BLOGWhen Displays of Faith by Student Athletes Become “Unsportsmanlike”

By Lance Bauslaugh Posted on: | April 20, 2017

It’s getting more difficult for student athletes to live out their faith on the playing field.

In Georgia, high school cross-country runner John Green was disqualified from his state race simply for wearing a headband with a Bible verse on it: Isaiah 40:30-31. And in New York, a high school football player was penalized for simply pointing to God after reaching the end zone on a long touchdown run. He didn’t even spike the ball! Yet he was still flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.

When did pointing to our Creator become unsportsmanlike?

All of these stories and others like them have had a huge impact on me. I was once a high school student athlete just like them. As a three-sport athlete in football, basketball, and track, I drew strength and inspiration from the life of Jesus Christ and God’s Word. Like John Green, I adopted Isaiah 40:31 as “my verse” for my sophomore year.

Unlike John Green, however, I found many opportunities to display and share my faith on and off the playing field.

In basketball, I played on the JV team as a sophomore. After making the team, I received a two-page letter from one of my mentors who expressed to me the significance of making a 12-man roster in a high school of a couple thousand students. He shared that not only would I have to work hard and give it my best effort every day, but that I would have eyes watching me as I played. I needed to understand, he wrote, that I was representing my Savior, Jesus Christ, through the words I chose to use and through my actions on and off the basketball court. 

stmt-img-lance-basketballI made up my mind to play for God over the next three years.

At the beginning of my senior season, I chose to write a “J” on the heel of my left shoe and a “C” on the heel of my right shoe, for Jesus Christ. I wanted to have a reminder every time I laced up my shoes of who I was about to play for.

About two-thirds of the way through the season, my coach approached me and said that a reporter had asked if he could write a story about me for the local paper

I remember preparing a little bit with my parents, but really was not all that sure what I was going to say. Then it hit me. I was playing this game for God, and it was all about giving Him the credit. I was able to share about why I wear “JC” on my shoes and where I gain my strength from as a person and as a student athlete.

Later that year, I had “JC” and Isaiah 40:31 inscribed on my track shoes as I cleared the winning height in the state track meet. 

I am not sure what I would have done if the government demanded that I put on different shoes just to compete. I was not jumping and playing for me, I was playing for God. This was important to me and well within my rights to display this messaging.

My heart goes out to John Green in Georgia and others like him, who are now seeing these simple freedoms taken away from them.

And it’s not only high school student athletes who are being affected. At Alliance Defending Freedom, we represent a number of individuals who are told to leave their faith at home when they operate their businesses or pursue their careers.

These are people like Barronelle Stutzman, a Washington floral artist; Blaine Adamson, a Kentucky promotional printer; and Jack Phillips, a Colorado cake artist. These individuals face government punishment simply for running their businesses consistently with their faith. Our client Kelvin Cochran, former Atlanta fire chief, lost his job because he wrote a book that, among other things, briefly stated his conviction that sex is reserved for marriage between one man and one woman—a devotional book that he wrote on his own personal time.

This is one reason I am now working at ADF. We take a stand for individuals and their right to express their deeply held religious beliefs. We are fighting for the right of all Americans to peacefully live out their faith and to freely share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We can’t stay silent. Our freedoms, and more importantly, our God, are far too important.


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Lance Bauslaugh

Vice President of Philanthropy and Stewardship

Lance has served Alliance Defending Freedom since 2013 and is currently the Vice President of Philanthropy and Stewardship.

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