Religion And Athletes

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Religion and Athletes

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Religion and Athletes


Throughout human history, sports and religion have been closely linked. Like religion, sports convey important lessons about values and culturally appropriate behavior. The lessons they teach are similar, and both religion and sports use symbols as their primary means of communication. In most of the contemporary world, however, religion and sports occupy separate but complementary conceptual realms. Religion focuses on the idea that, as one anthropologist put it, "there is something more to the world than meets the eye". In religion, that "something" is the domain of the divine or of spirit beings; in sport, that "something" is the triumph of the human spirit (Merrill, 2003).

Scholars from a variety of disciplines typically describe religion as operating in the realm of the sacred and as addressing the relationship of human beings to the supernatural or the transcendent. In modern terms, sport is seen as a secular pursuit, concerned with the relationship of human beings to each other. In fact, sport and religion are closely related on a number of levels:

Historically, many sports developed as part of religious festivals;

Sport is often used as a metaphor for religious striving;

Sporting events evoke passionate commitment similar to that of religious festivals;

Religion and sport are symbolic systems that emphasize similar values and goals, including transcendence of limited personal desires in favor of nonmaterial achievements or experiences and an emphasis on cooperation and personal sacrifice for the good of the group;

Both religion and sport convey their message by means of powerful symbols.

Native Americans And Ancient Greeks

The Central American ball game, played by both the Aztec and Maya before the arrival of Spanish conquistadores in the sixteenth century, was associated with the ritual of human sacrifice. Ball courts were commonly located in the temple complex near the racks where skulls of human sacrificial victims were displayed. Players were sacrificed as food for the gods. The divine origins of the ball game are recounted in the Mayan creation myth Popol Vuh, which describes the defeat in a ball game of the underworld gods of sickness and death by the hero twins Hunter (Hun Hunahpu) and Jaguar Deer (Xbalanke). In The Blood of Kings (1986), Linda Schele and Mary Ellen Miller suggest that, among the Maya, the ritual ball game provided a conquering ruler with a means of validating his reign and a defeated rival with an opportunity to achieve an honorable death.

The four great games of ancient Greece—the Olympian, the Pythian, the Isthmian, and the Nemean—were associated with worship of the gods. The Olympian games were held in honor of Zeus, ruler of the sky, whose worship was centered on Mount Olympus, also the site of his marriage to Hera. The Pythian games were held at Delphi, the site of Apollo's oracle, and were said to have been established by the god as compensation for his killing of the great serpent Python. The Pythian games eventually came to include both physical and intellectual competitions, including musical, literary, and dramatic ...
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