19TH HOLE: THE READERS TAKE OVER

May 02, 1976

JOCKS FOR JESUS
Sir:
Congratulations to Frank Deford on his discerning article Religion in Sport (April 19). Malcolm Boyd is right, of course, for what Deford describes is not so much religion in sport as religion in America. This is painfully obvious in this Bicentennial year as we put our national flag in the hand of the Almighty.

It is not, however, a simple case of black and white but one of shades of gray. Religion must be expressed in the vernacular if it is to be relevant and not hopelessly ethereal. Three cheers for keeping the message "simple," for not trucking with "intellectualizing" but appealing to the "gut." I look forward to the final two articles.
THE REV. JAMES W. MORRIS
Pastor
St. John's United Church of Christ
Shamokin, Pa.

Sir:
Your cover line "Sport Gets Religion" is apt in the same manner that one might say the Roman Empire "got" religion by ostensibly adopting Christianity as a state religion while subverting it to its own uses.

I, for one, have viewed with horror the subversion of religion for their own purposes by those who have also given us the "winning is the only thing" philosophy that pervades sport from the youth leagues through the professional leagues.

Jesus does indeed have much to say to each of us about our daily lives. But those who seek to bless the status quo by invoking His name do us all a disservice. He did indeed win, but He never asked to win. He feared (Luke 19:41) what awaited Him in Jerusalem and He turned to God, who gave Him the power to endure what came upon Him. In the end Jesus won (and through Him so do we all) but His life was one of ministering to losers, to whom He showed unfailing love and understanding.

Would that those who profess His name in the sports world attempt to emulate Jesus rather than blacklist coaches for nonmembership in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Thank you for Frank Deford's series.
THE REV. WILLIAM G. HILES JR.
Nashville

Sir:
I was reminded of a quote in a Kenny Moore article several years ago that went something like "God likes only the strong." I was also reminded of many of my own coaches who appealed to Jesus before pleading for violence and destruction on the field. I find a great gulf between knowing a religion and living it; I don't understand how a Master of kindness, compassion and peace can fit into football.

Thanks to Frank Deford for raising questions about this movement. I am a Christian, but I feel the Christian religion is being prostituted.
JON STINE
Bloomington, Ind.

Sir:
Frank Deford presents a provocative but fair picture of the "Christian Movement" in sport. However, I take exception to his criticism of "Sportianity" for failing to take action against the athletic Establishment for its "excesses and abuses."

The Lord Jesus Christ teaches us that the root of all immorality lies in the sinful nature of man, and that the one way to overcome this sinful nature is to turn to Him. Fulminating against the dishonest and unethical practices of athletes, managers and owners would be treating the symptoms rather than the disease. The cure for the conditions described by Deford cannot be effected with rhetoric and criticism. It must start in the hearts of the individual athletes. I hope that is what much of Sportianity is all about.
STEVE SIMPSON
Ithaca, N.Y.

Sir:
Even though Paul seems to endorse athletics in 1 Corinthians 9:24, the next verse (9:25) was left out. Together they read: "You know that while all the runners in the stadium take part in the race, the award goes to one man. In that case, run so as to win! Athletes deny themselves all sorts of things. They do this to win a crown of leaves that withers, but we a crown that is imperishable" (New American Bible).

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes will be established in our high school soon, probably by next fall. As for myself, I want to join not to increase my dedication to athletics but to increase my devotion to Christ. Sport is fine as a career, just as is nursing, teaching, garbage collecting or whatever. Each one of us has talents to be expanded and used during his lifetime. But one's own talents are not the source of salvation, or an imperishable crown.
MONICA NEAL
Flandreau, S. Dak.

Sir:
Most teams of Catholic schools pray before any athletic contest. In the late '40s, when Joe Judge was baseball coach at Georgetown University, I was the base umpire at a game against Fordham, another Jesuit school of higher learning.

Both teams prayed in the same manner before the game. After regulation play, the game was tied at 2-2, so extra innings were played. Finally, Georgetown was the winner, and I pondered the results.

I consulted with the plate umpire and said, "Both teams prayed before the game. How did God determine the winner?"

My colleague replied, "When you were not looking, Georgetown prayed again."
HENRY GICHNER
Washington

Sir:
"He was a winner!" says the new religion-in-athletics movement of Jesus, but by the movement's own standards a "winner" He definitely was not. He was born, lived and died in poverty; He was regarded by the Establishment—especially the religious Establishment—of His day as a weirdo, a freak: He was executed with two common criminals, having been deserted by His friends.

If it is not downright blasphemy to use an athletic metaphor to summarize His life, I will opt for the presumably corny and outdated dictum of Grantland Rice that it matters "not that you won or lost—but how you played the game."
THOMAS N. LONGSTRETH
Brooklandville, Md.

Sir:
I am the world's most unathletic person. People laughingly ask me why I bother subscribing to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. The answer is simple: for fun, for enough sports savvy to keep me from total humiliation at the office and for articles of such unparalleled quality as Frank Deford's Religion in Sport. Absolutely superb.
GAIL K. O'HARE
Minneapolis

SUN DEVILS
Sir:
Floyd Bannister's pitching exploits and Ken Phelps' clutch hitting, as recounted in Jim Kaplan's article on the Arizona State baseball team (A Devil of a Series, April 19), come as no surprise. The last chapter of my book Champions of the Babe Ruth League (Julian Messner, 1975) confirms that both were considered bright major league prospects when they were teammates on a Seattle Babe Ruth League club. At the time I wrote, "Floyd Bannister had pitched a perfect no-hitter in Sectional play, fanning 17 in the process.... Seattle also boasted a .620 hitter in first baseman Ken Phelps."

In that Tournament of Champions series, played in 1973 at Monroe, N.C., Seattle was eliminated in the semifinals. However, the MVP of the series was Bannister, who appeared in four games (starting and relieving), pitched 19 innings, allowed 13 hits and 11 walks and fanned 25 batters.
HOWARD LISS
New York City

Sir:
You could at least have mentioned that Floyd Bannister's one loss this season came last month against defending national champion Texas in a four-game series in which the two perennial national powers each won two games.
ROBERT G. WATTS JR.
Austin, Texas

FOUR-FINGER BROWN
Sir:
I enjoyed H. R. Coursen's poem American Pastime (SCORECARD, April 12), but I have one correction to make. Mordecai (Three Finger) Brown did not get his nickname because he had only three fingers on his throwing hand, as Coursen believes. Brown had four fingers on that hand: he lost only his right index finger in a boyhood accident. The nickname refers to the number of digits Brown actually used while pitching, namely his thumb and his middle and ring fingers. Trivia lives.
RON JAPHA
Stamford, Conn.

BLASÉ BROWN
Sir:
Upon reading your article A Good Naber Gets Gunned Down (April 5) on the NCAA swim meet at Brown University, we were amused at Jerry Kirshenbaum's reference to Brown as a "blasé" Ivy League campus. Even while immersed in academia, the Brown campus does find enjoyment in spectator sports. If Kirshenbaum had looked, he would have found Brown mentioned among the top four teams in soccer and hockey. He could also have noted the Brown pep rally before the Ivy League championship Brown-Harvard football game.
STEVE DICKSTEIN
ROBERT KRAUSZ
Providence

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