With millions of Americans set to watch the Super Bowl on Sunday, a new survey finds more than a quarter of Americans believe that God "plays a role in determining which team wins" at sports events.
The survey by the Public Religion Research Institute also found that more than half of Americans believe "God rewards athletes who have faith with good health and success."
"In an era where professional sports are driven by dollars and statistics," said institute CEO Robert P. Jones, "significant numbers of Americans see a divine hand at play."
Asked if they believe God plays a role in who wins, 27 percent of Americans said yes. Poll results varied among regions and religions: 36 percent said yes in the South, 28 percent in the Midwest, 20 percent in the Northeast and 15 percent in the West.
Among nonwhite Christians and white evangelicals, 40 percent and 38 percent said yes, respectively; 29 percent of Catholics and 19 percent of white mainline Protestants also responded that God plays a role.
Jones said these figures reflect many Americans' belief in a very active God.
Minority Christians and white evangelical Christians "have a very personal view of God, a God that is very active in their daily lives and very concerned about the things that matter to them," Jones said. "So far as sports are one of the things that matter, it stands to reason that God is playing an important role."
Faith and sports have long gone hand in hand; many athletes regularly thank God after their team wins, and some even write references to Scripture on their game-day gear.
After Kurt Warner's 1999 Super Bowl victory with the St. Louis Rams, the evangelical Christian used his post-game interview to thank God. "Well, first things first," Warner told a reporter.
"I've got to thank my Lord and Savior up above – thank you, Jesus!"
Sunday's game between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers could see the same profession of faith. Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who will make this Super Bowl his last game in the NFL, has regularly thanked God in the Ravens' somewhat improbable run to the Super Bowl.
After earning a berth in the big game by defeating the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship, Lewis told reporters, "God doesn't make mistakes. He's never made one mistake. ... God is so amazing."
"I'll tell anybody. One thing about God's will, you can never see God's will before it happens," Lewis said after the game. 'You can only see at the end of it. For his will to happen this way, I could never ask for anything else."
In the Public Religion Research Institute poll, 50 percent said they approved of these types of faithful expressions, while 45 percent said it doesn't matter and 4 percent said they disapproved.
"That is a minuscule number," Jones said of the people who disapprove.
"Even if you look at religious unaffiliated Americans ... only 8 percent said that they disapproved."
The telephone survey was conducted January 16-20 with a random sample of 1,033 adults and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage