It might not feel like fall just yet as Mississippi endures another month of record-breaking heat and drought, but at least the start of football season offers some comfort and a glimmer of hope that cooler weather is coming.
The economic impact of college football in the state has been well documented in recent years. Athletic directors and economic developers know that on-campus games benefit school budgets and local businesses. Throw in community college and high school games, and the sport becomes quite a little moneymaker.
But, apart — and perhaps above — the economic aspects of football are the spiritual rewards. That’s right: spiritual.
Football in the South, especially college football, has long been compared to a religious experience. We might be Baptist or Catholic, Methodist or Episcopalian (or even Muslim, Jew or Buddhist), but on Game Day — at kickoff — we become Rebels or Eagles, Bulldogs or Tigers (and even Choctaws, Majors or Blazers). We’re united and divided by our love of something bigger than ourselves. There’s ritual. Sacrifice. Victory. Even meaning for many of us.
In recent weeks, the issue of prayer before high school football games has become a burning issue in communities throughout Mississippi. The U.S. Supreme Court has stated that prayer and public schools, even football games, cannot go together. No “Dear God, please protect these players from injury…” invocations over the ol’ PA system anymore. And that’s not the worst thing in the world. Hysterics and protest have no place in this situation.
The issue of prayer is one deeply personal and private. At football games, prayers should reside in the hearts of nervous mothers, proud fathers and anxious coaches and in the minds and actions of the players on the field.
Our society — and God — would be better served if all of us, whether it’s in the huddle on a Friday night, tailgating in the Grove on a Saturday morning or in the stands at Scott Field on a Saturday afternoon, conducted ourselves in the truest spirit of sport and the Golden Rule.
In so doing, we rise above court rulings and simple games, and perhaps, become better people. And that’s not too much to hope — and pray — for, is it?