Wednesday, November 6, 2013


Yahoo News has just reported what it calls "one of the strangest cases of purported religious beliefs intersecting with athletic performance." A young girl competing in a cross-country race became upset because she had been assigned the number 666 to wear. She asked for, and was denied, permission to run with another number. She refused to run with the number, and forfeited a chance to compete in the Kentucky state championships, a goal she had been working toward for three years. The article said that the girl's decision "stunned" everyone at the meet except her coach. You can read the story by following this hyperlink.

Here's what I think is strange about the story:

1. That anyone would think it was strange for a person to refuse to wear a symbol which was deeply offensive to that person's religious beliefs.

2. That anyone would be "stunned" because someone valued their religious beliefs above success in an athletic competition.

3. That the author of the article would characterize the girl's religious belief as "purported."

4. That the authorities who denied her request to change numbers would disingenuously claim that she never said she wanted to change numbers because of her religious beliefs.

I salute Cody Thacker. She stood up for what she believed in and willingly suffered the consequences. Instead of being ridiculed, she should be admired.

It has not been that long ago that instead of being "stunned" by "strange" refusals to violate "purported religious beliefs," we celebrated them. A similar incident occurred in the 1924 Olympics, when the British sprinter Eric Liddel refused to run the 100 meter dash because it was contested on Sunday. He refused in the face of the strong insistence of the British Olympic Committee and the Prince of Wales. To make a long story short, Liddel became admired as a hero and was mourned by an entire nation when he died during World War II. The 1981 movie Chariots of Fire told his story, and the story of his Jewish teammate, Harold Abrahams, who won gold when he ran in Liddel's place. The movie grossed $58,972,904 in the United States--and a dollar went much farther back in those days. 

Why, in 1981, did the American media celebrate Liddel as a hero when today it wonders at Cody Thacker's "odd" behavior? The last time I checked, the First Amendment still guaranteed freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. To question a young girl's principled stand based on her religious beliefs is reprehensible.