Mixing Jesus, sports and S.W.A.T.S.

Athletes are a religious group. Athletes talk about the importance of Christ and discipline more than the general population. I base this assertion on watching athletes twitter, live television coverage of games where athletes praise God following victory and the role of the FCA in college athletics across the country.

That is not a bad thing. In fact, considering there are too many Charles Barkleys who don’t want to be role models, there needs to be more good role models.

With doping scandals rocking the sports world, news broke last week that the Vatican wants to examine a twofold question: “What does the World of Sports need from the Church? And what does the Church need from the World of Sports?”

The world of sports needs the Church to arm Christians against the temptations. The Church must prepare Christians to discern truth from lies because too many times religion is used by those who are not advancing the cause of Christ. (Yes, I am talking about S.W.A.T.S. and will explain below.)

The purpose of the conference is to examine the role faith plays in sports.

“It is intended as a way of showing how it is possible to live the faith in the world of sports, shaken as it is by scandals of corruption and doping,” Monsignor Melchor Sanchez de Toca Alamdea, Undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture told the Capstone Report. The Monsignor heads the sports and culture desk for the Council.

The news last week focused on the potential invitations for Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin—both Christian believers with a high profile in American professional sports. While there has not been a formal invitation, the Monsignor said both are on the “wish list” for the conference.

“The Olympic and Paralympic Games in London showed what an important role faith plays in sports, an aspect often neglected by many,” he said. The Vatican intends to hold the seminar sometime in the spring, but an exact date will be set depending on the Pope’s calendar.

It is a noble goal to examine how Christians deal with the temptations of doping and corruption in the world of sport. Certainly, faith is a key.

Faith is important in Alabama. It plays a role in the lives of athletes at the University of Alabama. One of the most memorable examples involving a sporting event and faith was Alabama quarterback Jay Barker’s testimony after Alabama defeated Georgia at Bryant-Denny Stadium in 1994. Barker’s testimony of God’s goodness was shown on live national television. Current Alabama football coach Nick Saban, winner of three of the last four national championships and holder of four national championships, attends Mass and I am told he does so faithfully. It is easy to see how faith and the example of his family inspire Saban’s charitable works. (As an aside, Saban would be an excellent person to invite to this conference, as he is the most successful coach in contemporary college football and can speak to how his program works to create character on and off the field.)

While examining faith in the world of sport, the current S.W.A.T.S. controversy swirling around Super Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis and S.W.A.T.S. along with S.W.A.T.S. insistence that Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss and other SEC football programs have used the Deer Antler Spray (snakeoil) is an important example of how Jesus is used to sell a product.

S.W.A.T.S. founder Mitch Ross and cohort Christopher Key peddle Christian faith as part of their sales process. According to a lawsuit filed against Ross and S.W.A.T.S. by NFL player David Vobora, The S.W.A.T.S. “Program is about Christian role models teaching all athletes—from youth athletes to professionals—about character and staying drug free from steroids as well as recreational drugs and alcohol.”

Vobora tested positive for a banned substance and sent his bottle of the Ultimate Sports Spray out for testing. The Aegis Sciences Corporation of Nashville tested and found his bottle of the spray was “contaminated with methyltestosterone.”

The lawsuit against the company charged the defendants including Ross, “falsely represented ‘The S.W.A.T.S. Program is about Christian role models teaching all athletes—from youth athletes to professionals—about character and staying drug free from steroids as well as recreational drugs and alcohol’, when in fact, SWATS Ultimate Sports Spray contained methyltestosterone which was not disclosed on the product labeling.”

That is a nice, lawyerly way of saying hypocrite.

The S.W.A.T.S. presentation has been made to middle school students. The video is embedded below:

In one video posted on YouTube, Key speaks about S.W.A.T.S. at Oak Mountain Middle School’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting on February 23, 2012. He says S.W.A.T.S. can stand for Sports With Alternative To Steroids or Sports With Alternative To Sin. He explains how his product of athletic enhancers were banned by the NFL, Alabama and others. “Satan has done everything to shut us down,” he told the middle schoolers.

Perhaps most scandalous in the YouTube video is when Key talks about how believers cannot “see or touch Him (Jesus), but you feel him in your hearts” and then follows it up with a demonstration of how radio frequencies influence the body despite not being able to see or feel them. “The frequency of the cell phone zapped him. He did not see it or feel it, but it zapped him,” Key said on the YouTube video.

The questionable activities of S.W.A.T.S. included filming Alabama athletes with a pen camera. This video was shown to Sports Illustrated.

According to Sports Illustrated, the video showed Key handing out products then saying he would lie about how the players acquired the product.

That Key guy is a realm model of Christ. I have no doubt that Christ lied all the time to make a buck or acquire a product endorsement.

Oh wait, the Gospels show that Christ, while personally present on earth, lived a life that was a light to others. Christ lived a life that did not exploit, but was a blessing to us all.

The Tuscaloosa News reported Thursday morning how the S.W.A.T.S. people stalked the Alabama football team. According to the report, “Tidesports.com has learned that SWATS representatives stayed in the same hotel as the UA team several times in recent years before football games but were removed at the behest of UA officials when they were discovered.”

The questionable methods of this organization raise real questions about S.W.A.T.S. Clearly, the use of Jesus to sell a product, and what appears to be stalking Alabama football players despite two cease and desist letters from the University of Alabama speaks to the character of these shameless self-promoters.

The doping scandals and the S.W.A.T.S. snakeoil salesmen show that Christians must be vigilant. There are many temptations for the college football player. Sex, money and shortcuts like doping are just a few of the temptations. It is hard enough when the temptations are clear. When they come dressed as a tool for Jesus, it is harder. Christians must not fall for a sales pitch because it includes the name of Christ.