While specific names usually aren’t mentioned, there are stories widely circulated among sports ministers and sports writers of teams that have been torn asunder by religion.
There is the NFL team that was perceived to have squandered its season because its coach insisted on playing a fellow evangelical at quarterback long after it had become clear that the quarterback’s best days were behind him. Many teammates thought a promising younger quarterback should have been playing.
There was another NFL team in the late ’90s that, it was whispered, failed to win in the playoffs because of resentments over the overt proselytizing of some of its star players, who allegedly criticized use of alcohol by teammates and passed out leaflets urging teammates to attend prayer meetings.
There was the college basketball team that finished its season at only .500, despite predictions that it would contend for the national championship, allegedly because of the deep enmity caused by its two stars, who were vocal in their Christianity. Since joining the NBA, the story goes, both have moderated their behavior after veteran teammates forcefully intervened.
One team whose divisions were aired publicly was the University of Colorado football squad of the late 1980s and early ’90s.
As early as 1985, the American Civil Liberties Union prepared a lawsuit against the university over what it said was favoritism by its coach, Bill McCartney, toward players who shared his conservative religious faith and his holding of mandatory prayer meetings. The lawsuit was shelved only after the university enacted a policy ensuring freedom of religion for all athletes.
McCartney’s continued outspokenness, especially in denouncing homosexuality, led to protests at the university’s campus in Boulder, and the ACLU filed several formal complaints over what it said was his refusal to follow the religion policy.
McCartney has refused to give media interviews for many years, but in his book “From Ashes to Glory,” he wrote in 1990: “Not once. Not ever. The best players played. I have never given Christian players preferential treatment.”
Four years later, McCartney resigned to found Promise Keepers, a Christian ministry that encourages men to assume a traditional role as the head of their households.