Poll: 1 in 4 Say God Influences Sporting Events

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Jan. 31 2013 2:16 PM

A Quarter of Americans Say God Will Help Decide the Super Bowl

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Tim Tebow #15 of the New York Jets prays with members of the New England Patriots following the Jets 29-26 loss in overtime on October 21, 2012 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.

Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images.

For a quarter of Americans, watching the Super Bowl is a chance to see God at work. No, really.

According to a survey released earlier this week from the Public Religion Research Institute, 27 percent of Americans think that God plays some role in the outcome of sporting events. Minority Christians and White Evangelical protestants believe this a bit more strongly (nearly 4 in 10 do), while Catholics (29 percent), white Mainline protestants (19 percent), and the unaffiliated (12 percent) are more skeptical of that notion. Southerners are also more likely to believe that God plays favorites with sports teams.

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Americans are a bit more eager to believe that individual players, however, benefit from having faith. A majority, 53 percent, think that faithful athletes are rewarded with good health and success on the field. And again, there's a split between more conservative religious demographics, which are much more likely to believe that God would boost individual players, and mainline and unaffiliated respondents. Unsurprisingly, half of respondents said they are fine with public displays of religious faith on the field from players. The vast majority of the rest (45 percent) say such displays don't really matter. 

But don't get fan fervor confused for religious experience: While Americans are just as likely to watch sports once a week as they are to go to church, just 1 percent of those surveyed said that being a sports fan of their favorite team is the most important thing in their life (14 percent said this was very important). Nearly 6 in 10, however, said that religion was either the most important thing in their life, or very important.

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.

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