Another day, another story about God and the National Football League. This week, in the midst of its purple-and-black playoff blitz, The Baltimore Sun recently offered a look at the young life of Ravens cornerback Cary Williams, who had a very troubled decade or two before turning things around with a little help, apparently, from God and a good church. I do hope readers hang on long enough to reach the the spiritual payoff, because the Sun team makes folks go a long, long way to reach the payoff in this otherwise fine story. What may have been the pivotal period of his life gets, oh, one sentence.
The lede, for some reason that I do not really understand, is a 250-word look at the rowdy atmosphere in a typical NFL locker room before the oh-so-present reporter arrives at the locker of the quiet and perhaps shy Williams.
If you ask the right questions, though, Williams will tell you his life story. You have to lean in close to hear it, because the chaos of an NFL locker room doesn't pause, or quiet down, and offer up an environment that welcomes deep reflection. When Williams talks about how he arrived at this moment, how he became a starting cornerback on a playoff team that has a real chance to make it to the Super Bowl, it's not just a story about an late-round draft pick from a Division II school who defied the odds and became an unlikely NFL success story. It's also a gesture of faith. It requires a measure of vulnerability.
It's a story of poverty, violence, abuse and a fragmented family on the rough side of Miami. Eventually Williams has to escape his well intentioned, but unstable father. That's where -- about half way into the story -- the spiritual element emerges.
Williams isn't sure what would have happened if his cousin, Calvin Golson, hadn't been clued into the situation by someone in the Florida Department of Children and Families. Golson was 25 at he time, and he had never been particularly close with Cary and Ronald because of the age difference. But he was an ordained minister, and he had a job as a social worker. He felt like God had called upon him to offer Cary and Ronald safe harbor. He immediately petitioned a judge to grant him full custody.
Of course, this means that -- in Associated Press Style -- we are actually talking about the Rev. Calvin Golson.
Oh well. Nevermind. African-American clergy, it seems, are rarely granted formal titles in the newspaper that lands in my front yard. Don't ask me why, but that does appear to be the case. It's a mystery.
Anyway, we have reached the point where the young man's life takes a turn for the better. This is what readers are told:
Family counseling, and weekly treks to the African Methodist Episcopal Church on Sundays, helped heal some of Williams' emotional wounds. Whatever rage remained, he tried to channel into sports.
That's it. Not much to tell, apparently. Moving on.
I honestly thought the Sun was going to leave readers totally in the dark on this crucial religion angle. However, it shows up one more time at the very end of this long, long, feature story.
Once again, the emphasis is on Williams' reluctance to tell his painful story to many people. Then there is a highly symbolic encounter with the superstar who is the face of the franchise.
He didn't share his story with very many people, but one day, he was sitting by himself in the locker room when Ray Lewis walked across the locker room and sat down next to him. They had never really exchanged more than a few pleasantries. Williams kept thinking about the times when he was a kid, pretending to be Ray in the park with his friends.
Lewis wanted Williams to know something. He too had been physically abused as a child. By his step father. And there was a time when he was hurt and angry, but putting his faith in God helped go away.
"I told him 'All that pain you have, build up your pain to be a better man,'" Lewis said. "Don't build up your pain and let your frustrations come out. That's the testimony. I didn't have the blueprint. My dad didn't give it to me. The only blueprint I had was God's work. That's the lesson you can always carry with you."
So what is the point? It appears that religious faith, repentance and forgiveness play major roles in the life of this player. The story manages to include these themes -- barely. In particular, I wanted to read more than one sentence about the role of faith at the pivotal moment in his life, when he is taken into the home of a father figure who is both a pastor and a family member.
I mean, this is all that we need to know about that?
... (W)eekly treks to the African Methodist Episcopal Church on Sundays, helped heal some of Williams' emotional wounds. ...
I have my doubts. Maybe Cary Williams is shy and has trouble talking about this spiritual turnaround. However, I would imagine that members of that church would have been willing to tell the rest of this story. You think?
PHOTO: No. 29, Cary Williams in game action.