ENGLEWOOD - Shortly before they head onto the field for a game, about half of the Denver Broncos players retreat to the shower to pray. Religion in the Broncos locker room is handled delicately to avoid creating any discord.
For example, those who want to pray before the game go to the shower to avoid disrespecting any teammates who don’t want to participate. “It’s one of those ‘participate if you want to’ type of things,” fullback Kyle Johnson said. “I think it works out well. Some guys don’t, no problem with that, and some guys do. You don’t want to make anybody feel uncomfortable and awkward, and if it’s part of your preparation, you want to go through that.” After the prayer in the shower, the Broncos come together in the locker room to recite the Lord’s Prayer, a common ritual in football. Safety Hamza Abdullah, whom the Broncos signed from Tampa Bay’s practice squad on Nov. 1, is Muslim. He said he has never been offended by a teammate because of any religious issues, or by any team prayer. “Every team I’ve been on, everyone knows I’m Muslim and they respect that,” Abdullah said. Abdullah said he had no prob- lem with some of his teammates going to the shower before the game to pray. He said the tradition of doing the Lord’s Prayer as a team does also not offend him and he participates in his own way. “I don’t do the Lord’s Prayer,” Abdullah said. “When everyone kneels down, I kneel down too, I don’t bow my head. I keep my head up. But I respect it.” Abdullah said he prays five times a day, which is a Muslim custom. He has multiple daily meetings and practice on weekdays as a part of his job as a NFL player, which means he waits until he gets home to do his prayers. “We get out of here early enough where I can make quite a few prayers,” Abdullah said. “Only a few of them are late.” Abdullah said having to change his daily routine to fit around his job schedule didn’t trouble him, and he was used to it from his childhood. He went to high school in Pomona, Calif. “When you’re in public school as a young child, you always have a strict schedule,” Abdullah said. “When you’re young you just make them when you get home, and that’s what I do now.” One of the few ways religion manifests itself in the Broncos locker room during the week is on an invitation to a Bible study group posted just inside the doors of the team’s locker room. The group meets on Fridays. But religion is carefully kept out of the Broncos locker room most of the time. “If you bring religion into the locker room, you might divide a team,” defensive end Marco Coleman said. Kicker Jason Elam, a devout Christian, was one of three Broncos players to participate in a postgame prayer circle on the field after Denver beat Oakland on Nov. 13. “You don’t want to be abrasive at all,” Elam said. “At the same time, it’s a huge part of our lives. You always battle that.” Bill Rader is the Broncos’ team chaplain. He has traveled with the Broncos for road games the past 13 years, running a chapel service for the players on Sunday mornings. He also runs the Bible study for players Friday afternoons, has a separate Bible study for coaches on Friday morning, and meets with players often during the week. He said that whenever he is in Denver’s locker room, he is careful to not pressure anyone to come to services. “I won’t push,” Rader said. CONTACT THE WRITER: 476-4891 or firstname.lastname@example.org