to him and saw him as having the perfect life (set). He was seen as living the dream. Often getting girls, cars and just about everything he wanted. But the movie was deeper than that showing the daily things he struggled with which the media people don’t see.

Relating to religion in the movie he ( Jesus) would often thank God for his success. He’d go out and party for a night sinning, however when it came to making a big decision he thanked God for his success. It seems like one of the few times you actually see an athlete expressing his religion is when they’re thanking God for their success. You could go the whole game and never notice that they’re religious. Leading me to my next artifact. 

Tim Tebow’s Full Interview with Harry Connick Jr.

In an interview done by Harry Connick and Tim Tebow, Tim Tebow claims to be an average person and that God did everything when it comes to his success. Leading to Harry saying he isn’t average, but in fact extraordinary. Once again viewing and making out athletes to be these great people. Most interesting part of the interview was when Harry asks the question, “Why isn’t it the norm to be able to talk about your faith?” I found it revealing as it really isn’t the norm to do so. Very few athletes in fact discuss their religion. Tim Tebow ignored the question which I found strange being that he is one of the few athletes that is very open about his religion and beliefs.

Be Like Mike

To take a look at athletes in general, I examined the “Be Like Mike” Gatorade commercial. In the commercial Gatorade is basically glamorizing Michael Jordan and saying that he is this great incredible guy and you want to be like him. He is depicted as a role model and someone you should want to be like. You should dream to be like him. Well in fact, if you consider Michael Jordan’s career and lifestyle, he isn’t exactly the best role model. It is just that athletes are made out to be these incredible people. I found this to be a reoccurring theme throughout my analysis.

Considering all the artifacts together it seems most athletes are very confident and have an ego associated with them. Being that they often let the fame, confidence get to their head. Often these athletes credit their hard work and determination for their success, while religious athletes thank God for everything. As well they may state that they play for God. Therefore, the religious athletes could be viewed as having less of an ego and as players that get along better with their teammates and coaches.

Relating Primary Sources to Secondary Sources

The first secondary source I took a look at examined whether an athlete’s expression of a Christian affiliation in a sports news article affects how the reader views the athlete and the article. Comparing sports magazine articles with an athlete featuring strong Christian beliefs and articles not featuring that. It was found that a sports story with an athlete discussing his religious beliefs is more likely to have the readers view the athlete in a positive light. Reasoning being the religions especially christian people are stereotyped as being nice, fair, great people that are good citizens of a community. Christian people in general bring out a positive light unless they’re seen as overly Christian.

The next secondary source I read compares sports media coverage of American football in the USA and association football in Germany, focusing on portrayal of Christian athletes. I only examined the information in the article pertaining to the sports media coverage of Christian athletes in the USA. The author specifically looked at Christian football players. It was found the in America the people of Christian faith (religiosity) are immediately connected to good character. Therefore, American athletes are described with language that connects them to good character by sportswriters. Making the religious athletes viewed as better leaders, teammates and people off the field. If a player has less of an ego than they are a better teammates and this directly backs that up. Meaning religious athletes are seen as better leaders, teammates.Thinking about Tim Tebow and his career the media did constantly mention how his a great leader.

The fact that religious athletes are seen more in a positively light can be attributed to the stereotypes and lifestyle the media perceives about athletes and Christianity in general. Christians don’t party, drink, they go to class and have strong relationships with their family. Well athletes, often skip class, party and are raised by a single parent. As soon as you put the word christian along with athlete the so called bad qualities of athletes seem to disappear. With the contradicting stereotypes of Christians and athletes overpowering the negative athlete stereotypes.

Religion and Sports

Through out my research and personal experience I found that relevantly few athletes discuss, show there Christianity. Why is it like that? A similar question was asked by Harry Connick when interviewing Tim Tebow. Tebow ignored the question. However, when analyzing a secondary source which looked at how Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin voiced their religious beliefs and what effect this had on the game I found an answer.  I found that Tim Tebow often expressed his religious beliefs strongly during playing time while Lin was more reserved, expressing his beliefs outside of when he was playing. Therefore, people and commentators opposed when and how Tim expressed his religious beliefs not actually opposing his religion.


This leads me to believe that  the reason most athletes don’t express their religious beliefs is that they don’t want to receive negative feedback when it comes to their image. Reason for the negative feedback is that sports are a unifying space where we can all form bonds and cheer for a team without our differences separating us. Religion on the field would interrupt this bond. There is a time and place when religion is excepted and a time when it’s not.


Athletes in general are glorified and seen as role models. With the main difference between religious and nonreligious athletes being that religious athletes are seen as better teammates, leaders and people of the field. Therefore, they’re seen in more of a positive light and are described by the media with terms that connects them to good character. This view of religious athletes is due to the stereotypes, the media caries/believes about Christianity. When the media does offer criticism of an christian athlete its not due the actually faith and beliefs of the player rather how and when a player expressed their beliefs.This is due to the fact that the game is seen as a sacred moment the brings people of all different kinds of race, beliefs together and  expressing religion on the field takes away from the togetherness as well as the game itself. Most Christian athletes for this reason don’t  talk about or show there Christianity. The media needs to be more acceptable and allowing when it comes to athletes expressing there religious beliefs. Intern allowing athletes to feel more comfortable and free.
Learning Moments:

The most significant learning moment occurred in week 2 when we took a look at how
the media shows you what you want to see and not what you need to see. There are algorithms in place which tailor to your beliefs making you less exposed to contradicting information and more narrow minded. In the future I need to be more cautious of what is presented to me and try to find different points of view.

Another thing which helped me greatly was learning how to use the PSU library to look up reliable sources. I’m definitely going to use it in the future for other assignments and analyzes. The great thing about it is knowing it’s a credible source.


Work Cited

Tim Tebow’s Full Interview with Harry Connick Jr, presented by Harry Connick Jr., 2017 by NBCUniversal, Inc.

“Be Like Mike” Gatorade commercial, produced by advertising exec Bernie Pitzel, published in 1992,

He Got Game, Spike Lee, Released: May 1,1998

“Using the Schema-Triggered Affect Model to Examine Disposition Formation in the Context of SportsNews.” Conference Papers — International Communication Association, 2011 Annual Meeting, pp. 1-30.EBSCOhost,

Butterworth, M., & Senkbeil, K. (2017). Cross-cultural comparisons of religion as “character”: Footballand soccer in the united states and germany. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 52(2), 129-145 doi:

Yukich, G., Stokes, K., & Bellows, D. (2014, Spring). The trouble with tebowing. Contexts, 13, 50-55. doi:


2 thoughts on “Religious Athletes

  1. Hi vadim,
    I really thought that your post was interesting and informative. I had never really thought about athletes and religion and how that can effect their image to other people. I think that this is definitely overlooked in popular culture and instead athletes are seen as dumb and closed minded. I think that this was a really great post and is eye opening to the many ways that the media has shaped how we see athletes.

  2. Hello Vadim,
    Good job on your research. I keep seeing the imagery of Christianity versus Athiesm or non-observance in your post. It would be interesting to see how athletes of other religions are portrayed as well. Do you think the representation of a Buddhist athlete is similar to a Christian athlete?

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