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ISSUE 117 VOL 19 PUBLISHED 5/14/2004

Wicks responds to inquiry into values regarding sports, religion

By Ryan Maus
Sports Editor

Friday, May 14, 2004

On June 26-28, St. Olaf will play host to a revolutionary conference, Sport and Religion: An Inquiry into American Cultural Values. The conference will feature speakers from around the globe, including St. Olafs own English professor David Wee and economics professors Tony Becker and Steve Soderlind.

One of the driving forces behind this conference has been St. Olaf physical education professor Gary Wicks, who is also the colleges athletic compliance officer. The Messenger caught up with Wicks to ask him a few questions about the conference.

Q: I know many people will be wondering how exactly one can relate these two seemingly exclusive disciplines  sport and religion. How does the conference aim to connect these two themes?

A: First of all, these are two very powerful forces in American culture. Obviously sports are very powerful as is the Christian religion. Were focusing more on Christianity [during the conference] because thats the one which is most involved [with sports in America]. Were trying to look at how these two intersect  either positively or negatively. Were not trying to promote a particular position, but just lay a lot of questions on the table and have dialogue and discussion about them.

Q: How was St. Olaf chosen to host the sport and religion conference?

A: Two years ago, I had [President] Thomforde come into one of my classes and talk about this same topic. He said to me, St. Olaf is the perfect place to host a conference on this, because we are very open to discussion about issues of faith. Hes right: St. Olaf is much more open to discussing these types of things than some other schools that are much more rigid in how they approach religion. With his encouragement, we got started on this whole thing.

Ive actually gotten some responses from a few people telling me that St. Olaf isnt a suitable place to hold this kind of conference, simply because we have the word Saint in our name. Some people think that because were religiously affiliated weve got some sort of hidden agenda, which obviously isnt true. But most people Ive heard from fully support our position. However, there has definitely been a little bit of controversy.

Q: How did you personally become interested in connecting these two topics?

A: For me, there were two main reasons. First of all, this was one of the issues which I discussed in the History of Physical Education course I taught a couple years ago. Also, my father-in-law, a professor emeritus here at St. Olaf, did a lot of work in this area and finally had a book published by Syracuse University on the subject. He gave me some good advice as well. On the same thread, Ive been asked to do a CIS seminar on this topic next spring, the inspiration for which came from this conference.

Q: Where do you think these two subjects interact here on the St. Olaf campus?

A: An obvious one is that [tennis coach] Scott Nesbit heads up a very large group of Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). Also, if you have team prayer within your particular sports team, if you have teams that go to worship together ... if theres anything like that happening here, then religion and sport are already connected. Is this good, bad, or indifferent? What about people who are of different faiths or denominations? How are they supposed to handle that situation? What about the issue of the Sabbath, and the Bibles instructions regarding it? A lot of teams play games on Sunday, but in some religions like Judaism Sunday isnt considered the Sabbath, Saturday is. Is this desecrating the Sabbath or celebrating Gods creation? Thats just one of the issues to consider.

Q: What about interaction in the sports world at large?

A: Sport is a big religion in our society. Were seeing churches adjust their worship times to accommodate the Super Bowl. This year, the Vikings-Packers game is going to be played on Christmas Eve. Even though Christmas Day is the actual holiday, Christmas Eve is considered the sacred part for many Christians.

I asked my class, and many of them said that they would go to the football game even if it interfered with family time. This just goes to show you how important sports are in our society. Im fascinated by how we use [sports and religion] together. I think we only do this when its convenient to us. Im the skeptic of the group.

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