Muhammad Ali once said "a man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life." It was a revealing statement by someone who by age 20 had won an Olympic gold medal in boxing and was bearing down on the world heavyweight title. It was an acknowledgement that even The Greatest must evolve. The impetus for Ali's evolution over time would be his Islamic faith.
Faith & Sports — Shaping life on and off the field
"Faith & Sports: Shaping life on and off the field" is a Special Report prepared by The Washington Times Special Sections Department.
The following is a conversation between Benjamin Watson, tight end for the Baltimore Ravens, and Cheryl Wetzstein, manager of Special Sections at The Washington Times, about faith, sports, race relations, fatherhood and a Bible verse that has been on his mind for a while. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Birdie Tebbets, one of those baseball lifers, said that aside from Jackie Robinson, the first African American to break the Major League color line, no one had a tougher time of it than Hank Greenberg, the game's first Jewish superstar.
Professional football on Thanksgiving Day has become as much of an American tradition as turkey. Yet, what happens after the game — and what is often not aired by major media networks — may be the best and most traditional way to celebrate the holiday.
Does the title of this article sound like an oxymoron? If you're a golfer, when was the last time you turned to your walking or riding partner and said, "How is it with you and your faith?"
I had no idea that I would spend two hours talking to my old college rival Ryan Leaf. I had no idea that I would shed tears with 1984 American League Rookie of the Year Alvin Davis, a man I met for the first time right before we turned on the mics. And I had no idea that a conversation with Hall of Fame wide receiver and former Oklahoma Rep. Steve Largent would go so deeply into a broken upbringing and radical forgiveness.
Tradition is paramount in sports. Clemson football players rub Howard's Rock for good luck before running onto the field. West Virginia University players rub a giant block of coal before the game. Notre Dame players famously slap the "Play like a champion today" sign on the way to the field.
"Challenge yourself in the game of life, as you do in the game of sport."
In 1979, as I was working to get in shape to resume my career in the National Football League, I was diagnosed with a rare desmoid tumor. The large, aggressive, cancer-like growth required the complete amputation of my left arm and shoulder and removal of four ribs. Even though I was an otherwise healthy 28-year-old, there was a strong possibility I would not even survive the 11 -hour surgery.
Sports has always been part of my life. In fact, I do not have a memory of life that was before sports, and specifically tennis. The same can be said about faith.
Jackie Robinson's inspirational story has long been immortalized in books and movie adaptations. He broke major league baseball's color barrier on April 15, 1947. He played for the Brooklyn (now Los Angeles) Dodgers from 1947-1956. He won many individual awards, as well as the 1955 World Series, and is a member of the Hall of Fame.
If God is not the reference point for sports, sports will unavoidably devolve into idolatry, worshiping man as a demigod. This has been our experience over the past many years in sports, as all of its problems -- such as fan violence, domestic violence, illegal performance-enhancement substances, excessive commercialism -- are traceable to the unfortunate de-emphasis and removal of God from sports.
Coaches and athletes impact a watching world through their sport and the lives they lead on and off the playing field. These two areas are interconnected in ways that may not be apparent at first glance but, in reality, cannot be separated.
Sports are typically a zero-sum game. For one side to win, the other side has to lose. Any gain by one team requires a deficit by the opposing team. It sounds divisive, doesn't it? But what if sports could unify? What if college athletics could bring together "sides" that are often seen as being at odds to dialogue and find common ground?
The medal ceremony at the Olympics is a moment of rare pomp and ceremony in this informal age. The ceremonies represent both climax and catharsis, with athletes awarded the coveted gold, silver, and bronze medals placed around their necks.