Are Sports Religion or Entertainment? Ask Dave Brandon.

Every religion has its followers. And so does every television show. Religions have a day where those followers come together to worship, and so do television shows. Religions have people that will blow up if their religion is insulted, and so do television shows. The parallels go on and on. So where in this do sports fall? Can they be considered a religion, or are they just entertainment, like any other TV show? Michigan football answers the question.

The University of Michigan Athletic Department is going through a rough stretch of time. The football team is its driving force, and while it is sad that the team’s hard times are overshadowing the success that others are having, this is simply how it is. And if the lack of success on the field wasn’t enough, the department’s leader is facing a storm of criticism every day.

On October 16th, the university’s Board of Regents met tDB and Hokeo discuss numerous topics, none of which were as publicized as the future of Athletic Director Dave Brandon. Many believe it is just a matter of time before the money-grabbing leader is fired, due to his alienation of students and fans, controversial ticket policies, poor handling of the aftermath of Shane Morris’s concussion, and general treatment of one of the most prestigious universities in the country like the pizza company he used to run. If the 11,310 people that have signed the petition to have Dave Brandon removed of his duties have their way, he will not be with the university for much longer.

In A. Bartlett Giamatti’s piece, “Take Time for Paradise” he argues whether sports fall in line with religious followings, due to “the intensity of devotion brought by the true believer, or fan,” and “the widely shared, binding nature… of American sport,” or if they are just “industrial… [and] are mass entertainment,” and the only reason they became such an integral part of society was because they came about with the development of the Industrial Revolution as a way to occupy the masses.

Giamatti thinks that sports can be viewed alongside religion, “in the sense that the most intense feelings are brought to bear or in the sense that sports may mirror whatever avowedly ‘sacred’ concerns Americans do share.” While common sports characteristics like competition, hard work, and a pride for winning, the parallel comes from our deep attachment to them and the emotional feelings we get from our team winning or losing.

It is hard to think of sports, especially football, at the University of Michigan as just mere entertainment. As Bob Ufer, longtime Michigan football announcer famously once said, “Michigan football is a religion and Saturday’s the holy day of obligation.” We worship Michigan football. Our church, synagogue, mosque, or any other place of worship is the Big House.

If you are trying to find evidence that Michigan fans are intensely devoted to their school, look no further than the attendance from last Saturday’s game. 113,085 people turned out to see Michigan play Penn State in the middle of one of the most tumultuous seasons in school history. Even though it was the most anticipated game of the year, people could have sold their tickets long ago, avoided what many expected to be a blowout, and watched from home. But those fans didn’t and in spite of a hopeless season, they came out to support their team; their devotion cannot be questioned.

If an American sport must bind its fans and followers together to be a religion, then the fact that thousands of block M’s can be found around the world at any given time proves that Wolverines are more closely knit than nearly any other school. We are all bound by the block M. People can say that the logo represents the entire school, and not just athletics, but our university is mainly driven by its sports’ reputation. When we see it, we yell “Go Blue!” and do not shy away from identifying with other Michigan fans.

UM Football

Numerous protests of the team have been discussed recently, and people are growing tired with the lack of success. If the unrelenting support of Michigan is not enough proof that Michigan football is a religion, look at the current uprising of students, fans, alumni, and even some faculty against Dave Brandon. Students wouldn’t hold a protest on the Diag and march on President Schlissel’s house if Michigan football was just a three-hour show each Saturday that served as a break from studying. People don’t sign petitions to get entertainment, like television programs, off the air; they simply don’t watch. It is not merely a form of entertainment to occupy the attention of the masses when they are not working, as Giamatti claims it could be; it is what people live for. No one lives for TV shows.

Having considered these things, I find it difficult to see how University of Michigan athletics are merely entertainment. This fanaticism that comes proudly wearing your school’s logo around town, paired with the joy that good times bring and refusal to leave when times are bad, represents a certain religious quality that cannot be disputed. Michigan football fans will continue going to the Big House, just as Catholics will go to church, Jews to synagogue, and Muslims to mosque when their religion is facing scrutiny. They will not turn away, just as followers of a god do not turn against their religion in hard times.

Perhaps Dave Brandon wishes Michigan football were mere entertainment, because then he may be able to quietly exit the university. But the sheer passion shown by its fans is proof that it is a religion that Wolverines will not turn away from. Brandon is our religion’s leader, and the majority of his followers are fed up. They will do what it takes to overthrow him, and get the religion of Michigan football back on track.


4 thoughts on “Are Sports Religion or Entertainment? Ask Dave Brandon.

  1. First of all, I would agree on you that Michigan football as well as any Michigan athletics team are more than just entertainment. I also agree that Michigan athletics resembles a religion more than entertainment. Michigan football resembles a religion as it has a leader-Dave Brandon, and the Michigan football fans. According to A. Bartlett Giamatti’s “Take time for Practice”, sports are compared to religion because both shares the same element as in “the intensity of devotion brought by the true believer or fan.”

    However, I would like to disagree on you that we should overthrow the leader during low times. Religions do not break down because the leader make a mistake, but they break down because the followers and the believers doubt the spirit and the culture. Would the football players play better if less and less fans come to the game? The answer is obviously no. So in my opinion, we as the believers, should put all our trust in them and support them as much as we can. We should live up to Bo Schembechler’s words to be “The Team, The Team, The Team”.

    Go Blue and beat State.


  2. I do agree that Michigan sports are more than just entertainment. I really enjoyed how you connected the reading to the current situation of Michigan football. To say Michigan football is just for fun, is simply wrong. The fans connect on a personal level with the performance of the team. For this reason there are striking similarities to religion. The people and fans are putting faith into a group that they cannot control almost making them seem like a higher power. In addition, fans tend to live through the excitement and success of these players. For all the reasons above I believe Michigan football is more than just entertainment. Michigan football carries a pride and tradition for a large group of people.


  3. Thats a very interesting view of our school, fandom, and spirit, and I couldn’t agree more. Like Giammati said, sports can become religious and that definitely applies here at Michigan. It’s interesting though the way you talk about Dave Brandon in the end as our leader and how his decisions and lack of leadership is leading to him getting overthrown. Maybe if he followed Machiavelli’s The Prince he could have been a better leader. It seems as though every decision he’s made has annoyed the commonwealth and the population he serves (the students), including the lack of success from our football team. Just as a Prince has many responsibilities, there is always one that stands above the rest and Machiavelli describes this as the army and having good war strategies and without a good army the country will be overthrown and the prince will no longer be a leader. In Dave Brandon’s case he has many responsibilities as well, obviously his top priority should be the football team, because with an unsuccessful football team there is an unsuccessful Dave Brandon, which as you said perfectly will lead to his firing (maybe). As Machiavelli outlines, he needs to get his priorities in tact.


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