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Can sports heal the soul?

February 16, 2010

Some might say that the New Orleans Saints football team has long been the sporting soul of a city that has suffered so much. On Sunday, less than five years after Hurricane Katrina battered New Orleans — and considering that the Saints nearly moved out of town permanently not long after Katrina — the franchise won its first Super Bowl. Many people in New Orleans, which is still recovering from Katrina, compared the team’s championship game victory to a miracle and a sign of the city’s resurrection.

These and other words with religious connotations have been bandied about since the Saints won Sunday, the most Biblical of days. For example, Monday’s edition of the local paper, The Times-Picayune, carried a one-word headline: “Amen!”

Do you think that sports can have a spiritual effect?

The miracle is a walk on the pier, attending a club soccer game or watching the Super Bowl on TV with family and friends. When applying Zen to an activity such as archery, the archer tries to clear his or her mind of thoughts about hitting the bull’s-eye and concerns about winning, focusing instead upon the drawing of the string, the breath and the smooth release of the arrow.


This applies to other activities. Phil Jackson is well-known for using Zen practices to help his team and players to progress. He emphasized that superstars needed to move beyond ego to take their own game and the team to the next level.

Coach Bill Walsh turned the 49ers around by mindfulness practices, such as insisting that players handle their helmets with attention, either wearing them, holding them or placing them on the top shelf of their locker, rather than throwing them around carelessly.

Sports, like all of the activities of daily life, can be as good a place for spiritual development as mountaintops, caves or monasteries.

Zen Center of Orange County

Obviously, God is trying to make amends with the people of New Orleans by miraculously intervening to allow Tracy Porter to intercept on third down and five, giving the Saints a commanding lead.

Yes, this is how God operates, and it was on a par with splitting the sea and bestowing the daily manna in the wilderness. After all, Drew Brees said the victory was “God’s master plan and destiny.” Who am I to argue?

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