Flag on the play: When sports and religion collide

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By JESSE KIRSCH
College Contributor Network

This past Saturday marked Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. This was the second consecutive year that this holiest Jewish Holiday fell on a Saturday.

That means several students -- some experiencing their first year at college -- had to choose between a centuries-old religious tradition and the new world of college football they are starting to love. I'm not saying that every game should have been cancelled last weekend, but some amount of effort should have been made to accommodate Yom Kippur and the football season.

For starters, there are bye weeks in college football. It would not be that difficult to synchronize bye weeks in years when religious holidays overlap. Much like the MLB all-star break, all college teams would refresh and regroup at once. Arguably, this would make games more competitive since everyone would always have the same number of rest days each week.

Additionally, there are bowl games on weeknights and, even more relevant, regular season games on weekdays early in the calendar. What's to say these can't be utilized to limit the number of games played on religious holidays? This overlap doesn't happen often so I think such changes are possible.

Furthermore, since Yom Kippur in particular ends at sundown, the NCAA could have scheduled fewer day games. Considering the number of west-coast teams, it would have been completely plausible to keep night games in the eastern and central time zones. At the very least, the NCAA could acknowledge the overlap and wish the Jewish people an easy fast. A respectful acknowledgement can go a long way.

It should be noted however, that this struggle to balance sporting events and religious observation occurs across a wide range of sports and cultures.

In 2012, Major League Baseball Opening Day coincided with both Good Friday and Passover, Christian and Jewish holidays respectively. But, as the Huffington Post explains, many MLB teams adjusted first pitch so as to allow for observers to be home in time for sundown.

On the other side, players are often asked to sacrifice their personal beliefs for their professional commitments. The Miami Heat dealt with such issues when they played on Christmas Day in 2013, with some of the players unhappy about being on the road during a time they would rather spend with family, according to USA TODAY. As Christmas Day features a string of marquee programming, the NBA does not seem set to alter this practice in the years ahead.

Other sports organizations, however, deal with this issue more directly. In 2013, the English Premier League pre-season coincided with Ramadan -- which entails a fast from sunup to sundown for 30 days -- meaning Muslim players were training at a rigorous pace without appropriate nourishment.

According to an article released by Liverpool Football Club, the team's medical and coaching staffs work to provide unique support to players if they are fasting. The organization respects this observation and finds ways to assist Muslim players through the physically trying month.

If these organizations can make an effort, the NCAA certainly can too. And it's more important for college sports to adapt than professional ones because the college experience is transient. Students can only attend a handful of home games each year and, before they know it, they've graduated. NCAA competition is the greatest because the fans are as fully invested in the team as the athletes, making this conflict an enduring problem.

Instead, we should create an inclusive environment so everyone can enjoy sports together. Small changes can go a long way, and it only takes one small initiative to "kick-off" a new college football culture.


Jesse Kirsch is a sophomore in the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. The New Jersey native studies Broadcast Journalism and International Studies with a focus in Diplomacy. He loves the Yankees, Knicks, and Jets (even when they play terribly). Follow him on Twitter: @JesseRKirsch
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