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Sports and Religion Essay

Religion is an efficacious element of society since it forms a basis for various systems of meaning, that are of great assistance to people in handling the reality of ultimate issues and questions. These systems of meaning are informative on ideas that concern movement, the body, physical activities, and sports. They also inform on people’s thoughts about the world, and influence social relationships and social life organization.

Religion helps individuals to justify and define the relationship they have with God, or gods (Stark, 1999 cited in Coakley, 2004, p. 528). There are so many confusing and contradicting discussions regarding sports. Various similarities and differences have been pointed out by various scholars. This paper aims at giving insight into these similarities and differences, as well as on how Overman’s seven key virtues have been reflected in modern sports.


Sports are considered to be a new form of religion. This is attributed to the stronger and more relevant forms of religious beliefs and meanings that are apparent in sports. Both sports and religion share several characteristics as indicated by Hoffman (1992). One, sports and religion have their communal gatherings and special events held in structured places and/or buildings.

These buildings are adorned with relevant decorations and statues that relate to the event. Secondly, both disciplines are controlled by structured forms of authority, that are hierarchical in nature, and which ensure that all events or activities going on in these places are carried out in a dignified manner.

Thirdly, sports and religion have the same quest, to get perfection of the mind, body and soul. In both disciplines, one’s physical discipline is required if good results such as excellent performance in sports, and spiritual purification in religion are to be achieved. A lot of commitment and preparation to ensure personal betterment are apparent in both.

This includes practices and time-outs in sports, and retreats and prayers in religion. These elements leading to personal development are very essential in as far as obtaining perfection and satisfaction of the body, mind and soul, seen through substantial achievement and success, is concerned.

Fourthly, both religion and sports are unifying factors. Religion brings people of different races, nationalities and statuses together with the common goal of worshipping a common Deity. Sports are also seen to unify people with different cultural backgrounds, in support of a particular team.

Another similarity is that there are historic heroes and legends involved in both disciplines. In sports, heroes are elected to halls of fame. Religious heroes are also elected to high statures like sainthood. Stories on these heroes transcend generations where sports’ heroic stories are propagated through newspapers, or told over and over again by the sports’ coaches, journalists, and/or fans. Stories on religious heroes are also narrated over and over again by religious followers, writers, and religious ministers (Coakley, 2004, p. 530-533).


There are also differences involved between sports and religion. To start with, human actions in religion are based on beliefs, events, meanings and rituals that are mystical and based on sacred and supernatural realms whereas the beliefs, meanings, events and rituals defining human action in sports are distinct and not governed by divine nature.

Whereas religion is supernatural, sports are not because they make use of concrete and tangible events, which are not grounded in supernatural beings. In addition, spiritual goals are evident in religion whereas in sports, material goals are sought.

Secondly, religion relies on faith while sports are basically rooted in distinct, clear-cut rules and relationships. In religion, one’s faith is what determines his/her commitment and attachment to religion. In sports on the other hand, the ability to abide by the rules and liaise well with other players governs the commitment and success to be achieved.

There is a lot of cooperation in religion because all the followers seek a common goal, which is spiritual nourishment and is not associated with any form of material reward. Sports on the other hand entail competition between opponents, in search for material reward. It is therefore apparent that, in sports, athletes seek success grounded in human nature, whereas the success derived in religion is grounded in divine inspiration.

Overman’s Seven Key Virtues and how they are reflected in Modern Sports

Overman has argued that the seven virtues based on Protestant ethic are related to the entire organization or spirit that defines sports. One of the key values as indicated by Overman is worldly asceticism. Based on a religious standpoint, this entails enduring pain and suffering with the goal of getting spiritual reward.

For example, in order for one to have goodness within their selves, self-denial and disdain for self-indulgence has got to be achieved. In comparison to religion, one has got to work very hard, and have diligence in order to win in any game/sport (Bryant & McElroy, 1997, p. 55).

Rationalization is a second virtue as indicated by Overman in relation to Protestant ethic. Based on this virtue, the world is rationally organized and it is possible to discover religious truth through human reason. This virtue is measured in terms of concrete success. In the same way that religion seeks organization in order to achieve success, modern sports rely on rational organization of players in the field in order to realize success.

Another virtue is goal directedness. Goal directedness is related to a focus on salvation from a religious point of view. In the light of salvation, human action is judged by its results, where an action is deemed good if it yields to substantial achievement. Worthless or evil action does not bring about success. This is reflected in modern sports by the mere fact that prudent actions are associated with success, while untactful ones are associated with failure. Salvation is one’s own individual initiative, responsibility and choice.

An individual’s conscience plays a very important role in determining one’s virtue, and their personal relationship with God/Christ. In modern sports, the reflection of this third virtue of individualism is reflected through one’s own initiative to become part of a certain team, and powerfully working towards ensuring its success.

In religion, success is attributed to goodness and salvation; while on the other hand, failure is attributed to sin and damnation. The status that one achieves whether in religion or modern sports is determined by one’s input. With this notion in mind therefore, it only means that worldly success is basically not a sign that one is predestinated to be saved, rather it is a mere means of earning salvation. In modern sports, one’s input determines the outcome, as seen in religion.

Work, is a vocation and is seen to be a calling from God. The virtue behind work is working very hard, and building on God’s given potential. Sports are synonymous to work and therefore, require a lot of hard work and sacrifice since they are a calling from God, and require athletes to be the mighty best despite the fact that they may entail domination over other athletes.

Time is a valuable asset with a moral quality. It should not be wasted because moral judgment depends on one’s prudence and efficiency in utilizing time (Overman, 1997). As seen in modern sports, time is very essential factor. Each second on the playfield means a lot to the players because; time is a governing factor in any sports competition.

It is obvious that sports and religion are important elements of people’s culture in different parts of the world including America. This paper has explicitly discussed these two disciplines, showing how they relate to and differ from each other. It is obvious that the similarities between the two are more than the differences, indicating that the relationship between sports and religion is significant.


Bryant, J. E., & McElroy, M. (1997). Sociological Dynamics of Sport and Exercise. Englewood, CO: Morton Publishing Company.

Coakley, J. (2004). Sports in Society: Issues and Controversy. 8th ed. Boston: McGraw Hill.

Hoffman, S. J. (1992). Sport and Religion. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics

Overman, S. J. (1997). The Influence of the Protestant Ethic on Sport and Recreation. Brookfield, VT: Avebury.

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