I’ve seen a pretty clear link between religion and sports. In particular, it appears to me that evolutionary psychology has highlighted modules used in both. To take one example, we have clear biological modules for distinguishing in-groups from out-groups. This is useful in at least two situations:
(1) In distinguishing helpful individuals from "freeloaders" or "shirkers".
(2) In distinguishing genetically related individuals from non-related ones.
There may be other ways as well. But what is clear is that this tendency to split the world into "ins" and "outs" is a human universal, and one we share with other social animals like ants, bees, termites, wolves, primates, etc.
We see that it is not a strictly [i:ccbaef9741]rational[/i:ccbaef9741] response in that it can be triggered by anything—which is where we come to sports. You can take ten random people, put blue jerseys on five and red jerseys on five, and you immediately distinguish the two in a way that is amenable to an in/out distinction—the "other" guys aren’t "yours". And then you can behave in a way towards them (violent, nasty) that you wouldn’t have otherwise.
This is a result entirely consistent with Phil Zimbardo’s Stanford prison experiment, where he showed that by randomly dressing up some people as "guards" and others as "prisoners" induced the guards to behave in unboundedly violent ways towards the prisoners. All it took was a bit of clothing, and a setup that all knew was fake.
Religion, it seems to me, functions at least partly on that level: usses against thems. The religion gives a sense of belonging to a larger, special, "saved" group that is special in god’s eye. And in that regard, atheists and non-religious people are the ultimate [i:ccbaef9741]thems[/i:ccbaef9741].
On this subject I find it interesting in a front-page article in the NYTimes today that some sports teams in the US are instituting "salvation nights" and "faith nights"...
"It has long been noted that in certain parts of the United States, a fine line separates sports from religion. But at a minor league indoor football game last month in Birmingham, Ala., fans may have witnessed as transparent an attempt to merge football and church as had ever been tried.
Third Coast Sports, a company in Nashville that says it specializes in church marketing and event planning for sports teams, has scheduled 70 this year in 44 cities, and many teams produce Faith Nights on their own.
They are about to become even bigger. This summer, the religious promotions will hit Major League Baseball. The Atlanta Braves are planning three Faith Days this season, the Arizona Diamondbacks one. The Florida Marlins have tentatively scheduled a Faith Night for September."
I find this sort of sports/religion merger a relatively clear and obvious one, but disturbing all the same.