Football and Prayer: Some Historical Context


Many NFL players will be taking a knee this season.  Some will be protesting.  Others will be praying.  Paul Putz, my new colleague in the History Department at Messiah College, makes a historic connection between these two forms of “taking a knee.”

Here is a taste of his piece “Football and the Politics Act of Prayer.”

Colin Kaepernick, the leader of the movement to use the national anthem as a moment to protest racism, settled on the kneeling gesture precisely because of its connection with the respect and solemnity of prayer. Some players went beyond symbolism, explicitly declaring that they were kneeling in prayer during the anthem, while others, including Eric Reid and Malcolm Jenkins, directly linked their protests with their religious faith.

The new association between football, prayer, and black activism challenges the conservative/liberal binaries of the culture wars. Liberals who were outraged by Tim Tebow’s prayers have no problem with the act now that it is associated with a cause they support. As for conservatives, a Fox News broadcast in June illustrated their bewildered response. The broadcast came after President Trump called off a White House celebration for the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. In a news segment discussing the disinvitation and attributing it to “the national anthem controversy,” Fox News showed photographs of Eagles players kneeling. There was just one problem: No Eagles players had kneeled during the national anthem. The images flashing across the screen were of Eagles players kneeling in prayer on the field.

Although Fox later issued an apology, the irony was striking: The preferred media outlet of conservatives—the group most likely to champion prayer in football—had used images of prayer to provoke a negative reaction from its viewers.

Read the entire piece here.