(Religion Unplugged) — It’s not unusual for NFL players to wear their faith on their sleeves. It was just a month ago that many players across the league turned to prayer after Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest during a Monday Night Football game against the Cincinnati Bengals. All the league’s 32 teams posted #PrayForDamar appeals across their social media channels.
There will be more prayers at the Super Bowl on Feb. 12 between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Patrick Mahomes taking on Jalen Hurts of the Eagles will mark the first time that the starting quarterbacks for both teams are Black. It is also a milestone because both men are practicing Christians not afraid to publicly talk about their faith and how it helps them succeed at the highest levels.
Religion and sports have been a talking point for years, especially in the NFL, even before players like Tim Tebow played at the highest levels. Quarterbacks get all the love and attention in football. It’s no surprise that ones who are openly Christian — like Kurt Warner, Russell Wilson and Nick Foles — often stand out even more.
Mahomes played in last Sunday’s AFC Championship Game against the Cincinnati Bengals with a nagging ankle sprain. Despite a visible limp, Mahomes went 29-for-43 passing with 326 yards and two touchdown passes. He also had 8 rushing yards.
The stage is set. #SBLVII@Chiefs | @Eagles pic.twitter.com/FoKA914sxS
— NFL (@NFL) January 30, 2023
“First off, I want thank God, man,” he said after the game. “He healed my body this week to battle through that. He gave me the strength to be out here.”
Prior to the game, even some Chiefs fans had been praying for Mahomes’ ankle to heal in time.
Bengals play the Chiefs on KOAM-7/CBS this Sun, 5:30 p.m. at Arrowhead in KC. Winner goes to the Super Bowl. https://t.co/GdRcBZGGBm
— @koamfox14 #joplinnewsfirst #koamnewsnow #shanbecker @Chiefs #ChiefsKingdom Courtesy Amy Chambers, Church of Christ, 26th & Conn, Joplin, Mo. pic.twitter.com/9cNYtYduWq
— Joplin News First (@JoplinNewsFirst) January 27, 2023
The Super Bowl winner has not been shy about publicly expressing his Christian faith in the past.
When Mahomes, who is evangelical, was playing college football at Texas Tech, his mother detailed her son’s faith in God.
“In middle school, he got real involved with his youth group,” she said. “He got saved. There was a night at church, he had his hands raised to the Lord and he was singing. I just felt overcome with this most awesome moment, more than any football game, because I knew where his heart truly is.”
The 27-year-old quarterback has also used his social media platforms — including his 2.3 million Twitter followers — to express his faith.
God is good! #blessed
— Patrick Mahomes II (@PatrickMahomes) July 11, 2018
It’s also not unusual for Mahomes to point towards the sky at the start of games or following a big play. Fans have noticed, and many appreciate his faith.
“I want to glorify him.” – #Mahomes
Patrick knows… without Jesus we’re dust. pic.twitter.com/4RpRGkpMY2
— Lore Meltzer (@loremeltz) January 30, 2023
At the same time, Hurts and the Eagles, who emerged victorious against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, will be looking to win the Super Bowl with some help from the Almighty. Hurts went 15-of-25 passing for 121 yards against the 49ers.
At the start of the season, Hurts, who is Baptist, said he wants to be a positive force for children who watch him on TV. Hurts also said he couldn’t be successful without God.
“That’s something that I’ve just matured in and realized — that God is everything and He’s worthy of praise,” Hurts told CBS Sports. “You have to put Him in the center of everything that you do. And that’s what I believe. … I’ve been blessed to grow, learn things, and just mature. And I know God has been there the whole entire way.”
The 24-year-old quarterback, who played at the University of Alabama and the University of Oklahoma, said everything he does — whether its throwing touchdown passes or helping with charities that benefit children — is because of God.
“I keep God at the center of everything. I give Him all the praise. I lean on Him all the time,” Hurts added. “And I know that everything unfolds the way it’s supposed to. … I just want to set the right example, and I want to be remembered (as) someone who made a difference. You know — that’s an everyday thing. It’s something that I think about every day.”
Before transferring to Oklahoma, Hurts, in a piece he wrote for The Players’ Tribune, thanked Alabama for his time there. Hurts also wrote that he understood the “importance of never losing faith.”
“I understand that God put those obstacles and challenges in my life for a reason,” Hurts wrote in the 2019 essay. “He wanted me to feel the pain I felt for a reason. He wanted me to understand the importance of never losing faith — and of always staying true to myself.”
After winning the NFC Championship, Hurts again praised God by citing the Bible.
I asked Jalen Hurts to explain what he meant by saying “they probably didn’t want to draft me here” and he replied by citing John 13:7 – “Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Only fitting now we do a “Birds of Pray” sequel.
— Rob Maaddi (@RobMaaddi) January 30, 2023
During the post-game news conference, Hurts added, “I’m forever grateful (for reaching the Super Bowl). Only God knows the things that each individual on this team has been able to overcome to come together as a team and do something special.”
Like Mahomes, Hurts uses Twitter to discuss his faith.
Forever Grateful For God’s Grace, Favor & Guidance !
— Jalen Hurts (@JalenHurts) November 24, 2022
This year’s Super Bowl matchup promises to be one for the ages. It not only features two of the league’s best quarterbacks but also two men not shy about their faith and what they see as essential to succeed in the NFL.
by Clemente Lisi, a senior editor at Religion Unplugged and teaches journalism at The King’s College in New York City. He is the author of “The FIFA World Cup: A History of the Planet’s Biggest Sporting Event.” Follow him on Twitter @ClementeLisi.