Paul L. Caron
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Sunday, January 8, 2023

WSJ Op-Ed: How Damar Hamlin Drove A Nation to Pray

Wall Street Journal Op-Ed:  How Damar Hamlin Drove a Nation to Pray: by Barton Swaim (Editorial Page Writer, Wall Street Journal):

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that a Bremerton, Wash., high-school football coach was improperly fired for praying with his players after games. That was only the most recent of high court cases involving the question of when prayer on public grounds is and isn’t permissible. ...

The idea that prayer is improper at big-time sporting events was forgotten on Monday night. It happened nine minutes into the game between the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals. Bills safety Damar Hamlin, after a routine tackle, stood up and then collapsed. Minutes later, emergency medical staff delivered cardiopulmonary resuscitation. The game was suspended, and suddenly prayer was back on the list of things anybody could talk about or do on camera.

Paycor Stadium, where the Bengals play, is owned by Hamilton County; it’s public property. But no one, so far as I am aware, raised any objection to the midfield prayers offered up on Monday night. That is because the fall of Damar Hamlin demanded a religious response. The ominous way in which the lithe 24-year-old dropped to the turf—not slumping down but falling backward—visibly shocked nearby players and appalled viewers. ...

Any legal or cultural prohibitions attaching to sporting-event prayers were, for the moment, rescinded. Players knelt, many plainly in prayer. ...

Suddenly prayer—the ancient activity of speaking to God in the belief that he can hear and respond—was everywhere. Top-level coaches and players, former and present, posted appeals to “Pray for Damar.” ... Former quarterback Dan Orlovsky, discussing the game with two panelists on ESPN, did the until-now unthinkable: He bowed his head and actually prayed—with two other commentators, reporter Laura Rutledge and former Dallas Cowboys defensive end Marcus Spears, bowing their heads in reverential accord. The prayer concluded, each said “Amen,” and you felt they meant it.

There is something natural and beautiful in the desire to entreat God to aid a gravely injured man.

New York Times, Prayers for Damar Hamlin Show Bond Between Football and Faith:

As the ambulance carrying the injured Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin rolled slowly off the field in Cincinnati Monday night, a huddle of players and team staff knelt in a massive yet intimate circle on the field. They bowed their heads, some placing hands on each other’s shoulders and others with tears streaming down their faces, in a moment of spontaneous prayer led by the team’s chaplain, Len Vanden Bos. The hushed crowd at Paycor Stadium burst into applause as the players knelt and again as they rose. ...

The outpouring reveals the way that Christian faith has long been intertwined with American football culture, tied to the sport through its popularity in the Bible Belt.  ...

To outsiders, the intensity of these expressions of faith might have seemed surprising, an unusual display of public devotion in an increasingly secular culture. To observers of the close relationship between Christianity and American football, the exhortations to prayer were natural.

“It’s an example of seeing in public a Christian subculture that’s been embedded in the N.F.L. for four decades,” said Paul Putz, assistant director of the Faith & Sports Institute at Baylor University. “Since the 1970s, it’s had almost like its own church.”

Most Christian ministries that operate within the N.F.L. are tied to the evangelical tradition, but the league’s religious culture isn’t straightforwardly conservative.

In part because of the N.F.L.’s racial diversity, the evangelicalism within is “less concerned with culture-war politics and more about applying the Bible, understood through an evangelical lens, to practical needs of players — athletic performance, marriage and family, and dealing with injuries and setbacks,” Mr. Putz said. ...

Brian Tome, a former high-school football player and a Bengals fan, watched the game at home Monday night. What struck him, he said, was how television commentators struggled for words as they pivoted from covering a late-season game to the outpouring of fear and sadness around an emergency medical event.

“America got to see people be empathetic,” said Mr. Tome, the pastor of Crossroads Church [the fourth largest church in America], with locations in Cincinnati and elsewhere. [My wife and I came to faith at Crossroads Church when we lived in Cincinnati.] “These moments of crisis are bringing something out in us that’s really positive.”

About a mile from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where Mr. Hamlin remained sedated and in critical condition, Mr. Tome hosted a community prayer service at his church for Mr. Hamlin on Tuesday. “We can’t participate in the medical process,” he told the assembled crowd of about 100, with hundreds more streaming the service online. “But we can participate in prayer.”

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