Athletes Have More Influence Than Pastors, Study Says

Although some people poke fun at professional athletes like Ray Lewis, who glorified God throughout his journey to the Super Bowl, a new study has found that Americans look to these types of high-profile individuals more than they do to faith leaders for inspiration.

The Barna Group, a market research firm that specializes in studying religious beliefs among Americans and how they impact faith and culture, recently released a study claiming that athletes
have more influence than pastors. An estimated two-thirds of Americans- about 64 percent- believe that professional athletes influence people in American society more than professional faith leaders, according to the report released on the Barna Group website.

This belief seems to be most prevalent among whites, parents, people who have graduated college and those who make more than $60,000 a year. However, some still believe that faith leaders impact their lives the most, including those who attend church weekly and take in earnings of less than $40,000 each year.

Still, there are some professional athletes like Baltimore Ravens' linebacker Ray Lewis, NFL star Tim Tebow, professional golfer Bubba Watson and Houston Rockets' guard Jeremy Lin who have made a point to bring their faith to the forefront of their professional careers.

During his most recent Super Bowl victory that served as his last appearance as a professional NFL player, the 37-year-old Ravens' linebacker, glorified God.

"It's simple: when God is for you, who can be against you?" Lewis told a CBS announcer who inquired about how it felt for him to end his career as a champion.

Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers quarterback who made his first Super Bowl appearance Sunday, admitted that he believed God watches over players on the football field.

"I think God watches over everybody," Kaepernick said in a recent press conference. "I don't think he's cheering for one team or another. I think he's helping everybody, just trying to keep everybody safe. He has a plan for everyone."

61 percent of American adults favor professional and high-profile college athletes who publicly speak about their faith. An estimated one-third or 32 percent of adults believe that these faith-based statements can impact the spirituality of its listeners.

The Barna Group reported that women, residents of the South, evangelicals, and church attendees are most likely to be favorable toward these statistics, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said he believed that faithful athletes like Lewis could cause a serious impact among spectators.

"I'm just feeling an incredible amount of awe in the work that God can do in one man's life. To me, Ray is the epitome of that. Ray is a guy that has turned everything over. He's surrendered everything and become the man that he is today and he's a different man then he was at 22," Harbaugh said in a press conference recently. "Everybody sees that right now and it's a great thing for kids to see, it's a great thing for fathers to see. It's a great thing for athletes to see. It's a very special deal."

While the Barna Group lists Tebow,Lin , NFL rookie Robert Griffin III, retired NFL player Kurt Warner and professional baseball players Clayton Kershaw and Albert Pujols as prominent athletes known for expressing their faith publicly, they said that most Americans are comfortable with this form of expression.

"That there's such a strong and positive awareness of Tim Tebow and his faith reveals Americans- and particularly Christians- desire for an authentic role model who is willing to so publicly connect his faith and life," David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, said in the report released by the research firm.

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