Debates over religion and religious values have saturated the 2012 political campaign.
But now theyve bled into something truly important football.
At Louisiana State, the athletic director apologized this week after the school sent a promotional photo of a group of Christian students known as the Painted Posse. Group members douse themselves in school colors, and paint a small purple cross near one shoulder.
One problem: Before sending the photograph two weeks ago, LSU airbrushed the crosses out.
The students werent happy. And after the story pinballed through cyberspace, many Christians joined them.
That left the schools football program, perhaps the most important entity in a football-crazed state, with a bigger issue on its hands than winning and losing. Yeah, that big.
As a public institution, we are careful not to imply endorsement of any particular religious belief, Athletic Director Joe Alleva said in an apology, but a mistake was made in editing the crosses out of the photo. In the future, we will not make this kind of edit.
For their part, the students have asked LSU fans to wear the crosses on Nov. 3, the day of their teams game of the year with Alabama, when all the ingredients of a holy war apparently will be in place.
Closer to home, two members of an eighth-grade football team in Fort Mill, S.C., were suspended from school and forced to sit out a couple of games after they got in a fight on the bus ride home from an Oct. 10th game.
Boys being boys, right?
Maybe, except the mother of one of the kids told the Fort Mill Times that her son started throwing punches after being taunted over his Jewish heritage.
She said the bullying has been going on for years, ever since her son shared a story in the fifth grade on how his grandfather had escaped the Holocaust.
The police report, according to the story, said the teammates were making rude comments with racial and religious slurs back and forth that led to the fight.
The family of the taunted boy has appealed his punishment. Superintendent Chuck Epps told the paper that the schools are doing our due diligence and that we dont condone bullying.
The two incidents, though different in many ways, raise common questions.
Long ago, football gave rise to its own religious fervor. The games are once a week. In parts of the South, fans still dress as if they are going to church.
And many football coaches, players and fans instinctively invoke the Lords name at the moment between winning and losing, synonymous in some ways with being lost or being saved.
At its best, football, as with religion and politics, has an endless capacity to unite.
Each has its own energy. Combine any two, and the flames can be hard to control, even for those who say they worship the same God, stand under the same flag, or play for the same team.