What Does God Think About Hockey?
My curiosity piqued after my recent conversation with Rev. Joseph Kerrigan about the relationship between hockey and faith, I dropped by Kettler Capitals Iceplex to speak with Washington Capitals defenseman Brian Pothier.
Pothier grew up in a Catholic family in New Bedford, Mass., but never really connected with his faith. One day, a friend invited him to a Bible study. "This guy, he was preaching from the Bible and just wasn't doing the ritual, repetitive thing," Pothier said. "It just clicked for me and made sense, and at that moment, I wanted that. . . . It's not like everything was different after that forever. I still had a lot of growing to do, a lot of stuff to go through. That was sort of the starting point."
Pothier, a 31-year-old nondenominational Christian, signed with the Capitals as a free agent in July 2006. He played in 110 games for Washington until a concussion sidelined him 11 months ago. Since then, Pothier has undergone extensive medical treatment trying to get back on the ice. With plenty of time on his hands these days, he was amenable to sitting down to talk about faith and hockey.
Why aren't there more overt religious expressions in hockey as there seem to be in other sports such as football and baseball?
I find myself in the hockey world kind of borderline island, [isolated]. I definitely am not the majority [as a Christian]. We have another Christian guy on the team, Eric Fehr. He's a Christian kid. There's a great ministry called HMI, Hockey Ministries International. The inroads are sort of in the minor leagues. There's a lot of reasons for that too. A lot of kids are little bit younger. It's their first time away from home.
The National Hockey League teams, whether it's management or whatever, the dynamic is it's a little bit harder to get into the locker room and have these guys come and set up chapel and things like that. It's just the nature of the game. You'll find baseball, football, basketball, all those are strong Christian [sports]. You'll find a lot of guys praying together before games.
I have heard that there are a lot of Christian hockey players. It's just that they are more private about it.
I know for a fact, as a player, that there aren't a lot of Christian athletes on every [hockey] team I've ever played on. At most, I've had one, possibly two, other Christians in the locker room. I know that for a fact. There's not a big group of them. But the ones that are, like you said, we're a little more reserved in nature. If you watch our interviews, we're full of clichés. That's what we do. I'm not sure why, but we're definitely like that. Then you see basketball and football and baseball, whatever is on their mind, they say it. We sort of have a little more of a filter. I'm not sure if we're trying always to say the right things.
I think as hockey players we're a little more aware of the culture in the room. We really don't want to step on each other's toes. We don't want to say anything to offend any guy on the team or the coach, because we view ourselves as a team. We try to really be sensitive of that, too.
So it would it be difficult for you to say, 'Hey, guys, let's have a Bible study.'?"
I think if you asked every single guy on the team what my religion was or what I believed, I think they would know. I don't walk in the training room with Bible in my hand and start saying, 'The end is near. You guys are all going to die.' But they know. The best way for me to show guys what I believe, or how I believe, is to just live it out and let them look into it and see. . . . I find that's the best way because they have questions. Like why do you do it this way? Everyone else does it this way, but you're doing it this way, why? That can open a dialogue and then we can talk about it.
Do teammates approach you with questions?
Yeah, it's not an everyday occurrence. Guys come up and they're interested about things, if they have questions, sometimes they have political views or questions on abortion, or the last election cycle everybody was like, 'What do you think about this? What do you think about that?' They also have misconceptions about what Christianity is. There's a lot of things that come up, and they're like, 'You think this, right?' And I'm like, 'Absolutely not. Total misconception.' I think they respect the fact that I believe what I believe and I respect their stuff too. I never try to push anything on them, but if someone asks me a question, I'm definitely going to tell them the answer that I think is true.
If there aren't a lot of Christians in hockey, what about other religions?
I've never met a Muslim hockey player or a Jewish one. There's a lot of Catholics. The Czech, Russian guys are more orthodox, like a Catholic kind of background. They have the cross. They kiss it before they go on the ice. I don't know if it's a superstitious kind of thing or a religious belief, but they're quiet about it. There's not a whole lot of guys that are open and want to dialogue about it. It's a private thing.
You mentioned how there are misconceptions about Christianity. What's the biggest misconception about your faith?
To be perfectly honest with you, I think a lot of people think that Christian people hate homosexual people. That's a huge misconception. That isn't the case at all. I think it's a matter of we don't necessarily agree with the lifestyle, but it's not like a personal conflict that you hate that person. To be perfectly honest with you, that's the one that jumps out at me.
How has your injury, the concussion, tested your faith? Or has it helped you deal with it?
Both. It's tested my faith. As a man of faith, you pray before games [for God] to protect you. So why God? You're supposed to be protecting me. Then you realize that over the last 11 months I've never ever been closer to my wife, I've never ever been closer to my kids. I feel like it's part of God's master plan. It's not always what we want. If I got everything I wanted all the time I'd be an absolute knucklehead. You become a better person through trials and through testing. That's the only way to improve and get better. You can't get better in the good times. If everything's great all the time, you are never forced to persevere. This is definitely brought that up in me and helped me to lean on God for my provision. You just have to say, 'Alright God, you really are in control and I'll just kind of step back and work hard, but leave the rest up to you.' . . . I'll tell you what, I feel like I'd be insane right now if I didn't have my faith to lean on.
What role does God play in sports?
That's an interesting question. I've heard people say, 'God's too busy. He doesn't care [about sports].' Then, I've heard other views, 'If God is so great or loves you so much [to help you] to win then what about the guy on the other side who lost? What's the deal with that? Does he like you more? You win or lose sporting competitions, and that's fine and it's part of the grand plan of developing and cultivating who you are as a person. You win some, you lose some, and deal with it. I think it develops who you are as a person and I think God's in control of that.
So God could have, not that He wanted to hurt you, but He gave you a concussion because He wanted to test you in some way?
God could have allowed the Capitals to lose a certain game because He knew the adversity would help them become a better team?
Possibly. What I'm thinking is, God doesn't will you to get in a car accident or have all these starving kids in Africa, all the horrible things in the world. I think we live in a world of sin. We have free will. People make choices that go against what God's will is.
So does God punish people for sin?
No, I wouldn't say that. I think God gives us free choice and we make wrong choices. There's consequences to your actions. When you do something wrong, there's going to be a consequence. God doesn't love you any less.
That's a pretty deep question. What does God think about your hockey game? I think He has a vested interest in my hockey game. He wants everybody to do well. I don't think he wants me to win anymore than the guy next door. I just think it's part of the plan. You win or you lose, and that informs who you are as a person.
I don't know. I honestly don't know. I really have no idea. Maybe I don't even know what I believe on that topic. I feel like he's in control of everything. I'm not really sure, but I know he's got a role in it. As far as the details, I don't really care. The people who challenge faith or challenge belief, these are the kind of things that they come at you with. Why are there starving children in Africa? I don't know. Sorry, I just don't know.
Posted by: Andre | December 21, 2008 11:30 AM
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