by Brandon Mercer

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Sports and spirituality are strong partners, in the quest for perfect alignment of muscle movement with competitive purpose, and goal reaching over adversity. When it comes to who wins a contest, however, is seeking divine intervention in line with theology? More importantly, does God support your team?

Perhaps Seahawks fans offered better prayers in the NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers. Perhaps Broncos fans will pray more fervently for a win in Sunday’s Super Bowl.

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While the San Francisco 49ers were advancing to the penultimate game of the season, the Public Religion Research Institute was surveying Americans about sports and God. The results: 20 percent of Americans believe God plays a role in sports.

Just ask Tim Tebow, Kurt Warner, or Reggie White, and you’ll get affirmation that God is part of their game, but when they bow in the end zone, are they offering prayers of thanks for the win, or thanks for the process?

Theologically, the 80 percent who don’t believe that God plays a role in sports may be on the right side of their religion, according to Dr. John White, professor of practical theology and director of sports ministry at Baylor University.

“When we pray to win, our prayer for victory is also a prayer for our opponents’ defeat. Net effect: Our prayers are at the expense of others,” White said.

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What’s worse, for believers, is that praying about the Super Bowl might even be a sin.

White said, “For the Christian tradition, this is egoism — a vice that grates against the chief virtue of love.”

The thought is that God’s potential intervention in sports breaks the very rules of the game, which is supposed to be a contest of athletic skill, preparation, and strategy.

“The contest then becomes less about our preparation and skill and more about who received God’s favor and who did not,” White said.

Not much solace for 49ers fans, though.

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