Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Angela Schneider



Although the literature on sport ethics and religion has expanded in recent years, there is little research on the role and concept of “sports chaplaincy” within Canada (Parry, 2007) (Watson, Parker & White, 2016) (Watson, Parker & Adogame, 2018). The Canadian Football League (CFL) chaplaincy program offers a unique form of ministry that has the potential to influence athlete’s ethical behavior. The chaplain's ‘holistic’ counselling approach is not only concerned with the CFL professional’s on-field job performance but offers emotional and spiritual support for every facet of a CFL professional’s life (Roe, 2016; Cheney, 2019). In the sport ethics literature, there is, and continues to be, a vastness of incidences whereby sporting professionals breach ethical policies. These incidences include, but are not limited to; impaired driving, domestic abuse, hazing, excessive violence, the use of performance enhancing substances etc. (Mihoces, 2014) (Mitchley, 2014) (Schmidt, 2014) (Fogel, 2013). These breaches in ethical policy, and codes of conduct transgressions reflect poorly on the athletes, their professional franchises and society abroad (Dungy, 2009) (Maston, 1967). From a sport chaplaincy perspective, and referencing the current sport ethics literature, my thesis question asked how CFL chaplaincy programs influence the ethical behavior of CFL professionals? Amid analyzing this phenomenon, one aspect of my research investigated the indirect benefits and concerns for athletes who follow the ethical guidelines that the CFL chaplains promote.

Professional sports culture is an extremely competitive vocation and one where job security for players and coaches is determined by immediate and sustainable success (Gamble, 2013, pp. 250-251). Within this competitive culture, athletes and coaches often fall into customs wayward from Christian ethics, sport ethics, and common ethics (Fogel, 2013). In addition, recent sport chaplaincy literature has indicated that western society is more ‘humanistic’ than Christian, and our current ‘post traditional religious society’ resembles more of a ‘spiritual marketplace’ than formal religiosity (Uszynski, 2016) (Kumar, 2013) (Nesti, 2010) (Cheney, 2019). One question is: does the shift in spirituality have a positive or negative effect on athlete’s physical health, mental health, and ethical conduct within the realm of professional sports? In addition, how do CFL chaplains promote their worldview amid an increasingly secular and multicultural society? This thesis aims to provide some answers and insights to aspects of these crucial questions.

Additionally, there is evidence within the sport-ethics literature suggesting high level athletes are more likely to experience divorce, mental illness, depressive disorders, and spousal abuse than the general population (Stephenson, 2014) Reardon & Factor, 2010) (Mummery, 2005). Some of these psychiatric disorders, and breaches in ethical conduct, have been associated with the ‘win at all costs’ mentality: over-training, unbalanced schedules, substance abuse, eating disorders and times of transition (i.e., post-injury or retirement) (Reardon & Factor, 2010) (Mummery, 2005) (Baum, 2000, 2003) (Watson, 2007). This thesis has investigated the CFL chaplain’s role in providing ethical counsel to CFL professionals amid the threat of these issues. Moreover, this thesis analysis how CFL chaplains provide ethical counsel within the distinctive culture of the Canadian Football League.

Summary for Lay Audience

Chaplains are spiritual mentors and life coaches that provide pastoral care and support for the people they serve. Sports chaplains are individuals who offer pastoral care for athletes participating on sports teams. Sport chaplains may additionally provide mentorship for team members who are not athletes (i.e., coaches and administrators). Sport chaplains can exist on sports teams at any level of competition (i.e., house-league, competitive, amateur, and professional). The guidance sport chaplains provide is not limited to a sports professionals' vocational needs, and the chaplains are not primarily concerned with improving job performance. Sports chaplains seek to offer support, advice, and mentorship in whatever area of life sports professionals disclose. Therefore, it is not uncommon for sport chaplains to provide mentorship for instances involving ethical dilemmas.

This dissertation sought to answer the question: how do CFL chaplains act in consultation towards ethical decision making for CFL professionals? This investigation featured a qualitative analysis whereby five CFL chaplains participated in semi-structured interviews. In addition, one former CFL chaplain who currently oversees the CFL chaplaincy ministry, and a former CFL professional who frequented the CFL chaplaincy services, were interviewed. Therefore, this study had a total of seven participants who were asked a variety of questions pertaining to how CFL chaplains provide ethical counsel.

This thesis summarizes the history of sports chaplaincy, and how CFL chaplaincy commenced. In addition, this dissertation provides insight to how the CFL chaplaincy program compares to sport chaplaincy models across the globe. Fascinatingly, the 'spiritual climate' of each region influences the execution of sport chaplaincy programs and impacts how chaplains provide ethical advice. This thesis indicates how CFL chaplains operate within the diverse context of the Canadian Football League. In the CFL, the CFL chaplains employ a variety of counselling techniques for ethical dilemmas. These techniques are dependent upon the chaplain’s relationship with their parishioner, and whether the parishioner shares the same worldview as the chaplain. Furthermore, this dissertation compares the work of sports psychologists and sports chaplains, and advocates for collaboration between the two professions to provide better 'holistic care' for sports professionals.