Spirit of Sports

Baylor Symposium Examines Sports Through Lens of Faith

Scholars, student-athletes, theologians, administrators and more came to Baylor in November to participate in The Spirit of Sports, a symposium hosted by the Baylor Institute for Faith and Learning (IFL) to examine sports-related issues from a faith perspective.

The Spirit of Sports was IFL's latest annual Baylor Symposium on Faith and Culture that focuses a faith-based spotlight on key cultural issues and questions; past topics include poverty, healthcare, technology and cinema.

Darin Davis, MA '95, IFL director and assistant professor of Christian philosophy and ethics at Baylor’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary, said the passion and power associated with sports made it an appropriate topic for the conference.

"Sports is one of the most significant cultural phenomena of our age," Davis said. "It can help to form moral virtue, teach the importance of teamwork, and, at its very best, encourage us to recognize our human limits in a way that points us to God. But sometimes sports can undermine the pursuit of these very noble goals. Our conference aimed to show how those who love sports are also called to ask difficult questions about some of the ways it is pursued today."

Nearly 130 presenters spoke in the dozens of presentations and breakout sessions on topics such as gender and faith in sports, the church and competition, race, sports idols, sports media, sports chaplaincy, college athletics and higher education. When Baylor IFL began designing the symposium more than 18 months ago, the organizers recognized the need for speakers from diverse backgrounds and disciplines. Among Baylor faculty who collaborated with IFL in its planning of the conference was John B. White, assistant professor of practical theology and ethics and director of the Sports Ministry and Chaplaincy Program at Truett Seminary.

"The more we talked about sports and began to ask questions for this symposium, the more we saw how it touched almost every aspect of our lives from youth to adulthood to fandom," IFL Associate Director Jason Whitt, BA '96, PhD '08, said. "We looked to bring together voices of practitioners in a variety of areas to speak together and have a unified conversation. Presenters included coaches, chaplains and athletes as well as scholars who think about the nature of sports."

Speakers included Dutch Baughmann, longtime college administrator and executive director of the Division IA Athletic Directors Association, L. Gregory Jones, former dean and professor at Duke Divinity School, Chris Broussard of ESPN and a number of student-athletes from Baylor and other colleges. Panelists for the symposium's "Higher Education and College Athletics" session included Baylor President and Chancellor Ken Starr and former Baylor football coach Grant Teaff, who retires as executive director of the American Football Coaches Association in February 2016.

Athletic success brings increased attention and accolades alongside increased pressure to win and stay competitive with other schools. Davis said it is important for colleges to take the time for introspection and to seriously consider their convictions, goals and beliefs as they examine the role sports plays in the institution. The Spirit of Sports conference provided such a forum for Baylor and the nearly 100 institutions represented by presenters and attendees.

"Frankly, there are very few universities that would host a conference like The Spirit of Sports," Davis said. "Baylor's faith commitment requires us to constantly take stock of our institutional priorities. Sports is an undeniably vital part of the University’s life, and it is incumbent on us to continually ask the right questions and live by the answers we find."