Lock: "Dammit, Morpheus. Not everyone believes what you believe."
Morpheus: "My beliefs do not require them to."
-- "The Matrix Revolutions"
A friend of mine sent me an e-mail shortly after hearing Jon Kitna's "It was a miracle" explanation for how he was able to recover from a concussion in time to lead Detroit to a 20-17 overtime win against Minnesota on Sunday.
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
Maybe Kitna really did experience a miracle? Ever think of that?
My buddy, a fairly high-ranking professional in sports journalism, was hardly alone in his skepticism. Many talking heads reported on Kitna's comments wearing a smirk, and some bloggers poked fun with such remarks as, "If God is a Lions fan, explain the past 50 years."
I find this reaction curious, considering earlier this year Newsweek conducted a poll which revealed 91 percent of American adults believe in God and 82 percent of those people subscribe to Christianity -- just like Kitna.
Yet, for some reason, the thought that God was somehow involved in Kitna's recovery just seems to rub people the wrong way. Kitna didn't say God wanted him to play the fourth quarter, or that God made sure the Lions won. He just said God took the pain away. Isn't that the kind of spiritual benevolence 91 percent of Americans say they also believe is possible? And if that is the case, then why is Kitna saying what he said loony?
"That's a really good question," says Tim Pitcher, a spokesperson for Athletes in Action, a faith-based organization that uses sports to talk about God. "I guess people feel football is too trivial for God to care about, especially with so many bad things happening in the world."
But isn't God supposed to care about everyone?
So why would God not care that Kitna was in pain? Because he's a football player?
"I guess for a lot of people the two worlds aren't supposed to mix," Pitcher says.
They may not be supposed to, but they do. From Touchdown Jesus at Notre Dame to the phrase "Hail Mary" to the prayer circles allowed in the middle of the field after games, God and football are very much intertwined.
"I have never had a player come up to me and complain about prayer, or the talk of God in the locker room or anything like that," says Dave Wilson, the chaplain for the Detroit Lions. "I am sure there are players who are nonbelievers, but in the locker room there is a respect for each other's boundaries and religious backgrounds. Everyone is free to say how they feel."
The NFL does not keep track of just how many of its 2,000 or so players practice a religion or even believe in God. But the fact that the vast majority of teams employ at least one chaplain suggests that there is a general recognition that players expect their spiritual needs to be addressed by their employer.
How many other places of work do you know of that have a hired chaplain on staff? You know, besides churches.
That's why I am a bit floored about the cynical reaction surrounding Kitna's statement. If the vast majority of the country believes in God, and the NFL supports spiritual growth, why the raised eyebrow when a player says something overtly spiritual?"People get really nervous when they hear someone proclaim their faith boldly," says the Rev. Peter Gallagher, one of the chaplains for the Indianapolis Colts. "So the easy thing to do is make fun of them. That way you won't have to deal with the real questions about spirituality you may have in your own life.
"I believe Jon."
He better. By all accounts, Gallagher is a card-carrying member of the NFL's so-called God Squad, led by its evangelical coach Tony Dungy and a starting quarterback who admitted to praying his way to last season's Super Bowl.
"I never pray for victories," Gallagher said. "I just pray that God helps us do our best."
That's a prayer similar to the one Hall of Famer and outspoken Christian Anthony Munoz used during his playing days.
"That's our calling," Munoz says. "To share the story. People hear the story all of the time, but what they are really looking for is someone who walks the talk. The weird thing is when someone doesn't walk the talk, they call him a hypocrite, and when he does, they call him a crazy fanatic."
But what of the nonbelievers? Does a predominantly evangelical locker room make it difficult for them to work?
"There were guys in the locker room who didn't have a problem letting me know they didn't want to hear what I had to say," Munoz says. "It was never anything verbal, it was in the body language. You pick up on these clues and you know it's time to talk about something else. But ultimately everyone always respected each other's boundaries and remembered we were all here for a common goal."
Which is to win football games, something Kitna and the Lions have been doing as of late. Is it divine intervention? Who knows? Which is why to unequivocally say "no" is just as loony as it is to unequivocally say "yes."
LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to Page 2. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.