What happens when athletes bump into God’s rules?

By Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY

Playing by God’s rules seems quaint as an Amish buggy. We often look at believers, following codes of faith, like peculiar artifacts. So when an athlete — a big, powerful Brigham Young University basketball player or a tiny dynamo like a 7 year old Jewish gymnast — bumps into those rules, we seem surprised.

These examples are, at one level, quite different. One broke rules, the other keeps them. But it’s our reaction as sports fans that interests me.

Brandon Davies was suspended from the BYU team for violating the Mormon-church owned university’s honor code that includes, like codes for students at conservative Christian universities, a ban on pre-marital sex.

BYU coach Dave Rose says,

Everybody who comes to BYU, every student if they’re an athlete or not an athlete, they make a commitment when they come. A lot of people try to judge if this is right or wrong, but it’s a commitment they make. It’s not about right or wrong. It’s about commitment.

For Amalya Knapp, a competitive gymnast, her Orthodox Jewish family’s staunch commitment to upholding their traditions by observing Sabbath without competition cost her.

Her outstanding performance scores were not counted in the New Jersey state finals for her team. Yet Amalya explains it was a choice in the tradition of Sandy Koufax, the famous baseball player who sat out a 1965 World Series game because it fell on Yom Kippur, the highest of Jewish high holy days.

Back when Chariots of Fire was a hit movie, the lead character, based on future Christian missionary Rev. Eric Liddell, refused to run an Olympic heat on the Sabbath. At one point he tells people how he united his faith and his footsteps:

You came to see a race today. To see someone win. It happened to be me. But I want you to do more than just watch a race. I want you to take part in it. I want to compare faith to running in a race. It’s hard. It requires concentration of will, energy of soul. You experience elation when the winner breaks the tape — especially if you’ve got a bet on it. But how long does that last?

But that was a movie, from decades ago.

THINK ABOUT IT: Today, do we respect the faith and family stances? Or do we think sports — particularly winning at sports — outweighs the rules believers say are set by God? Would we have cared less about Davies if BYU were not a competitive team? Would Amalya’s story seem less sweet if she were at the Olympics in a USA uniform?

Filed Under: Around the WebSports


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