Are religion and sports compatible?

Controversy often occurs in the sports world, and sometimes it can come from something as simple as beliefs.  That's the theme of the new film Running the Bases.

Directed and co-written by Marty Roberts and Jimmy Womble, the film tells a story of a small-town baseball coach still haunted by the passing of a loved one.  As he continues on his career, he gets a golden opportunity to work with a larger high school, moving his family to a new location to guide the team to victory.

But it comes with some opposition, thanks to his Christian beliefs that the superintendent is less than thrilled with.  The film explores these, and the complexity that comes from those who bring their religious beliefs to the forefront, even as regards sport competition.

One major name called to mind here is Tim Tebow.  Tebow was a popular football player who faced criticism from some of fans due to his outspoken Christian faith.  (At one point during his NCAA career, he even painted the numbers of biblical verses underneath his eyes, which went against the NCAA's banned messages credo.)  That said, it didn't stop him from having some memorable plays, not to mention creating "Tebowing," the act of kneeling on one knee in prayer — something many athletes still do today.

Why did Tebow face controversy for this?  Mainly due to the fact that some sports fans simply don't want religion involved in their sports — they just want players to "shut up and play the game."  But what these fans don't realize — and this is a theme that Running the Bases closely follows — is that religious believer will not allow sports, or anything else, to get in the way of his faith.  He isn't going to forget who he is just to please people he hasn't even met.

Tebow is merely one example of a player who didn't let sports success get in the way of his belief.  Let's take a look at some others:

Hakeem Olajuwon

This Houston Rockets player was quite popular in his day, leading the team to championships in the NBA in 1994 and 1995.  Despite this, he still managed to observe Ramadan, even fasting for a whole month.

What's more, when Olajuwon was offered a statue outside Houston's stadium following his retirement, he insisted that his jersey be portrayed instead, since his religion didn't allow a statue bearing his likeness.

Most players would jump at the chance to be immortalized forever in a statue.  But Olajuwon, true to his faith, decided to let his jersey speak for his legacy.

Sandy Koufax

Another player who decided to place his faith above his sporting career was the legendary Sandy Koufax.  In 1965, the Jewish baseball player skipped the opening game of the World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur.

The L.A. Dodgers, the team Koufax was playing for, would end up losing that day.  However, he would later prove his worth, guiding his team to three victories and helping them win the series against the Minnesota Twins, 4-3.

The moral of the story here?  Sometimes you can follow your faith and still come through for your teammates when they absolutely need it the most.

Amir Khan

Money isn't everything.  Amir Khan, a British boxer, proved that back in 2014, deciding to follow his faith instead.

Khan was offered a huge payout for taking part in a fight against Floyd Mayweather.  However, since he is a devoted Muslim, he could not break free from Ramadan.  As a result of his fasting, he noted that would not be able to compete or even take part in training camp to challenge Mayweather.

Despite this, Khan would still compete in a number of matches and wrap up an illustrious career earlier this year.  His faith was never shaken, and he even helped out others with his own charity organization, the Amir Khan Foundation.

As you can see from these examples, despite facing incredible odds in an effort to stay true to their faith, these athletes proved they could do so — even in the face of unspeakable vitriol — and continue to have the best kind of careers.  That said, Rounding the Bases has a message all its own that's sure to make audiences cheer.

Robert Workman is a freelance entertainment writer from Florida with a specialty in videogames and film.

Image: Running the Bases.

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