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This spring, when I spoke with an expert on religion and sports about athletes’ favorite Bible verses, he brought up the phrase “audience of one.”

Religious athletes often cite it when asked to explain how they approach their work. They say they’re focused on performing for or honoring God, not on winning or making a good impression on the crowd.

After that interview, I started noticing the phrase “audience of one” all over the place. It popped up again this weekend as I watched a recent Netflix hit: “America’s Sweethearts,” a documentary about the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Reece Weaver performs with the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders during an NFL football game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023, in Arlington, Texas. | Matt Patterson

Reece, who was a rookie cheerleader during the 2023 NFL season, which is the focus of “America’s Sweethearts,” notes on her Instagram that she’s “dancing for an audience of One.” She talks openly about her Christian faith during the documentary, noting that she wants her cheerleading to bring fans closer to God.

“I pray that whoever watches this one day sees (God) and not me,” Reece told producers.

Her faith-based approach to her cheerleading career was notable not just to me, a budding scholar of the phrase “audience of one,” but to the hosts of one of my favorite podcasts, “Rich Text.” In their recap of the show, Emma and Claire discussed how odd it was to them to watch someone find religious significance in becoming a sex symbol.

Claire noted, “(Reece) says in one of her interviews, ‘I don’t want to be the center of attention. I hope that when people see me out there, they see Jesus.’ And I’m like, ‘Reece, I don’t think that’s what happening.’”

I understand what she’s saying. Most NFL fans watch Reece dance without any clue as to her religious background, just as they watch quarterback Brock Purdy play without realizing he promotes the Bible verse behind the phrase “audience of one” on his X account.

But to Reece’s credit, if a fan looked her up on Instagram or watched her in “America’s Sweethearts,” her religious background would become clear immediately. She really is using her platform to point people to God and seems to waste little time worrying about whether or not cheerleading seems like a “godly” activity to others.

The documentary makes it clear that Reece really does find incredible meaning in connecting cheerleading to Christianity. Her faith inspires her to work hard and brings her comfort when she’s scared about what the future will hold.

“God is in control of this whole process. So whatever is meant to happen is meant to happen,” Reece says before her in-person audition.

“America’s Sweethearts” wasn’t designed to deliver faith-related revelations. But it gave me a deeper understanding of what it looks like to perform for an “audience of one.”


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Term of the week: Camino de Santiago

The Camino de Santiago is a famous network of pilgrimages that stretches across France, Spain and a few other European countries. Although pilgrims can choose their own adventure in terms of the length of their journey and the amenities they enjoy along the way, one shared tradition is to end at Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain.

“Some people set out on the Camino for spiritual reasons; others find spiritual reasons along the Way as they meet other pilgrims, attend pilgrim masses in churches, monasteries, and cathedrals, and see the extensive infrastructure of buildings provided for pilgrims over many centuries,” according to the Camino’s website.

The Camino de Santiago is associated with Catholicism, but it’s becoming increasingly common for religious “nones” to travel it, as Religion News Service reported last week.


What I’m reading...

Religious athletes don’t speak with one voice about how their faith influences their athletic career. But one thing becomes clear if you read The Associated Press’s recent article about religion and sports: If you fail to ask athletes about faith, you’ll often miss a huge part of the story.

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A Texas judge ruled last week in favor of a faith-based organization that serves migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border. Judge Francisco X. Dominguez said that Texas officials had violated the shelter’s religious freedom rights, according to CBS News.

Two weeks ago, I shared an update on a Missouri religious freedom lawsuit aimed at forcing changes to the state’s abortion policy. (A judge ruled against the faith leaders trying to protect abortion access.) Last week, Religion News Service published a more comprehensive update on the many different groups drawing on religious freedom law to challenge abortion restrictions.


Odds and ends

Another week, another podcast appearance. I joined the Sutherland Institute’s podcast, “Defending Ideas,” to talk about the significance of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the Chevron doctrine.

And here’s a behind-the-scenes look at my strange set-up for that podcast appearance. Not pictured: My two small, ornery dogs.

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