Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked


August 24, 2007

God Doping

Divine Intervention is poised to become the next big sports scandal.

Mark Chalifoux

Now that Barry Bonds has hit his record-breaking home run, we can let the biggest culprit in the steroids scandal—or at least the one with the biggest head—quietly fade from the game. While Major League Baseball and most of the other big leagues seem to have kicked their drug problem, the sports world has a much bigger crisis on the horizon: a performance enhancer that can completely change the outcome of a sporting event and is almost impossible to test for. What is this mystery substance poised to pose a problem far greater than any anabolic lipid? God.

An artist's impression of God helping Zach Johnson into the famed Green Jacket.
"It is amazing what God can do. I feel like there was a power that was walking with me and guiding me."—Zach Johnson on his 2007 Masters victory

An artist's impression of God helping Zach Johnson into the famed Green Jacket.

For years, whenever an athlete gave the slightest credit to God for a victory or help on the field, sportswriters and analysts were quick to write it off. "God doesn't care who wins," is the common refrain of sports editorialists, as though they were spokesmen for the Almighty Himself. But what do sports experts know about God's wishes and influence? What if they're wrong? To find out, I went to a more authoritative source, George McGovern, the chaplain for the New York Yankees.

"It's very possible for God to intervene in games," McGovern tells Gelf. "For that athlete in the game, his future might hinge on that game…it's only natural to ask God for help. Do we think God only helps us in a chapel? Is He not concerned with business or extended family or politics? It would be no different than a businessman asking for help before a presentation or a musician asking for help before a performance. It certainly helps on the field."

McGovern's portrayal of God as a potential puppet master is corroborated by evidence of Divine Intervention, or DI, drastically affecting a sporting event. Zach Johnson was a non-factor on the PGA scene until he held off top-ranked Tiger Woods in the 2007 Masters. No one was able to explain how a complete no-name was able to stand his ground against this generation's greatest golfer. Then Johnson revealed his secret weapon to reporters. "It is amazing what God can do," Johnson said in his post-victory press conference. "I feel like there was a power that was walking with me and guiding me."

There are only two ways of reacting to Johnson's explanation. He is either a crazy religious nut or…he's telling the truth. If Johnson's Masters win was a result of DI, though, the consequences are dire. It forces the public to view the 2007 Masters—and all other events or athletes tainted by DI—in a completely different paradigm. On paper, the dominant Woods is a clear favorite over Johnson. But once DI enters the equation, the world's greatest golfer doesn't have a prayer of beating a player who has Jesus for a caddy. Goliath is merely a mortal giant; David should be seen as the true heavy favorite as he's the one slinging the power of God. (While Vince Carter's status is unknown, DI could account for his memorable dunk on French giant Frédéric Weis.)

While athletes have dabbled in DI for decades, it could easily turn into an epidemic now that most other performance enhancers are banned. That's because it's nearly impossible to detect without an admission from the athlete. No urinalysis or blood tests can detect God doping, and, furthermore, those involved with DI see nothing wrong with it. "I don't believe there's anything wrong with praying to God to help us win a game," McGovern says.

But sports fans would surely find some major problems with widespread DI use. Dan Edwards, a moderator of, a popular hockey messageboard, says DI would ruin sports as we know it. "I think it would be a mockery of fair competition," he says. "Sports would almost have to advocate steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs just to try and keep things level. It would get old and boring very quickly."

Mike Simonds, who runs the messageboard, agrees. "It would cheapen wins and great performances," he says. "Now, Zach Johnson's win can never be used as a great underdog story. It should be about who plays the hardest, not who prays the hardest."

While Zach Johnson may provide the most extreme case of DI, he's not the first. In Michael Jordan's legendary 63-point playoff performance against the Celtics, Boston great Larry Bird suspected DI may have been a factor. "I think it's just God disguised as Michael Jordan," he said. More recently, Ohio State's 2003 BCS championship may also have been tainted by DI. Shortly after the title run, Buckeyes safety Will Allen told a reporter, "A lot of games, I'll say God has been on our side."

While athletes haven't embraced DI fully yet, things could really escalate if it becomes popular in youth sports. One person trying to make that happen is Scott Grinder, president of Christian Sports International, which runs a number of camps and programs to spread the word to young athletes. "I think it's very important to show kids there's really another side to the game," he tells Gelf. "We want to get the message across that, without God, they are headed for trouble."

Despite its potential to cause havoc in the sporting world, DI has been virtually ignored in the press. Those involved directly seem to be keeping a lid on things, as attempts to contact Zach Johnson and several prominent Christian figures were unsusccessful. (Indeed, even chaplain McGovern tried to downplay the effects of DI to another reporter.) But if DI use continues to escalate, it's just a matter of time before God becomes sports' next big scandal.

Related in Gelf

Gelf gets the dish on Pastafarianism straight from the prophet's mouth. We also analyzed the legal predicament facing baseball stars questioned about that other performance enhancer, steroids.

Mark Chalifoux

Mark Chalifoux is a humor writer, sports columnist, and freelance feature writer.

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Article by Mark Chalifoux

Mark Chalifoux is a humor writer, sports columnist, and freelance feature writer.

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