Group wants public universities to eliminate football chaplains

Religion and football pretty much go hand in hand in the United States.

“What kind of country are we—what kind of culture are we—that can put together the Savior and the bone-crushing power sweep and not notice that there may be some contradictions involved?” Mark Edmundson, who teaches at the University of Virginia and is the author of Why Football Matters: My Education in the Game, in a Time essay last year.

He reasoned, however, that most Americans adopt a form of religion that is, itself, conflicted — advocating a peaceful existence but allowing retribution when warranted.

That’s not good enough for the Freedom From Religion Foundation which this week called on 25 public universities — including the University of Wisconsin — to take a step toward disconnecting religion from the sport.

It analyzed the schools which have chaplains and issued a report claiming that coaches many college football coaches “are converting playing fields into mission fields and public universities are doing nothing to halt this breach of trust.”

The report — Pray to Play — cited a statistic that 54 percent of college students identify themselves as Christian, but noted that all of the team chaplains it had investigated were Christian, often with an evangelical bent.

The authors, several of whom are UW grads or current students, claim the chaplains are public employees committed to converting athletes who are inclined to stay in the good graces of their coaches.

Most chaplains schedule official bible studies, chapel services or mass, or in the case of Illinois and other schools, both.

To increase peer pressure and ensure maximum attendance, these religious events tend to be centered on times when the team is likely to be congregated together, such as, immediately before or after meals or team meetings.

Sometimes these services are even scheduled at the same time as a “team snack.” Players may feel as though they are being forced to opt out of a team experience, rather than voluntarily opting-in to religious worship.

At least two universities have taken the step from proselytizing to baptizing. Auburn University’s Chette Williams claimed 10 years ago that he had baptized 20 players during his first six years as chaplain. Williams has continued to baptize Auburn players including Sammie Coates and Trovon Reed in 2013, and Jeff Whitaker in 2012. Today, the number of Auburn football players baptized by Williams could easily exceed 50.

The report said the purpose and effect of chaplaincies is to “impose the coach’s religion on his players.”

“The idea that religion, and particularly Christianity, is required to be a complete or good human being is erroneous. The idea itself is religious, so promoting it in a public university is problematic, but it is also simply wrong. Religion is not required to be moral, productive, or happy—in fact, sometimes the reverse is true,” it said.

(h/t: Sara Meyer)