“Stop talking!” Rivers shouted. A few players didn’t. Rivers looked at them. “You’re on this team, right?”
Eventually it was silent, and the players bowed their heads and recited the Lord’s Prayer. Rivers, who grew up in nearby Greenbelt, lowered his head, too.
As a Muslim, he’s not supposed to be saying a Christian prayer. But he’s a team leader and, as he sees it, if you play for Suitland, you kneel and pray before and after every practice, before and after every game.
“I’m not even supposed to be saying the prayer. But I do it for my team, because I’m a captain,” said Rivers, 17. “I say my own prayer.”
Shields said the prayer is not mandatory, but reciting it is rooted in the football culture at this public school in the heart of Prince George’s County.
More than 13 years have passed since the Supreme Court banned school-sponsored, student-led prayer
at public high school athletic events, although students are still free to voluntarily worship. And they do. Hundreds of football players will pray on football fields across the Washington area this fall, no matter their religious creed. It will be the continuation of a tradition for some athletes, and for others, an introduction to a decision. One that might have more to do with team camaraderie than devotion.
A long-standing tradition
Rivers was confronted with the decision when he arrived on Suitland’s campus in District Heights as a freshman in the summer of 2010. Would he shun prayer on the football field because of his own beliefs? Or would he embrace the practice to be part of the team?
“I didn’t want to do it,” Rivers said. “It’s really a tradition for Suitland to pray. This has been a tradition for years.”
Rivers started to pray that year, he said, only because he was witnessing the tradition starting to crumble. Players cursed at each other before the prayer. Some wore caps. Some didn’t kneel. He thought those gestures resembled a dysfunctional team, and he simply wanted to be different from his insubordinate teammates — even though he was already different.
He’s had to make this choice before, growing up with a father who is Muslim and a mother who is Christian. Tamika Rivers-Floyd said her son was raised in a family where boxing and football were “generational,” and that as a child, Steven was not easily influenced by others outside that sphere.
So when it came time to form his own religious beliefs as a teenager, “he made a decision on his own to carry his practice and pray to Allah,” Rivers-Floyd said. And even though she is Christian, she knew her son would have to make his own decision, as a Muslim, to say the Lord’s Prayer with his teammates.