Play and Pray

Athletes have a right to kneel

Athletes kneel all the time.

They do so to hold a kick for a field goal or extra point, to prepare for a sprint or to listen to a coach. It’s a common sight on a playing field or in an arena.

Sometimes, they kneel for another purpose, and that is OK, too.

The West Lyon High School football team has been in the news recently and not just for its impressive start to the season. The Wildcats have knelt as one and said a prayer after their last three games. They were joined by the host Sioux Center Warriors on Sept. 6 and at the home game on Sept. 13, the Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley Nighthawks raced down the field after the game to share a spiritual huddle with their rivals.

As dozens of sweaty, grass-stained players knelt to share a prayer, scores of other people — cheerleaders, fans, classmates and friends — joined them. West Lyon senior offensive lineman Jordan DeSmet stood amid the sea of athletes and fans and said a brief prayer, and then the players and others stood, shook hands, hugged and shared a few moments.

It looked a lot like the informal gatherings after a church service, or kids hanging out in hallways or outside the school at the end of the day. It was a natural, positive moment.

Some, including an Iowa atheist group, have raised questions about the postgame prayers. They wonder if such religious activity, however spontaneous, is appropriate in a public setting.

We think it is, and here’s why.

A few years ago, Tim Tebow received more attention for briefly kneeling and praying at NFL games than for his performance on the field. Tebow was a college star, the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Florida and a member of two national championship teams.

He found less success in pro football, although he did play quarterback and helped guide Denver Broncos into the playoffs in 2011. Tebow was better known for his decision to kneel in prayer on the field. It became known as “Tebowing” and was praised by some who respected his open display of his faith, and assailed by others who disliked his choice to be upfront about his beliefs.

We respected it. Tebow did not disrupt the game, annoy his teammates or taunt his opponents. He merely expressed his Christian faith.

Unable to land an NFL job, he has been toiling in the minor leagues for the New York Mets, hoping to play big league baseball. You have to admire Tebow’s all-around talent and dedication to competition, despite the struggles he has endured.

Which is why we celebrate the West Lyon football team, and all athletes who kneel to pray. It’s not an uncommon sight here in N’West Iowa, where public displays of faith are not just allowed, but welcomed and cheered. That’s what happens at Wildcat football games, when fans stick around after the final whistle to watch their athletes in action of a very different kind.

Athletes kneel to play or pray. Both are perfectly acceptable.