Our “Holy” Pastime: Sports as a Religion

“Ritual” and “worship” are among the many words that are associated with both modern day religious practices and athletic programs across the country. While the importance of sports may seem trivial compared to that of religion, many parallels can be drawn between the two. Thus far, psychologists have found that sports and religion impact people in a similar way, in that the ceremonies and traditions involved in sports mimic those of religion. These similarities can also be seen in the way in which sports and religion are consumed, as they are both simply gatherings of like-minded individuals that share the common backing of an idea, passion, or identification.

Rituals are one of the main components of the participation in sports by fans, and have helped to define the level at which sports are taken seriously. These rituals help to increase the connection between fans and a team, and range from simply dressing in the team’s colors to not shaving during the playoffs. Regardless of what the ritual may be, the idea of following a tradition or participating in an annual ceremony is a commonality between religion and sports.

In the case of sports, many fans put the players that create success for the team on a pedestal, and in a way, worship them just as religions worship prophets or deities. Lebron James’ nickname “King James” comes from the support of his fans and the way in which they respect and worship what he does on the court. Many aspiring athletes look up to the greats as something to attain, just as followers of religion look to “Saints” or other highly regarded members in the religion for guidance. In this way, sports can be tied closely to religion, which can be seen in the ways that they both impact human thought and nature.

The idea that sports and religion share many common traits is not something limited to recent years. In fact, there have been psychological studies done in the past to show the correlation between the ways in which people respond to both sports and religion. In 2001, sports psychologist Daniel Wann noticed this correlation, saying, “The similarities between sport fandom and organized religion are striking. Consider the vocabulary associated with both: faith, devotion, worship, ritual, dedication, sacrifice, commitment, spirit, prayer, suffering, festival, and celebration.” As sports continue to gain support across the country, these similarities continue to display themselves in each and every game.

Sports and religion may be focused on two completely separate things, but the practices involved in both of them are more similar than you may guess. Rituals and worship are prevalent in both religion and sports, and are just some of the few similarities between them. As religions continue to decline in followers and support in America, people may cling to sports in order to fill that gap with the similar ideologies brought forth in sports.

Ben Gluckow
staff writer

Graphics: Maraea Garcia

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