The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

February 20, 2013

A time to pray, a time to play

By Dave Ruthenberg, Sports Editor
Enid News and Eagle

— At times it appears Christianity, or at least religious beliefs, are under constant assault in our country. Some-times, however, people also bring criticism upon themselves.

It’s a tough line to draw between expressing one’s own faith and when that expression becomes an in-your-face, “I’m a better person than you because I have faith” display.

Schools struggle with it and professional athletes struggle with it as well.

We have witnessed numerous instances where bullying tactics are often employed to coerce schools to refrain from such simple things as a pregame invocation to out-and-out hostility towards anything religious.

Tim Tebow somehow became a polarizing figure because he had the audacity to show his faith. Many felt the NFL quarterback’s act of  dropping to a knee after a touchdown was offensive in some way. He said it was his way of giving thanks to the Lord.

So, is the so-called act of Tebowing any different than what transpired Feb. 12 during a high school wrestling match in North Carolina? While on the surface it may appear similar, there is a significant difference.

Nicholas Fant, a junior who wrestles in the 220-pound class for Wake Forest-Rolesville High School may have thought he was doing his own act of Tebowing, but it cost him a point in a match he lost.

Fant, as has been his habit all season, upon the referee’s call to begin the match, ran out to the mat, dropped to a knee and prayed. The referee then promptly cited Fant.

It was the right call.

There is a big difference to what Tebow became famous for doing as opposed to Fant’s actions, and his high school wrestling coach should have schooled him on it.

When a referee calls the wrestlers to the mat, it is time to begin to wrestle. The time to say a prayer would be prior to the match. We see it all the time in boxing where a boxer will say a quick prayer in his corner before the bell rings. Professional players say prayers on the sidelines.

Likewise, Tebow does his Tebowing once the play is over. Not while the clock is running.

Considering Fant has apparently done this all year, it is surprising an opponent hasn’t used the opportunity to rush him and pin his shoulders.

The news of the referee’s penalizing Fant for his action has outraged many who see it as another example of hostility towards Christianity. They are wrong. If anything, Fant’s actions showed a flagrant disregard for the rules and smacked of showboating and flaunting a sort of “I’m a great person because I have faith” attitude. Doesn’t being a good Christian also require humility?

The North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s commissioner, David Whitfield, agreed, telling Fox News’ Todd Starnes “when the referee called them to the center of the mat — at that point it’s time to wrestle. By rule, the official was well within his rights to issue a stall warning.”

End of story. It had nothing to do with religious hostility as much as respect for the rules.

In this sometimes seemingly God-less world, it is indeed refreshing to see displays of faith. But there is a time and place for everything. Just as there is a  line between showing faith and just showing off to draw attention. Fant crossed that line and, hopefully, learned an important lesson: Keep the faith, and keep it within the rules.

Ruthenberg is sports editor at the News & Eagle. Contact him at