“Jerry Falwell’s dream of athletic domination is in peril” as Black athletes leave Liberty University

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I was happy to help Joel Anderson with this piece at Slate.

Here is a taste:

Liberty’s football team has indeed come a long way since its inaugural season in 1973, when the Flames lost their first game to Massanutten Military Academy by 10 points. Liberty now plays in the top division of college football, the Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-A, and earned its first bowl victory in December. But to get to where Falwell Jr. wants to be, the university needs the caliber of athletes—many of them Black, like Land and Clark—that he has increasingly alienated with his far-right activism. (Nearly half of Division I football players are Black, according to the NCAA’s demographics database.)

“In order for them to attract the kind of players they need to become a top Division I school, they need to go recruiting people, Black and white, who aren’t necessarily perfect fits for a place like Liberty,” said John Fea, a historian of American religion at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. “They’ve gotta go beyond the megachurch youth group.”

In our conversation just before his announcement, Land made it clear that football was never a problem for him at Liberty. The training facilities at the school were top notch. He’d acquitted himself well as a freshman defensive back, playing in 11 of 13 games, including five starts, and finishing with 23 tackles. He was projected to start as a sophomore. It was everything he dealt with off the field, Land said, that made it hard for him to recommend the experience to anyone else.

Read the rest entire piece here.

ADDENDUM (August 2, 2020). After rereading this piece, I also realize Anderson quoted me on race:

This school was borne out of a culture that was systemically racist,” said Fea, the Messiah University professor who has written extensively about Liberty on his website. “And they won’t address that because they don’t even believe in it.

NASCAR Bans Confederate Flags

Confed NASCAR

What took them so long?

Here is ABC News:

NASCAR banned the Confederate flag from its races and properties on Wednesday, formally distancing itself from what for many is a symbol of slavery and racism that had been a familiar sight at stock car events for more than 70 years.

The move comes amid social unrest around the globe following the death in police custody of George Floyd, an unarmed black man in Minneapolis. Protests have roiled the nation for days and Confederate monuments are being taken down across the South — the traditional fan base for NASCAR.

Bubba Wallace, NASCAR’s lone black driver, called this week for the banishment of the Confederate flag and said there was “no place” for them in the sport. At long last, NASCAR obliged.

“The presence of the confederate flag at NASCAR events runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry,” NASCAR said. “Bringing people together around a love for racing and the community that it creates is what makes our fans and sport special. The display of the confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties.”

Read the rest here.

Episode 69: Be Like Mike?

Podcast

Did you watch “The Last Dance,” the ESPN documentary on Michael Jordan and the 1990s Chicago Bulls? In this episode of the podcast, Baylor University sports historian Paul Putz helps us make sense of it. Join us for a conversation about Jordan’s place in NBA history, the role of the black athlete in American culture, and some thoughts on how the stories of athletes like Jordan provide a window into our own identities as human beings. (NOTE: This episode was recorded BEFORE the anti-racism protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death).

Should We “Be Like Mike?”

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Many of you watched the ten-part ESPN documentary, “The Last Dance.” It covered the career of Michael Jordan and his six championship runs with the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s.

I was riveted to the television set for the last eight episodes. It was a nostalgic trip down memory lane for me. I was dating Joy during the first three Bulls championships, so we watched a lot of those games together. (We got married in 1994). We lived in Deerfield, Illinois, a few miles away from the Berto Center, the Bulls practice facility. We saw the Bulls everywhere in those days. They were part of the community. Between 1989 and 1993:

  • I said hello to Phil Jackson one day while he was pumping gas at a local station. I remember being surprised at just how lanky he was.
  • I noticed B.J. Armstrong curled-up with a book in the back of an aisle at the Deerfield Border’s Books on Waukegan Road. I didn’t want to bother him. There was a reason he was hiding back there.
  • On more than one occasion I pulled-up alongside Scottie Pippen’s red Porsche at a traffic light.
  • I knew where Michael Jordan lived before he moved to his Highland Park mansion. (He owned a house in a development across the street from the Northbrook Court Mall). We drove by the house once and Jordan opened his garage door just as we slowly passed by. He gave us a look of disgust. This is a true story.  Joy and my father-in-law, a retired Evangelical Free Church minister, can confirm it. 🙂
  • I went to the same gym as Bill Cartwright and would often shoot at another basket while he taught his son how to play. (Again, I didn’t want to bother him with a challenge to play one-on-one). I can attest to the fact that he taught his son how to shoot free-throws like a normal person.
  • If I remember correctly, I was present at one of the last games in old Chicago Stadium. I have a concrete piece of the stadium from the standing-room-only area to prove it.

I grew-up a long-suffering New Jersey Nets fan. I never liked the Bulls. I rooted against them during every playoff run. My good friend Vince Bacote, now a theology professor at Wheaton College, can attest to this. I was the guy who would go to a Bulls watch party and cheer for the Pistons in 1991 (I rooted for the Bulls in the NBA finals that year because I didn’t like the Lakers either), the Trail Blazers in 1992, and the Knicks and Suns in 1993. (I moved to New York for the last three titles, so it was easier to pull for the Pacers, Knicks, Sonics, and Jazz).

Charles Camosy, a theology professor at Fordham University and the author of the “Purple Catholicism” column at Religion News Service, shared my dislike of Jordan and the Bulls. Like me, Camosy loved to watch Jordan play, but had his heart broken by “His Airness” too many times.

In his most recent column, Camosy wonders if people of faith should strive to “be like Mike.”  Here is a taste:

Jordan’s nastiness first came out in the book “The Jordan Rules” by Bulls beat writer Sam Smith, but the ESPN documentary makes it clear as well: Many of Jordan’s teammates lived in abject fear of what he would do to them if he became displeased.

Steve Kerr said he was “scared to death” of Jordan — which is not surprising given that Jordan once punched Kerr in the face (and was kicked out of practice for it by Bulls head coach Phil Jackson).

Will Perdue said, “He was an a–hole, he was a jerk, he crossed the line numerous times.” In “The Last Dance,” we see footage of Jordan hounding and bullying younger players like Scott Burrell.

Perhaps the person he got on the most, however, was Horace Grant. Grant has been aggressively critical of “The Last Dance,” arguing that it is more like a piece of Jordan propaganda than a truly objective, journalistic documentary.

And who can blame him? Smith revealed in “The Jordan Rules” that, among other things, MJ would refuse to let the stewards on their private flights even give Grant his meals if he felt like the Bulls forward had had a poor game.

This not only reveals the power Jordan had within the organization, but the cruelty with which he could wield such power. When confronted with these kinds of negative responses from former teammates, Jordan’s response was, “Winning has a price.”

Indeed. And as the tears welled up during that part of the interview, Jordan was evidently confronting that price. The price of becoming the greatest of all time, the GOAT, in the game of basketball. 

Here one may be reminded of the wisdom of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians Chapter 13, when Paul claims that you can have everything that the world values — but if you don’t have love, you actually have nothing at all. If Michael Jordan had to give up on treating his teammates with love in order to win, then, at least from a Christian standpoint, his winning meant nothing.

Sports journalists often point to the careers of great athletes who didn’t win a championship and call their greatness into question by asking, “Where are the rings?” Christians, by contrast, must look at the careers of great athletes and ask, “Where is the love?”

Read the entire piece here.

What is Going on in the World of (Evangelical) College Wrestling?

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Liberty University wrestling coach Jesse Castro

Dozens of matches took place between the three daily mat cleanings. No social distancing among participants and spectators. No communication with the Center for Disease Control. A Liberty University coach claiming the coronavirus is “overhyped.”

Bill Trollinger, a historian at the University of Dayton, is on the case at his blog, Righting America:

Unsurprisingly, Giunta and other tournament officials maintained no communication with the Center for Disease Control (CDC). But it is not difficult to imagine what the CDC would have had to say to them.

While the Dallas Morning News reporter failed to point this out, the NCWA is an organization with a strong evangelical flavor. One of its programs is the 6:12 Project, the name coming from Ephesians 6:12:  

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 

Not only does the 6:12 Project encourage wrestling teams to come up with community service projects, but it also, through a link on its website, provides member teams with BeliefMap, described as an “advanced debate simulator” that prepares Christians to successfully convince unbelievers not only that God exists, but that 

We are all guilty of sin (lying, stealing, lusting etc.) and, in virtue of His holiness, God’s wrathful final destruction of evil and evildoers is coming soon. There is only one way to be saved from it: you must throw yourself at the mercy of God, and freely accept Jesus’s cleansing of you and transformation of you into a sinless person for heavenly living.

As reported by the Dallas Morning News, executive director Giunta explained that he chose not to cancel the NCWA tournament because he thinks a lot of the response to the escalating pandemic “is driven by fear,” and “we’re going to operate on faith rather than fear.” 

Then there is coach Jesse Castro, whose Liberty University wrestling team came away with top honors at the tournament. Echoing his boss (Jerry Falwell Jr.), Castro said that he thinks the coronavirus is being “overhyped” by Democrats as a way to impeach Donald Trump:

Call me a conspiratorist [sic] or whatever. Is that to minimize what’s going on? Absolutely not. But you cannot view this from a prism without being political to some degree. It’s too obvious.

Read the entire piece here.

Grace College Adds Bowling

Bowling

I don’t know why I was attracted to this story in a local Indiana newspaper. Perhaps it was because I recently taught this text. Whatever the case, I think it’s cool that Grace College, a Christian college in Winona Lake, Indiana, now has a bowling team!  Congrats!

Here is the press release:

WINONA LAKE – Grace College is pleased to announce the addition of men’s and women’s bowling to the sports lineup.

Bowling will remain a club sport for the first year with an eye to progress toward varsity status in 2021.

Grace’s Director of Athletics Chad Briscoe also announced the hiring of the program’s first full-time head coach, Rob McDonald, who will direct the men’s and women’s programs.

McDonald is a mainstay in the area for bowling. He has helped coach at Warsaw since 2013, including serving as the head coach of the girls’ team since 2015.

“We look forward to Coach McDonald leading our bowling programs at Grace. He has a tremendous passion for Christian excellence and desire to impact lives through bowling,” Briscoe said. “His experience and extensive background coaching a successful high school program will serve him well as he recruits and establishes the culture of our program.”

While coaching the Tigers, McDonald has led Warsaw to two sectional championships and a conference title in 2013-14. The Tigers have reached the semi-state level twice (2013-14, 2016-17).

On an individual level, McDonald has proven to guide student-athletes to state-wide success. During each of the past five seasons, a Tiger has qualified for semi-state, including two bowlers in 2016-17.

“I am excited for this opportunity, not only to help Grace enter the bowling realm, but even more to help spread God’s love through the sport of bowling. I am humbled by the opportunity to share my knowledge of the sport,” McDonald said. “This is an exciting new chapter in my career as a bowling coach, and I am proud to be taking this step with Grace College.”

Grace is poised to become the fifth Crossroads League school to add varsity bowling. The sport is one of the fastest-growing in the country.

Bowling was recognized as an NAIA championships sport for the first time in 2019-20. There are currently over 100 men’s and women’s teams competing at the NAIA level.

It marks the second sport Grace has added recently, joining the newly-launched esports program led by Andrew Palladino.

Why I Wrote an Essay About Hockey on March 5, 1980

US And Russian Hockey Teams Competing In The 1980 Winter Olympics, The Miracle On Ice

I played a lot of pond hockey as a kid growing-up in North Jersey. I used to go to Masar Park after school on winter days with my brothers and play in a daily pick-up game with neighborhood kids. I was a terrible skater, so I usually played goalie. (I later turned this love for net-minding into a high school career as a lacrosse goalie). After the U.S. Olympic Hockey team beat the Soviets and won the Gold Medal in 1980, I had dreams of becoming the next Jim Craig.  I believed if I worked hard enough I would be ready for the 1984 games in Sarajevo.

In the months following the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics I was obsessed with hockey.

It was also around this time that I thought I might want to be a sportswriter.  All of my middle school essays had something to do with sports. In eighth-grade I even started a small sports magazine with the help an artistic friend who provided the cover designs. We called it Sports Journal.  We put out two issues and sold about ten copies.

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This particular issue of Sports Journal included articles on Louisville’s NCAA tournament win (cover story); Ralph Sampson and Jeff Lamp leading Virginia to the NIT championship; a news story on CBS-NY sports broadcaster Warner Wolf signing a new contract; a story on Ann Meyers leading the The New York Gems (professional women’s basketball) in scoring; an “NBA Rookies Report” that said Bill Cartwright had a brighter NBA future than Magic Johnson; an update on the NHL careers of members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team; a reflection on the retirement of Muhammad Ali; and a professional wrestling column that included references to Ivan Putski, Ken Patera, and Harley Race.  Pretty hard hitting stuff!  🙂

Recently, I found an essay I submitted on March 5, 1980.  I wrote it for Mrs. Quiroz’s seventh-grade English class at Central Middle School (now Lazar Middle School) in Montville, New Jersey.  I will never forget this assignment because Mrs. Quiroz read it to the class as a model of good writing.  I will let our readers judge whether Mrs. Quiroz was correct in her assessment:

“Do you believe in miracles?  Yes!!!”  That was the voice of ABC television hockey broadcaster Al Michaels in the final seconds of the United States Olympic Hockey Team’s upset victory over Russia.  Less than   forty-eight hours later this also came out of Michael’s mouth as time ran out in the United States gold medal victory over Finland: “The impossible dream comes true!!!”

The United States victory was truly remarkable, but how many people really know how hockey is played?  There are three main positions in hockey:  the goalie, the defensemen, and the line (which includes two wings and a center).  Out of these positions the toughest is goalie.

Kick, save, and a beauty.  Tremendous save!”  These are also the words Al Michaels mentioned about United States goalie Jim Craig.  The goaltender is definitely the most important man on the hockey team.  Without him there would be no one to stop opposing team’s shots.  Jim Craig’s spectacular performance actually won the game for the Americans since they were outshot by the Russians three to one. 

“Long slapshot from the point, save, rebound, another save!” The goalie has to have tremendously fast reflexes because once he makes one save eighty percent of the time the puck will roll to an opposing player who will slap the puck right back at you. Since the puck is traveling at a speed of fifty to sixty miles per hour, you can see how fast reflexes pay off.  Many people feel that the goalie has to be superhuman to survive such a beating every three or four days, but people don’t know that ninety percent of the time the goalie doesn’t feel a thing.  He is heavily padded with thick leg pads, chest pads, and arm pads.  He can also protect himself with a heavily padded glove and an eight-inch-wide goalie stick.  The goaltender also has protection from his own players known as defensemen.

“Here comes the Russian, skating into open ice trying for the tying goal, but the play is broken-up by defenseman Ken Morrow.”  That was again, Al Michaels on United States defenseman Kenny Morrow.  Morrow, Bill Becker, Mike Ramsey, and Dave Christian definitely made Jim Craig’s job as goalie  a lot easier.  Their job was to break up any players breaking for a goal and not let them take a shot.  In other words, get the puck away from your opponent.  The defensemen experience the physical contact aspect of the game the most since they are the only ones who usually experience opposing players slamming them into the boards or checking them. The loud grunting and hard hits never get the best of these guys as they know their job: get the puck, wherever it is.  They have to do whatever it takes to get it, even if that means they must suffer a hard hit or a vicious check.

“Mark Pavelich  behind the goal, skates out in front, centers to Buzz Schneider, he scores!” This time Michaels is explaining the process in which the second U.S. line of Mark Pavelich, Buzz Schneider, and John Harrington scored a goal against Czechoslovakia. The line’s main job is to score goals.  Most teams have three lines that switch off an on every five minutes.  These men pass the puck around the goal and try to put it in the net.  In Al Michaels’s quote above right wing Mark Pavelich skated behind the goal and centered, or passed the puck in front of the goal, to Buzz Schneider who put it in.  A good line could be a goaltender’s nightmare if they can maneuver the puck close enough to the net for a shot.  Lineman do a lot of checking…

Unfortunately, the last page is missing.  I am so sorry that you are unable to read how this exciting tale comes to an end!  🙂

By the way, I am pretty sure these were exact quotes from Al Michaels since I taped every U.S. hockey game with my audio cassette tape recorder.  I just set the recorder next to the television set and pressed the “play” button.

Enjoy the fortieth anniversary weekend of the Miracle on Ice!

“Blue Collar” as a Sports Marketing Gimmick

blue collarIn a just-released Episode 62 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast, I reminisce with our founding producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling about the time we may have offended ESPN’s Paul Lukas, a historian of sports uniforms and founder of Uni-Watch.  Listen to our interview with Lukas in Episode 7.

Lukas has a great piece at The New Republic on the way sports teams use the label “blue-collar” as an “attitude, a lifestyle, a brand, a hashtag.”  Here is a taste:

Earlier this month, the New York Giants held a press conference to introduce their new head coach, Joe Judge. In between the usual football clichés about how the Giants will “play aggressive” and have a “physical attitude” under his leadership, Judge dipped his toe into the pool of class consciousness. “I want this team to reflect this area. That is blue-collar. It’s hard work,” he said. “We’re gonna come to work every day and grind it out the way they do in their jobs every day.” That same day, Mississippi State University announced that it had hired Mike Leach as its new head football coach. The school’s athletic director, John Cohen, issued a statement praising Leach for, among other things, his “blue-collar approach” to football.

These were just the latest examples of a phenomenon that the sports world shares with politics: a strong desire to be associated with the working class, often in ways that strain logic and credulity.

The sports world’s blue-collar roots are real enough. The Green Bay Packers got their name from a meatpacking company that originally sponsored the team. The Detroit Pistons got theirs because their first owner ran a piston foundry. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ logo is based on the “Steelmark” originally used by U.S. Steel. And before the days of multimillion-dollar contracts, pro athletes routinely worked regular jobs during the off-season—often in blue-collar trades—to make ends meet.

Those days are long gone, but that hasn’t stopped teams from trying to establish their working-class bona fides. While the trope isn’t new, it has become unavoidable in recent years, especially in the realm of team marketing and branding.

Read the rest here.

Indeed, this idea of playing sports in a “blue-collar” fashion has been around for a long time.  This phrase seems to be always associated with a team that makes up for its lack of talent with a heavy dose of grit, determination, and hard work.

My public high school lacrosse coach often described our team as “blue collar” as a way of motivating us whenever we played an expensive prep school.  Football teams that run the ball (“3 yards and a cloud of dust”) are often described as playing “old school” or “blue-collar” ball. (Are the 2020 San Fransisco 49ers a blue collar team?).  In basketball, athletes committed to playing defense, rebounding, and diving for loose balls in the open court are often called “blue collar.” Blue collar baseball players–like Pete Rose–are known for their “hustle” on the base-paths and hear-first dives.  Some have made the case that ice-hockey is a blue-collar sport.

I’ll close this post by linking to an article in The Guardian announcing that “every single US sports team is blue collar.”

Trump in Tuscaloosa

Trump blowup

After he was booed in Washington D.C. at the World Series and in New York at a UFC fight, Donald Trump appears to have found a generally friendly audience in Tuscaloosa, Alabama at a University of Alabama football game.  ESPN explains:

Trump, sitting one tier above the field, waved as fans turned around to look up at the president. He smiled, gave a thumbs-up a few times and threw a couple of fist bumps into the air as the Alabama fans waved red and white pompoms in response. First lady Melania Trump got an equally enthusiastic welcome.

While the president might have received a largely warm reception inside the stadium, there were also signs of protest in Tuscaloosa before the game.

An inflatable figure depicting a baby Donald Trump wearing a diaper, which has been seen at protests around the world, was set up in a park but was deflated after being attacked with a knife. Jim Girvan, the organizer of a group that “adopts” out the Baby Trump balloons for protests, said a man charged the 20-foot balloon and cut an 8-foot-long gash in the back. Girvan said the unidentified man was arrested, and videos on social media showed police detaining a man nearby. Tuscaloosa police did not immediately respond to a request for more details.

Robert Kennedy, a volunteer “babysitter” who brought the balloon to Tuscaloosa, said the balloon immediately began to sag after it was cut. The day had been going mostly smoothly, Kennedy said, with some people yelling, “Trump 2020” as they passed while others posed for selfies with the balloon.

Elsewhere, one protester carried a sign that said, “Roll Tide Impeach 45,” and a woman held a signing saying she had sold her game ticket and donated the money to the Alabama Democratic Party. But there were more pro-Trump signs. One woman wore an oversized red MAGA hat and carried a sign saying: “Make BAMA #1 Again.” There were flags emblazoned with “Trump 2020” and banners that read: “Keep America Great Trump 2020.”

There was also plenty of bipartisan grumbling about the long lines to get in to the game due to enhanced security.

Read the entire piece here.

Here is Another Piece on Today’s BYU-Liberty Football Game

Liberty Trump

Earlier this morning I wrote about the matchup between these two faith-based football programs.  Here is a much better piece than the one to which I linked.  Deseret News writer Ethan Bauer talked to Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr., controversial Liberty University athletic director Ian McGaw, Bentley University historian Clifford Putney, and Bethel University historian Chris Gehrz, among others.

Here is a taste:

…since Falwell Jr. became Liberty’s president in 2007 following his father’s death, he’s labored to elevate the program. Thanks to an influx of money from online adult education, he’s invested $1.6 billion in infrastructure projects, many related to athletics. They include a $32 million athletic administration building, new swimming and indoor track and field complexes, and a $29 million indoor football practice facility. Critics say Liberty is tilting too much toward athletics, but Falwell dismisses those comments.

It’s kind of comical to me when people say Liberty has left its original mission to go big-time in sports, because that was the original mission,” he said.

In 2017, when Liberty finally started moving to the FBS level, the top tier of college football, BYU was among the first calls athletic director Ian McCaw made.

Texas Christian, Southern Methodist and Baylor are all religious schools that have thrived on the gridiron, but BYU — along with Notre Dame — was Liberty’s role model. In fact, Falwell Jr. said the “LU” that decorates Liberty Mountain in Lynchburg was inspired by a trip to Utah some 15 years ago, when he saw the Y.

“BYU is very much a program that we aspire towards as a faith-based school that’s had tremendous success,” McCaw said, “including winning the national championship.”

Saturday the Flames arrive with firepower. Liberty (6-3) ranks 19th in the nation in passing offense. Senior quarterback Stephen Calvert’s 293 yards passing per game rank 13th, and senior wideout Antonio Gandy-Golden ranks third among receivers in yards per game.

Nevertheless, Liberty’s weak schedule means it hasn’t been tested much, and BYU (4-4) is favored by 17 points. The significance of conquering those long odds can’t be overstated, and Falwell decided to attend the game this week on the off chance it happens (which would also make Liberty bowl eligible for the first time).

“It’d be more than just an upset,” he said. “It’d be the culmination of 48 years of planning and a 48-year vision for Liberty.”

Either way, Falwell has several things in common with the Cougar faithful, notably their belief in God and shared enthusiasm for what some may see as an unholy act: Men battering each other in secular cathedrals in pursuit of victory, trophies and SportsCenter highlights.

Read the entire piece here.

ADDENDUM: BYU 31 Liberty 24

Brigham Young University vs. Liberty University

 

BYU

It should be an interesting Saturday in the world of sports.

# 10 Hope College plays # 3 Calvin University in the championship game of the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.  The winner gets an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III national tournament, which starts next weekend.

#2 Louisiana State plays #3 Alabama in college football.  Donald Trump will be in Tuscaloosa for the game.

In the Big Ten, I am intrigued by the matchup between two undefeated teams as #4 Penn States goes to #17 Minnesota.  I want to see if Minnesota is for real.

Finally, it will be a very interesting match-up between two very religious Division I college football teams when Liberty heads to Provo to play BYU.  BYU is 4-4, but they are a dangerous and unpredictable team.   They lost to Toledo, but beat Southern California and Boise State.  Liberty has been beating-up on a lot of bad teams, but they lost to Charleston Southern, Syracuse, Rutgers, and Louisiana-Lafayette.

As we have noted here on several occasions, Liberty wants to be a school that takes its religious identity seriously and still maintains a strong football power.   They aspire to be the an evangelical BYU (Mormon) or Notre Dame (Catholic).

Over at the KSL Sports blog, Mitch Harper explores this game from a religious perspective.  Here is taste:

Saturday’s game in Provo might be one of the rare times BYU lines up against a program that has as strict of an honor code as the Cougars. Just a decade ago, Liberty required it’s students as part of their honor code to wear polos and slacks.

Students at both BYU and Liberty are prohibited from premarital sex, alcohol, and tobacco usage. So it makes for a unique matchup in terms of the backgrounds for both schools.

“I think there’s a lot of similarities. I know that they have an honor code as well. It’s going to be a fun game,” said BYU head coach Kalani Sitake. “I know they’re new to the Independent stage and this division. They’ve played some really tough teams. I think they played Syracuse and Rutgers right away … I think we’re going to have to be ready for this and our guys have to keep improving….”

“Not only does Liberty get a chance to expand its brand and put its name out there for Evangelical Christians but it also has an opportunity to become bowl eligible and get a chance to go to a bowl game for the first time in program history,” said Liberty beat writer Damien Sordelett of The News & Advance on KSL’s Cougar Tracks Podcast.

Read the entire piece here.

Yet Another Piece About Liberty University’s Quest to Become the “Evangelical Notre Dame”

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These articles show-up every now and then.  I’ve written about them here and here and here.

Here is a taste of J. Brady McCollough’s long-form piece at the Los Angeles Times:

Signs offering football ticket discounts cover the campus, and posters of the team’s new coach, Hugh Freeze, encourage the effort to “Rise With Us.” Clearly, there is room at Liberty for the country’s Saturday religion.

Falwell Sr. had a vision of Liberty being for Evangelical Christians what Notre Dame is for Catholics and Brigham Young is for Mormons, and the newest team in major college football is not subtle with its imagery. The Flames wear red, white and blue. Their mascot is a bald eagle.

Read the entire piece here.

Some thoughts:

  1. This article is mostly about football.  Liberty’s quest to become an evangelical Notre Dame is never framed in terms of academics, intellectual life, or research.  At one point in the article, McCollough says, “To be a worthwhile university, Jerry Falwell Jr. thought, you needed to have two elements at the front: music and athletics.”  Really?
  2. Liberty University, with its vast resources, could be evangelicalism’s best chance at developing a serious research university.  But it won’t happen until the university offers tenure for faculty, invests money in faculty research, and broadens the doctrinal requirements placed upon faculty.  Falwell Jr.’s is not committed to these things.  In fact, the president’s rabid support for Donald Trump has seriously damaged any such advance and has probably set it back a few decades.
  3. Will Liberty University ever become the “evangelical Notre Dame” in football?  I doubt it.  I don’t think there are enough evangelicals who play football.  I could be wrong about this, but Liberty will never be anything more than a mid-major football program. Sure, they will occasionally pull-off an upset victory (remember Appalachian State and, more recently, Georgia State), but this will not make them a perennial power.  (Update: Syracuse shut-out Liberty on Saturday).

The Origins of Whiffle Ball

Whiffle

I’ve played a lot of it in my day, but until I read David Kindy’s piece at Smithsonian.com I knew nothing about the origins of the game.

Here is a taste of Kindy’s “How Whiffle Ball Came to Be“:

Patented in 1957, the lightweight plastic Wiffle Ball comes with slots on one side to make it easier to throw curves and other pitches without putting undue stress on young arms. It was invented three years earlier by David Mullany, who got the idea after watching his namesake son playing a makeshift game of baseball with his brother and friends in the front yard of their home. Instead of a regulation ball and bat, they were using a plastic golf ball and broomstick in an attempt to keep from breaking windows or having to chase home runs down the street.

“My father complained his arm was hurting from trying to throw curves with that small ball,” says the third David Mullany, who is currently president of The Wiffle Ball, Inc. “My grandfather figured he could come up with something better for them to play with.”

As luck would have it, the senior Mullany, a businessman who was between jobs at the time, knew someone at Coty Perfume, which at the time packaged its product in a hard plastic container about the size of a baseball. He asked for samples and began whittling designs to see which worked best for pitching. After several rounds of trial and error, he hit upon a prototype with eight oblong cuts on one half of the ball, which made it easy for anyone to throw a curve or other spinning pitch.

The kids loved it and soon Mullany could see the potential for it growing beyond his own front yard. He designed it with William Blamey and applied for a patent in 1954, which was granted three years later under the simple title “Game Ball.” U.S. patent 2,776,139 describes the invention as being durable, lightweight and inexpensive to produce. Because of the holes, it also read, the ball “will vary in flight when thrown and when struck.”

Read the entire piece here.

Is the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team’s Fight for Equality Rooted in Christian Faith?

Soccer

I don’t know the answer to this question.  But it is an interesting one.

Megan Rapinoe is getting a lot of attention today, as she should. I don’t know if she is a religious person, but if she is a person of deep religious faith she is not alone on the women’s national team that just won the World Cup.

Religious belief has been an under-explored dimension of this team’s incredible run on the World Cup pitch.  I also wonder if it has anything to do with their activism off the pitch.

Several members of the team appear to be very serious Christians.

Alyssa Naeher, the goalie who made the game-winning save in the semifinals against England, attended Christian Heritage School in Trumbull, Connecticut.  Her twin sister, Amanda, is a pretty good soccer player in her own right.  During her stellar career at Messiah College, Amanda was a two-time NCAA Division III National Player of the Year. She was part of two NCAA national championship teams.  I not only looked this up, but I also spent many hours with my young daughters watching her play.  Amanda is currently the head soccer coach at Charlotte Christian, the school that has brought us NBA stars Stephen and Seth Curry.

From what I have been able to gather through interviews and social media, Alyssa does not seem to flaunt her Christianity.  But every now and then she posts a tweet like this:

Over at Faithwire, Lindsay Elizabeth writes about the Christian faith of Tobin Heath and Julie Ertz.

At Catholic Vote, Katie Yoder covers the Christian commitments of Heath, Ertz, (and her husband, Philadelphia Eagles player Zach Ertz), Crystal Dunn, Rose Lavelle, Mallory Pugh, Jessica McDonald, Emily Sonnett, and Morgan Brian.

I think we need to get Baylor University sports historian Paul Putz to break this all down for us.

Tony Bennett, Evangelicalism, and University of Virginia Basketball

Bennett

Thomas Jefferson, the founder of the University of Virginia, was no evangelical.  But he was a champion of religious liberty and had a lot of support among Virginia evangelicals when he ran for president in 1800. So it is unclear what he would have thought about an evangelical running his school’s national championship basketball program.

UVA coach Tony Bennett has been outspoken about his evangelical faith.  His faith has been covered by the Billy Graham Evangelistic AssociationThe Daily Progress,  the Baptist Press, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Heavy.  (The Washington Post discussed how he handled racism during 2017 white nationalist invasion of Charlottesville, but says nothing about his Christian faith).

Following his team’s national championship victory on Monday night, Bennett told Jim Nantz that he had played a Christian song titled “Hills and Valleys” to get his team ready for the game.  This song must have had special meaning for Bennett.  Last March, Bennett’s UVA program was definitely in the “valley” after it became the first #1 seed to lose to a #16 seed (UMBC). (It should be no surprise that Bennett received a text from former NFL coach and motivational speaker Tony Dungy after the loss to UMBC).

The lyrics of “Hills and Valleys” focus on God’s faithfulness during the joy and pain of life:

I’ve walked among the shadows
You wiped my tears away
And I’ve felt the pain of heartbreak
And I’ve seen the brighter days
And I’ve prayed prayers to heaven from my lowestplace
And I have held the blessings
God, you give and take away

No matter what I have, Your grace is enough
No matter where I am, I’m standing in Your love

On the mountains, I will bow my life
To the one who set me there
In the valley, I will lift my eyes to the one who sees me there
When I’m standing on the mountain aft, didn’t get there on my own
When I’m walking through the valley end, no I am not alone!
You’re God of the hills and valleys!
Hills and Valleys!
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone!

I’ve watched my dreams get broken

In you I hope again!
No matter what I know
Know I’m safe inside Your hand

On the mountains, I will bow my life
To the one who set me there
In the valley, I will lift my eyes to the one who sees me there
When I’m standing on the mountain aft, didn’t get there on my own
When I’m walking through the valley end, no I am not alone!
You’re God of the hills and valleys!
Hills and Valleys!
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone!

Father, you give and take away
Every joy and every pain
Through it all you will remain
Over it all!

Father, you give and take away
Every joy and every pain
Through it all you will remain
Over it all!

On the mountains, I will bow my life
To the one who set me there (to the one who set me there)
In the valley, I will lift my eyes to the one who sees me there
When I’m standing on the mountain aft, didn’t get there on my own
When I’m walking through the valley end, no I am not alone!
You’re God of the hills and valleys!
Hills and Valleys!
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone!
You’re God of the hills and valleys!
Hills and Valleys!
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone!

Frankly, it’s refreshing to see Bennett invoke a song that celebrates God’s faithfulness in the wins AND the losses.

The role that Bennett’s faith plays in his coaching is covered well in Jonathan Adams’s piece at Heavy. Here is a taste:

Virginia coach Tony Bennett is outspoken about his Christian faith and how it shapes his work with players. During the 2019 NCAA tournament, Bennett noted his faith helps him through stressful situations in games.

“You certainly feel things – things bother you, but where does peace and perspective come from? And I always tell our guys: It’s got to be something that is unconditional,” Bennett said, per Christian Headlines. “And I know I have that in the love of my family – unconditional acceptance and love. That’s huge. And I know I have that in my faith in Christ. That’s, for me, where I draw my strength from – my peace, my steadiness in the midst of things.”

Bennett committed to being a Christian while he was attending a Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp when he was 14, per Decision magazine. The Virginia coach emphasizes five pillars to his players, and the tenets have become a staple of the Virginia program. Bennett drew upon Biblical principals to create the five pillars: humility, passion, unity, servanthood and thankfulness. Former Virginia player Joe Harris spoke with Decision magazine about the impact these pillars have had on his life beyond basketball.

“You can apply those pillars to the rest of your life, not just basketball,” Harris noted to Decision. “I always tell people that being at Virginia with coach Bennett helped me in a huge developmental standpoint as a basketball player, but that I developed even more as a person.”

Something tells me Jefferson would still be happy with the UVA win.