Onward Christian Athletes by Tom Krattenmaker

Onward Christian Athletes by Tom Krattenmaker

It may not be entirely unfair to accuse Tom Krattenmaker, the author of Onward Christian Athletes, of wanting to have it both ways.

On hand number one, he’s uncomfortable with homerun hitters who point at the sky while circling the bases and quarterbacks who answer the first post-game question – no matter what it is – by thanking Jesus for his help. Krattenmaker points out thatlots of the athletes who behave this way “are fruits of a campaign by well-organized, well-financed evangelical sports ministries committed to leveraging sports to reach and change the broader American culture.” He worries that since the agendas of the evangelical sports ministries to which he refers are politically and socially reactionary, the athletes receiving the word from them tend to also swallow a lot of rot. He sites the case of a young ballplayer who asks his baseball chaplain if the ballplayer’s ex-girlfriend, who is Jewish, will go to hell. The chaplain solemnly assures the young man that she will. Tom Krattenmaker doesn’t approve of ministering like that.

But on hand number two, the author figures that a good dose of Christianity would remedy a lot of what’s sinful in our games: the outrageous partying of some of the players, for example, and the failure of the NFL to pay sufficient attention to the health and welfare of its employees, and the greed that drives the owners of teams to hold cities hostage to their profligate demands for new ballparks and improved infrastructure at the expense of taxpayers whose schools, fire stations, and police departments are closing for lack of funds.

It’s a short but ominous step from reasoning like that to the notion that pro athletes (and the rest of us) can’t be expected to behave well without religious instruction, and it’s too bad that Tom Krattenmaker doesn’t examine in his book the proposition that an individual’s religious beliefs or lack of same might best remain his or her private concern, whether or not his or her workplace includes a clubhouse and a trainer’s table.