Patriot tight-end Aaron Hernandez’s suicide leaves us with more
questions than answer. Many wonder what were Hernandez’s last
dying words expressed in the three handwritten notes to loved ones
left next to a Bible in his cell. CBS Boston reports he conveyed “I
love you and please don’t cry.”
message anyone can wrapped their mind around. However, the big
question mark Hernandez leaves many of us scratching our heads about
is the popular Christian Bible verse “John 3:16” scrawled
in red ink on his forehand. The scripture, the 16th verse of the
third chapter of the Book of John is one of the central tenets of the
Christian faith. It states: “For God so loved the world that he
gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not
perish but have eternal life.”
the violent nature of the game of football and Hernandez’s
personal acts of violence-indicted on charges for first-degree murder
without the possibility of parole - one wonders how did the John 3:16
verse factored in his life?
it is not uncommon for the verse to be invoked at one’s death
bed petitioning forgiveness John 3:16 is also part and parcel of the
Christian conservative evangelical culture of today’s football.
With the ongoing battle contesting religion in the public sphere-such
as Ten Commandments Monuments on state capitol grounds, prayer at
public schools, and religious symbols in public spaces, to name a
few-the fusion of religion and football is not only seamless but it’s
also an expected outward expression of one’s faith.
while it’s common to see some football players dance after a
touchdown it’s equally common to see them glorifying God on the
gridiron either by pointing their index finger upward or kneeling in
a moment of prayer openly expressing thanks.
give thanks to Rollen Stewart (a.k.a “Rock n Rollen” or
“Rainbow) a born again Christian, now serving three consecutive
life sentences, who danced at football games strategically
positioning himself behind goal posts donning an afro rainbow wig
with a John 3:16 placard throughout the 1970’s - 80’s.
But it’s Hernandez’s former Florida Gator teammate Tim
Tebow, an outspoken evangelical Christian who re-popularized the
verse when he wrote John 3:16 on his eye black during the 2009 BCS
championship game. With 316 passing yards for the game and his ten
completions averaged 31.6 yards a piece Tebow was viewed by
Christians to be the living manifestation of God speaking to the
world though him. And, their evidence was in Google reporting the day
after the game that the verse John3:16 was the #1 ranked hot trends
is really no easy answer as to why Christian conservatives are as
religious about attending football games as they are about attending
church, but Mark Edmundson author of “Why Football Matters: My
Education in the Game” sums up the conundrum stating the
is a game beloved by conservatives. Conservatives love football;
conservatives love faith. What more is there to say?”
quarterback Colin Kaepernick stood in solidarity with the Black Lives
Matter Movement by remaining seated for the playing of the National
Anthem many Christian conservatives were outraged and felt he
flagrantly violated the teams collective act of honoring both God and
country, especially America’s military servicepersons. And,
from some Christian conservatives their verbal attacks to
Kaepernick’s stance were as violent as the game itself.
Jesus lauded as the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) football highlights
religious conservatives warring tensions with accepted forms of
violence as American patriotism and Christian triumphalism.
sanctification of violence in America’s football is traceable
to the Muscular Christianity movement in the 1980’s. Muscular
Christians promoted fierce athletic competition as a positive manly
trait building not only strength but also character.
is a precious discipline in danger … I consider no man
educated who is not educated to meet danger, grapple with it, and
conquer it. And any system of gymnastics which leaves out danger is
an emasculated system,” an American Muscular Christian wrote in
Hernandez was a great football player. He was a member of the BCS
National championship, was given the honorific title of All-American,
and as a college junior given the John Mackey Award as the nation’s
best tight-end in 2009.
might argue that Hernandez was the embodiment of the game of football
whose violence on the field didn’t have an immediate kill
switch for when he was off the field. Because of his suicide
Hernandez’s family wants him examined for chronic traumatic
encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerative disease due to head
injury that comes with the game as an occupational hazard.
still don’t know why so many conservative Christians embrace
and cheer the violence of this sport in light of the many devastating
outcomes. However, in a May 2015 article in the “Guardian”
Jack Moore in “Muscular Christianity and American sport’s
undying love of violence” wrote not the reasons why Americans
love this sport but rather about its dire consequences:
long as sports fans believe brutality creates nobility, the NFL will
leave broken bodies and minds in its wake.”
think Hernandez came to understand he was a broken man and perhaps
irreparably. And, I believe in his last moments of life with the
clock ticking and time running out John 3:16 was Hernandez’s
Hail Mary Pass asking for forgiveness.