Should Atheists Target the N.F.L. Next?

With the Super Bowl coming up in less than two weeks — and yes, thanks, my team made it — it’s worth considering what sort of end-zone demonstrations will be allowed and which will not. Here’s Mike Pereira, the N.F.L.’s outgoing head of officials, with an explanation from earlier this year:

If you don’t feel like watching the video, here’s what Pereira has to say:

The whole issue is, you can’t go to the ground on your knees or with your hand or anything. There’s only one time that you’re going to be allowed to go on your knee after you score like this, and that’s when you want to praise the Lord. If you do that, then I’m going to allow that, because I do not want to be struck by lightning, I promise you that. We will allow that.

This isn’t very surprising, perhaps, given the N.F.L.’s long-standing embrace, on many levels, of Christian values. Many players and officials, for instance, regularly attend chapel services; after a game, you can see players from both teams join a prayer circle near midfield.

But still, I smell a case for the American Humanist Association or some atheists’ rights group. The A.H.A. and others recently tried — and failed — to have the phrase “So help me God” removed from the presidential oath of office. Maybe it’s time for them to tackle the N.F.L. Why is it O.K. to praise the Lord but not, say, make a snow angel? If the atheists can’t gain any traction in the N.F.L., maybe they can take on Tim Tebow with his “John 3:16″ eyeblack patches.


Related: see what some N.F.L. folks have to say about Barack Obama as president.

(Hat tip: Annitra Morrison.)

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  1. sarahmas says:

    I am a Catholic who strongly supports separation of church and state. I don’t think there should be forced prayers in public schools or 10 Commandments mounted in government buildings. But there’s a big difference between the privately owned NFL and government agencies. If NFL players want to say a prayer to God or light a little volcano and pay homage to Pele after touchdowns, that’s their prerogative.

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  2. PsiCop says:

    The NFL is a private entity and can do what it wants to. On what grounds would anyone demand they change?

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  3. Tim H says:

    Just wanted to note here that the phrase “so help me God” is not, and has never been, a part of the Presidential oath of office. Unlike most ceremonial oaths, the Presidential oath is prescribed in Article II, Section 1 of the US Constitution and does not include this phrase.

    Many presidents have said it (it remains unknown whether early presidents did) but it is not part of the oath.

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  4. Chris M says:

    There’s a huge difference between the state endorsing religion and a private organization endorsing religion. I’m an atheist and strongly believe that the NFL should be able to openly encourage religion and/or discourage atheism.

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  5. discordian says:

    Atheists’ rights groups? Don’t you mean the “non-atheists-rights-denial group”?

    and where’s the Discoridans’ right groups?

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  6. Bob Whiteman says:

    This is easily the least journalistic article I’ve seen on this blog. This is just manufacturing an issue. The answer is obvious, that the law of the land requires a separation of church and state. President Obama explicitly included non-believers in his inaugural address, and I’m glad he did.

    But separation of church and NFL? Who cares! The NFL isn’t going to imprison or kill me for holding contrary beliefs.

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  7. EP says:

    Tim H:

    After being administered the first oath of office, President Washington added the phrase. Every president since has done the same.

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  8. Charlie says:

    It seems like many of the comments have missed the point. The point is that the NFL is allowing players to showboat with prayer, while not allowing other forms of showboating. Doesn’t that seem a little unfair?

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