God in a Sooner's huddle

Did I mention that I'm an Oklahoma Sooners football fan? Did I mention that my team is ranked No. 1 in both major preseason polls?

So repeat after me: Boomer Sooner!

Now, on to business: The Tulsa World recently featured a 1,700-word profile on the faith of Sooners quarterback Landry Jones, one of the early frontrunners for the Heisman Trophy.

The top of the story:

When Landry Jones led eight University of Oklahoma teammates on a mission trip to Haiti last spring, he thought he would be the one who was helping others.

Instead, it was Jones who was lifted up.

Jones, a junior from Artesia, N.M., the Sooners' preseason All-Big 12 quarterback and among a handful of early frontrunners for the 2011 Heisman Trophy, was, again, humbled by the events unfolding around him, humbled by the twists and turns his own life had taken.

"I was kind of embarrassed," Jones said, "because I thought I was going to go down there and help these people out, but at the end of the day, you come back and realize they helped you more than you helped them. They gave you more than what you gave them."

Now, what do you think of that lede?

Up high in a feature such as this, you're wanting to grab readers' attention and — if you can — strike some kind of emotional response, maybe surprise them, make them want to read more. Did that lede do that for you?

If so, terrific. In my case, I gave it more of a ho-hum response. I've been on a number of mission trips to Third World countries — Mexico, Ghana, Guatemala — and inevitably, those who go say the same thing that Jones did. It's certainly true, but I wonder if there's a fresher picture a reporter could paint up high. Of course, I could be absolutely wrong on this point and would invite you tell me so if that's the case. (Not that you've ever needed an invitation to do in the past. Ha.)

Overall, it's a pretty good story, and I enjoyed reading it. Two frequent complaints here at GetReligion are that (1) reporters don't let people simply express their faith in their own words and (2) reporters make light of people's faith or write about it in a cynical way. Neither is the case with the World story, which actually quotes Jones referring to a specific book of the Bible.

In fact, this is one of those cases where I wonder if the story suffered from too much of a cheerleading tone, at the expense of allowing typical journalistic skepticism to force answers to basic questions.

We read about the downward spiral of Jones' life and how he believed Satan's lies his freshman year, leading to this:

Jones said he went through such a dark depression that year he simply became lost.

"I started really getting into drinking, trying to get all the girls, I was sick all the time, my stomach was in knots," he says. "So I get done with that first year of college not knowing if I wanted to continue at OU, or if I wanted to quit. I just wanted to crawl in a hole and be left there by myself. How could I go through another miserable year like that?

"I just wanted to die."

Jones eventually found peace. In "one of the greatest moments of my life," he says God came to him in his room and said He didn't care whether Jones was the starting quarterback.

"Instead of Landry Jones the athlete, I was Landry Jones the son of God," Jones says. "And that's what my identity was now."

(An aside: The Associated Press Stylebook calls for uppercasing God but not personal pronouns of God such as "he." Not sure if the World has a different style, but the uppercased "He" surprised me in a secular newspaper story.)

Now, after hearing about Jones' encounter with God, what do you do as a reporter? I'd ask some follow-up questions. I'd want to know some more specific details on this life-changing encounter. I'd also want some more facts about how Jones began expressing his faith. Did he start going to church? If so, what kind of church? Does he go every Sunday? But unfortunately, the story stays pretty vague and generic as far as Jones' Christianity.

I also was curious about one of the fellow missionaries quoted:

"That's one of the biggest things that's influenced me, the way he follows the Lord Jesus Christ," said senior wide receiver Ryan Broyles, one of OU's Haiti missionaries. "I'm so happy to say my quarterback is a believer. I think that trickles down in the way he produces on the field. He's a great role model. He never says anything negative. But at the same time, he'll shoot you straight. He'll let you know if you're walking off that path."

While I'm a Sooner fan, I don't follow the team religiously (pardon the pun). It surprised me to hear Broyles talking about Jesus because I had read about off-the-field troubles early in his Oklahoma career. Did Broyles have a come-to-Jesus experience of his own? The story provides no clue. But thanks to the magic of Google, I did find this statement from a sports broadcaster here in Oklahoma:

What many don't know is that Landry Jones who is a solid Christian went to Broyles before last season and shared Christ with the guy, and God used that to change Broyles' life. Here is the new Broyles just last weekend (link includes a photo) at the Antioch Community Church Block party sharing his testimony of how God changed him. I know this is the sports section, but I think it is pretty cool that Landry had the guts to go to Broyles and that God used that to change Broyles' life!

Hmmmmm. That might have been a relevant bit of context to include in the World story, huh?

What am I missing? Am I being too harsh on this story? By all means, read the whole thing and weigh in.

And don't forget: Boomer Sooner!

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