Prayers go on, sometimes out of sight, in prep football

Nov 23, 2022, 12:07 AM | Updated: 10:56 pm
Crestwood High School football player Adam Berry (19) leads a muslim prayer before a game in Melvin...

Crestwood High School football player Adam Berry (19) leads a muslim prayer before a game in Melvindale, Mich., Friday, Sept. 23, 2022. At Crestwood High School, where most of the football team is Muslim, the entire team gathers before practices and games to pray on one knee. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

WEST BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — Surrounded by a slew of players with their arms draped over shoulders, West Bloomfield High School assistant coach Justin Ibe bowed his head and led a Christian prayer before a recent Friday night game.

Forty yards down the sideline, three Muslim young men were having a quiet moment of their own.

“Ameen,” the players quietly said, using the Arabic word for amen.

Across America, most high school football seasons are winding down. Thousands of games, the first since the Supreme Court in June ruled it was OK for a public school coach near Seattle to pray on the field. The decision prompted speculation that prayer would become an even bigger part of the game-day fabric, though that hasn’t seemed to be the case.

Fouad Zaban, the head coach at Fordson High in Dearborn, calls the area just outside Detroit the “Middle East of America” and it is indeed home to thousands of people of Arab descent. After the court ruling, Zaban said, he was flooded with requests to use his platform and constitutional right to pray publicly. After thinking about it, he chose to keep his team’s prayers behind closed doors to avoid potential anti-Islamic jeers from fans in other communities.

“That was a concern that they were going to get backlash,” Zaban said.

With the nation’s culture wars spilling into education, it is challenging to have teachable moments about big news — like a precedent-setting court ruling — and coaches such as Zaban would rather punt than pray publicly.

“It’s harder, whether you’re a coach, librarian, teacher or counselor,” said Lara Schwartz, an American University professor whose specialties include campus speech and constitutional law. “There are activist groups targeting books and ideas, saying you can lose your license if you have these conversations. That to me is a threat to people having good constructive dialogue in classrooms, or with coaches.”

In Michigan, some teams with multiple religions represented on their rosters have found ways for everyone who wants to participate to do so if they wish.

“We don’t force anybody to do that,” said Ibe, the defensive line coach in West Bloomfield. “We just take that moment to really just come together and give glory to God at that moment.”

At Crestwood High School in Dearborn Heights, where most of the football team is Muslim, the entire team gathers before practices and games to pray on one knee. First, most of the players recite Al-Fatiha. Then, a player says a Christian prayer to the attentive group.

“Between those two prayers, they’re pretty much all the same,” said Adam Berry, a senior and a team captain. “Asking God for protection, asking God for forgiveness, and asking God for any way to help us through our game.”

According to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, a majority of Americans think a coach leading a team in prayer (60%), a player leading a team in prayer (64%) and a coach praying on the field without asking the team to join in (71%) should all be allowed in public high school sports.

Still, the team plays it safe at Fordson High, where coaches clear the locker room and leave players to pray if they wish.

“No one can ever say that we were involved in it,” Zaban said, adding he just wants to coach instead of drawing attention.

Hassan Shinawah, a senior and team captain at Fordson, said players supported keeping their prayers in the locker room and away from the public. The only exception this season came when Senior Day festivities and pregame messages from coaches ran long and players gathered quickly on the field to pray before kickoff.

“We don’t know if people are comfortable,” he said. “We don’t know what their opinions are about it. We just don’t want any conflict with anybody else.”

In the South, at least three high schools, two in Alabama and another in North Carolina, received letters in recent months from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The nonprofit that advocates for atheists and agnostics said it fielded complaints about the promotion of religion surrounding football games. Jefferson County (Ala.) officials were asked to “ensure that its schools are no longer scheduling prayer at school-sponsored events, including football games.”

The Associated Press left multiple messages for athletic directors and principals at the schools in both North Carolina and Alabama that were not returned.

Outside Detroit, coaches gave time and space for their players to pray, showing the teenagers that accomdations can be made for different faiths as well as the right to decline.

At West Bloomfield High, an assistant football coach once walked miles with a Jewish player — whose faith would not allow him to ride in a car one particular day — to make sure he got to his hotel after a road game. The unique nature of having Christians, Muslims and Jews playing on the same team was not lost on one of the players who participates in a pregame Islamic prayer.

“Some other teams, they probably don’t have the same thing,” said Mohamed Menisy, a 16-year-old junior offensive tackle. “We’re one team, one family. We just respect each other.”

___

Follow Larry Lage at https://twitter.com/larrylage

___

Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - A sign at Twitter headquarters is shown in San Francisco, Dec. 8, 2022. New research shows c...
Associated Press

EU calls out Twitter for incomplete disinformation report

LONDON (AP) — Twitter failed to provide a full report to the European Union on its efforts to combat online disinformation, drawing a rebuke Thursday from top officials of the 27-nation bloc. The company signed up to the EU’s voluntary 2022 Code of Practice on Disinformation last year — before billionaire Tesla CEO Elon Musk […]
6 hours ago
A woman tries to warm next to a fire, in Adiyaman, southeastern Turkey, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023. Wi...
Associated Press

Live Updates I Aid, rescues in quake-hit Turkey, Syria

Rescuers pulled more survivors from beneath the rubble of collapsed buildings Thursday, but hopes were starting to fade of finding many more people alive more than three days after a catastrophic earthquake and series of aftershocks hit Turkey and Syria, killing more than 17,000. The earthquake that razed thousands of buildings in Turkey and Syria […]
6 hours ago
FILE - Samuel Bankman-Fried leaves Manhattan federal court in New York, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023. The ...
Associated Press

FTX founder keeps talking, ignoring typical legal strategy

NEW YORK (AP) — For federal prosecutors, Sam Bankman-Fried could be the gift that keeps on giving. After the November collapse of FTX, the cryptocurrency exchange he founded in 2019, Bankman-Fried unexpectedly gave a series of interviews intended to present his version of events. He was indicted in December and charged with perpetrating one of […]
6 hours ago
FILE - In this Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013, file photo, lawmaker of the extreme far-right Golden Dawn par...
Associated Press

Far-right party banned from upcoming election in Greece

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s parliament has banned a far-right political party led by a jailed former lawmaker from participating in the general election later this year. Parliament published the text of a legislative amendment Thursday that will disqualify the Greek National Party on the grounds that its leader has been convicted of a serious […]
6 hours ago
Bottles of Pepsi are displayed in a grocery store, Ill., Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. PepsiCo reports t...
Associated Press

Pepsi price hikes fuel 10% jump in the fourth quarter sales

PepsiCo reported better-than-expected sales in the fourth quarter after hiking prices for its drinks and snacks. Revenue rose more than 10% to $28 billion. That was better than the $26.8 billion Wall Street had forecast, according to analysts polled by FactSet. Pepsi raised prices in a number of markets as it continued to battle double-digit […]
6 hours ago
FILE - Maryland Gov. Wes Moore gives his first state of the state address, two weeks after being sw...
Associated Press

Maryland governor, officials supporting abortion protections

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland Gov. Wes Moore and state lawmakers are scheduled to announce support Thursday for measures protecting abortion rights, including a state constitutional amendment that would enshrine it. House Speaker Adrienne Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson, who are both Democrats, will join the governor at a news conference to show their […]
6 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Fiesta Bowl Foundation

Celebrate 50 years of Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade magic!

Since its first production in the early 1970s, the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe has been a staple of Valley traditions, bringing family fun and excitement to downtown Phoenix.
...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet edges out cable for everyday use

In a world where technology drives so much of our daily lives, a lack of high-speed internet can be a major issue.
...
Quantum Fiber

Stream 4K and more with powerful, high-speed fiber internet

Picking which streaming services to subscribe to are difficult choices, and there is no room for internet that cannot handle increased demands.
Prayers go on, sometimes out of sight, in prep football