Popular journalist and columnist Roland Martin encouraged Christian athletes to "keep shining" despite criticisms of their public gestures of faith, naming Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis as an example.
"Ray Lewis and other players of faith have a tremendous platform. More than 100 million people will probably be watching on Sunday. If someone makes a decision to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior because they were inspired by Ray Lewis' exhortation of his faith on Super Bowl Sunday, great. If someone just wants to watch the game, no problem," said Martin in an op-ed posted on blackchristiannews.com on Sunday.
Pointing to the hypocritical reaction of fans to expressions of faith in the media, Martin explained that criticizing Christian athletes for simply praising God was unwarranted.
"The moment 'Good Morning America' anchor Robin Roberts announced she had to undergo a bone marrow transplant, many prayers were directed her way. So why is it that sports fans are upset and bothered that Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis consistently invokes God and Jesus, and recites Bible scriptures?" asked Martin.
"I'll be honest, a lot of the criticism comes from individuals in the media who see religious people as weird and kooks. No, not all members of the media, but I can say in my experience as a reporter for 21 years that I have heard a lot of anti-religious, and especially anti-Christian, stuff from my media brothers and sisters," the CNN contributor wrote.
He noted that "…I will be thankful that a man who is undaunted by his critics will be unapologetic in professing his faith. Ray Lewis has faced the depths of evil in his past, and like Saul he went through his own Damascus Road Experience and has been transformed. No matter the faith or the occupation, there is nothing wrong with emerging from darkness and becoming a shining bright light."
Michael Cromartie, vice president at the Ethics and Policy Center in Washington, D.C. ,agreed with Martin's observations.
"They (fans) need to learn how to celebrate free speech. It puzzles me that anyone would be offended by someone expressing their thanks to God for scoring a touchdown or playing in the Super Bowl," said Cromartie, who directs both the Evangelicals in Civic Life and Faith Angle Forums programs at the Center. "People are being overly sensitive towards an innocuous gesture towards God," he said.
Ray Lewis, 37, glorified God before and after winning the AFC Championship while solidifying a spot in the Super Bowl. During the singing of the National Anthem in January, Lewis was shown tearfully mouthing what looked to be the phrase "thank you my father" before his team bested the New England Patriots to win the AFC Championship game 28-13.
While speaking to his team in the Gillette Stadium visitors' locker room following the win that would lead them to the Super Bowl, Lewis voiced his Christian faith and pending retirement.
"I just said that God doesn't make mistakes," he said after winning the AFC Championship. "He's never made one mistake. There was no way that He was going to bring us back here twice to feel that same feeling. We're back, but this time we're on our way to the Super Bowl."
In an eventful game on Sunday night, Ray Lewis' Baltimore Ravens defeated the San Francisco 49ers 34-31 in Super Bowl XLVII. It was the second Super Bowl title for the future Hall of Fame linebacker as well as his last as he heads into retirement. His final act was a game-winning goal line stand.
"It's no greater way as a champ, to go out on your last ride than with the men I went out with, with my teammates," Lewis told ESPN. "And you looked around this stadium and Baltimore! Baltimore! We coming home, baby! We did it!" he said.