Michigan Football, Sports

The religion of being a sports fan

I joked to someone about ten years ago that Michigan football was my religion, but now I wonder how much I was joking. There are many parallels between the fervor of sports fandom and organized religion. We use both religion and sports as excuses to do stupid things, get in arguments, and celebrate shared experiences with our fellow devotees. We act one way six days of the week, and then become different people when we attend on the weekend.

Faith, Hope and Love


The basis of any entity-follower relationship is adoration (love) that the follower feels for the entity. Churchgoers love their God, and football fans love their football team. Think that religious adoration is stronger than the love of a football fan? My Saturday experiences might argue otherwise.

faith and hope

In religious terms, faith and hope are pretty straightforward; faith that you can believe in something that can’t be proved, and hope that obedience to God leads to rewards in the afterlife. Football fans have faith that their belief in their team will help the team win, and hope that their team will make it to a bowl game or even the not-really-a-national-championship game. Both require obedient attendance and adherence to accepted norms and traditions. We have faith until the clock reads 0:00, even on 4th and 10 from our own 35-yard line with three seconds on the clock, down by 6 (hence “Hail Mary”).

both faiths are blind

It’s a blind variety of faith for both football fans and religious adherents, because they have to believe that their efforts make a contribution; no direct confirmation will arrive. We continue to believe and search tirelessly for signs that never arrive.

What about religious football fans? Would they choose a national championship over heaven?

Shared Experience

Proponents of organized religion frequently cite being part of something bigger than themselves as a benefit of participating in their faith. Anybody who has been to a close game between highly ranked teams or rival teams knows that they are experiencing something way bigger than themselves. Call it communion by two-minute drill or baptism by overtime, but the shared experience of a football crowd has to be on par with a roadside tent revival. Both church attendance and football fandom require special attire, encourage group recitations and even raising voices in song.

I can say without doubt that I have felt both part of something bigger than myself and a shared experience with fellow followers at Michigan games, in both good times (2011 Notre Dame) and bad (Kordell Stewart).

special services

Part of that shared experience sometimes requires taking up with your brethren in unusual circumstances – I once attended an evening Easter service at a Catholic church that I left after two hours, as my schedule didn’t permit staying for quadruple overtime. 20,000 people gathered in New York last week for an annual Friday night service.  I’ve attended games away from my usual parish, at the church of Pasadena and also the house of The Horseshoe.

extra participation


Church bible study groups have their equivalent in online fan forums, where every play of a game is reviewed and scholars debate the merit of running the read-option against eight men in the box.

There are women’s groups, fellowship opportunities, and chances to serve the community.

Charismatic Leaders

Religious leaders help their flock become better people, lead better lives, and make positive contributions to society. They are tireless motivators, masters of the psyche, counselors, fundraisers, administrators and organizers. They are master orators, identify with people of all classes, and can make a whole person greater than the sum of their parts.

Is there anything in that list of qualities that you would not use to describe your favorite coach? Brady Hoke, Urban Meyer, Nick Saban, Bo, Woody, Bear, JoePa. To their followers, the word of both religious leaders and football coaches are treated as gospel; followers will defend and rationalize the crazy things that their leaders say.

These leaders are also occasionally credited with powers escaping the average man, ranging from miraculous healings to, well, I can’t really describe this. You’ll just have to click and see for yourself.

falls from grace

Thanks to the Catholic Church, Gary Moeller, and Jim Tressel, among others, we are all far too aware that our religious leaders and coaches occasionally take advantage of our faith and

source: umich.edu

abuse the privilege of their position. The blindest among the faithful will often continue to treat the word of their fallen leader as gospel, putting their faith above logic and reason.

Your Tithes Required

You knew that the church relies upon your donations of time and money to survive, but have you ever thought that the University requires the same? In fact, it’s even worse with the University – first, they get your money in January just so that you have the right to buy admission. Then April comes where you actually pay for the admission itself, not to mention the donations required for seating near the choir, the coffee and the donuts.

And that nice new Sanctuary with the massive high-definition screens? The University will call on your donations for that pledge drive as well, and also for the new Basketball fellowship hall.


Is your faith stronger on Saturday afternoons or Sunday mornings?

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