The NFL's Better Angels

The NFL's Better Angels
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On Sunday, September 14, Robert Griffin III, the quarterback for the Washington Redskins, hobbled to the press conference podium. He was in obvious pain from an ankle injury sustained earlier against the Jaguars.

But there was something odd about his presence before reporters. It wasn't anything he said, but it was what he was wearing. His blue t-shirt was turned inside out!

The reason for the inverted apparel related to a serious dress code infraction. Just moments before stepping in front of the cameras, an official National Football League Uniform Inspector noticed that the t-shirt was emblazoned with the words "Know Jesus, Know Peace" with the "K" and "W" in the word "know" strategically colored so that one could also read "No Jesus, No Peace."

The uniform inspector claimed that since the shirt was not a Nike product, an official sponsor, it fell short of the NFL's high standards. Fans can sleep soundly knowing that a well-paid uniform inspector is protecting their sensitive eyes from unapproved brand names. Oddly though, even when worn inside out, the shirt was still not a Nike product.

This kerfuffle seems trivial in comparison to the serious issues embroiling some of the NFL's biggest stars. Domestic abuse, child abuse, and drug abuse are the abuses de jour, and Commissioner Roger Goodell seems to be flailing in the wind trying to decide how to handle them in a consistent manner. Monday morning sports talk radio is focused more on off-field player behavior than on the on-field heroics from the previous day. And worst of all, viewership of America's most popular sport is on the decline.

To address these serious matters, Goodell is toying with the idea of hiring more women in the NFL's executive offices in an effort to reach out and show understanding to the female demographic. If a month's worth of breast cancer awareness won't keep the women watching, perhaps showing the fairer sex that the NFL doesn't like spousal and child abuse will convince them to fill the stands and buy more jerseys.

But a more immediate answer might just be staring league executives, or at least their uniform inspectors, in the face. While the NFL does have its fair share of troubled employees, there are a number of outstanding individuals who aren't given the chance to showcase their true nature. Any fan in the stands can tell you that immediately following most NFL games, players from both teams gather on the field to pray. Talk about role modeling sportsmanship! If high school players had the chance to see their idols from opposing sides holding hands and praising God, there might be a little bit less trash talk under the Friday night lights.

Unfortunately, the cameras never show such a scene and turn quickly away when a player points to the sky after a big score. Wearing a t-shirt with the word "Jesus" on it? Not unless the cross is replaced with a swoosh. And if members of the 2013 Seattle Seahawks squad ever produced a film celebrating the role of faith in football (which they did), guarantee it will go unnoticed. Ignoring the important role that religion plays in the lives of many NFL players is not just the fault of NFL executives. The media covering the league also has shunned any display of faith. Remember Tim Tebow or Reggie White? Neither does ESPN.

At a time when only the worst of the sport is on display, would it hurt so much to show a postgame prayer circle, permit a player to wear a spiritually-inspirational shirt, or follow Russell Wilson to his regular round at Seattle's Children's Hospital bringing a biblically-based message of good cheer? When you allow life's better angels to shine, you just might end up getting more saintly behavior all around.

And the one thing football fans would love to see right about now is a few more saints, and not just the ones in New Orleans.

Anthony Gill is professor of political science at the University of Washington and Distinguished Senior Fellow at Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion.

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