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FAITH LIFT | Spirit-filled sports


What do sports have to do with spirituality? Actually, quite a bit.

You might call it “muscular Christianity”. It happens when athletes are (or become) believers. There have been some famous examples in the history of sport such as Eric Liddell (Scottish Olympian and missionary to China) and C.T. Studd (star English cricketeer who founded an international mission).

I know one example personally from modern times.

Peter Muller

As a youth, I enjoyed sports although I was not especially gifted at any one. My favorite football team was the Hamilton Tiger Cats (probably because it was the closest CFL team to Niagara). My father took me once to see a Ticats game in the old Ivor Wynne Stadium, which preceded the current Tim Hortons Field. My team lost but I was thrilled all the same to experience the game in person.

During those years, I remember hearing the name “Peter Muller” and seeing him play on TV. He was the star tight end for the Toronto Argonauts. I might even have collected his sports card when I bought bubble gum. So, I was pleasantly surprised (many years later) when I learned that Muller was the high school principal at a Christian school in Calgary where my daughter and son-in-law taught. They even went to the same church which we attended when visiting Calgary. I’ve enjoyed a few chats with Muller in recent years and learned more about him.

Muller played for Toronto in the CFL for nine seasons from 1973 to 1981. He led the team in receiving for three of those seasons. In 1978 he was honored with the Tom Pate Memorial Award for “outstanding sportsmanship and dedication to his community”. After his football career, Muller became an educator overseas in Taiwan and then back in Canada in Mississauga and Calgary.

Athletes In Action

Muller was one of the driving forces which launched a ministry of Christian athletes back in the 1970s in Canada. It’s called “Athletes in Action” (or AIA for short) and it is “dedicated to developing the total athlete through the integration of faith, life and sport”. It was part of a larger ministry which is now called “Power to Change”. It grew to involve athletes in various sports such as hockey, football, basketball, soccer, volleyball, running and wrestling. The ministry provides chaplains, chapel services and Bible studies for professional and university teams as well as sport camps.

Over the years, I’ve attended AIA events where I heard the testimonies of hockey players such as Paul Henderson and Ron Ellis (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Laurie Boschman (Ottawa Senators). Henderson recounted the thrill of scoring the “goal of the century” in the “Canada-Soviet Summit Series” in 1972. He was not a believer at the time. He returned to Canada a “hockey hero” but felt strangely empty afterwards. He began a spiritual search for something more enduring than temporal success, fame or fortune. Muller had been one of the people who helped answer his questions and point him toward a personal relationship with Jesus.

At another event, I accompanied my church’s youth group from the Sudbury region to the Skydome (now Roger’s Centre) in Toronto. First, we enjoyed a CFL football game and then after the game we joined dozens of other youth groups for a specially arranged meeting. Michael “Pinball” Clemons (a star halfback for the Argonauts) shared his faith story with us. After the talk, we got to play scrimmage football on the astroturf (how cool is that). We could also line up to kick field goals through the uprights. I tried but missed (how disappointing was that!).

Muller explained to me that the purpose of “Athletes in Action” is three-fold. First, to encourage Christian athletes to grow in their faith. Second, to share God’s love and good news with fellow athletes who are asking spiritual questions and seeking greater meaning in their lives. And third, to share their faith with the wider community through special events and interviews. The apostle Paul was inspired to write, “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8)

Spirit-filled sports. What a great combination to build people up in body, mind and (most importantly) spirit.

Rob Weatherby is a retired pastor.