The interplay of sports and Christianity in modern society took the form of the “muscular Christianity” movement in Victorian England. The creed, drawing from verses in Paul’s letters, taught that physical competition offers a way of using God’s gifts and spreading God’s word. Such theology also challenged the stereotype that Christian faith was meek, almost feminine ”” which is also why muscular Christianity has provoked criticism throughout its history.
In America, the movement led to the creation of the Y.M.C.A. and sports evangelism groups like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Athletes in Action. In his midcentury revivals, the Rev. Billy Graham gave prominence to Christian athletes like Bill Glass, an All-Pro player in the National Football League.
While growing up in Gainesville, Nathan Whitaker, now 42, was influenced by one of Mr. Glass’s books, “Expect to Win.” He went on to play varsity baseball, wearing a small pin of a cross on his cap, and to gain a comfort level among African-Americans by attending a largely black high school and sometimes worshiping in a black church. All those traits would inform his bond with Mr. Dungy, who was the first black coach to win a Super Bowl.