Marriage & Family

Sports Illustrated wrestles with tough, tender NFL star Steve Smith, while missing faith clues

Sports Illustrated wrestles with tough, tender NFL star Steve Smith, while missing faith clues

If you follow the National Football League at all, then you know that wide receiver Steve Smith -- formerly of the Carolina Panthers, now with the Baltimore Ravens -- has a reputation. He's small, but really tough. Some people say he's arrogant. He has been known to fly into a competitive rage and punch people, even his own teammates.

This is not the NFL player you expect to be walking around with a study Bible.

So I was fascinated, the other day, when Sports Illustrated ran one of its patented player profiles that hint at faith themes and realities -- but the team then drops the ball on specifics. For example, read the following overture:

Smith leaves football at the team facility. “I actually love to read,” he says, citing business texts such as The Richest Man in Babylon and motivational works like A Tale of Three Kings and The Last Lecture among his favorite books. He collects passport stamps, traveling through China, Italy, Australia and all over Africa; he’s been to Jerusalem, Barcelona, London and Paris. He says things like “Tanzania is known for tanzanite.” At one point Smith pauses because he knows this all sounds strange coming from, well, Steve Smith. “There’s a perception of me that I’m a hothead and an idiot,” he says. “That because I’m aggressive on the football field, I’m a thug. But look, just because you see me [doing one thing] in my workplace doesn’t mean I walk around stiff-arming people and spinning cantaloupe in the grocery store.”
That, of course, is what the 35-year-old Smith is known for, a career spent in perpetual combat: three documented fistfights with teammates, scores of altercations with opponents, countless spins of the football in defiant celebration after every catch, even in practice.

So the story lists many of Smith's tips for success, such as "play angry." That's the thug hothead, right?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

The Washington Post wrestles with the dilemma that Muslim parents are facing in the West

The Washington Post wrestles with the dilemma that Muslim parents are facing in the West

If there has been one consistent theme over the past decade in GetReligion posts about Islam it has been a complaint that mainstream journalists rarely attempt to wrestle with the religious and even doctrinal content of the debates that are taking place inside the complex world of modern Islam.

Instead, the assumption in most newsrooms seems to be that so-called "moderate," or pro-Western Islam is the true Islam and that more fervent or even radical forms of the faith are "fundamentalist" and thus fake or twisted. Millions of Muslims, of course, are on opposite sides of that debate, which only goes to show that it is simplistic to view this complex and global faith as some kind of monolith.

But what do these debates look like at the human level, at the level of families, local mosques, schools and trips to the local shopping mall? Have you ever been waiting to board an airplane in an American airport and seen a Muslim family with the dad in a suit, the mother in modest clothing with a veil and the children standing behind them -- video games in their hands, hip headphones in place and decked out in clothing fresh off the fad racks at the local mall? What are the debates inside that family?

Journalists at The Washington Post tried to dig into that kind of story the other day with a Chicago-datelined piece about how some typical American Muslim teens ended up trying to flee this apostate land in order to support the goals of the Islamic State. It's clear that this was an attempt to wrestle with questions linked to what experts call "cocooning," the process of trying to keep children in the faith by, as the story says, "shielding" them from as "much American culture as possible by banning TV, the Internet and newspapers and sending them to Islamic schools."

Does this work? In this case, it didn't.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

So why, pray tell, are the Democrats in so much trouble in the Bible Belt?

So why, pray tell, are the Democrats in so much trouble in the Bible Belt?

Several years ago, I attended a forum here in Beltway territory about religion and politics, featuring a presentation by one of the official voices of the Democratic Party establishment -- E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post op-ed page. This was about the time that he released his book "Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics after the Religious Right."

During the question-and-answer session, I identified myself as someone who grew up as a moderate or conservative Democrat in Texas, back when that was the dominant political worldview in that state. In other words, this was before the whole red zip codes vs. blue zip codes phenomenon was identified, also famously symbolized by the "Jesusland vs. The United States of Canada" cartoon.

I asked Dionne if Gov. Mike Huckabee was nothing more than an "ordinary pre-Roe v. Wade populist Southern Democrat." This would explain, for example, why a secular libertarian like Rush Limbaugh detests Huckabee so much. 

Dionne thought about it for a second and replied that it would be very hard to argue against that thesis.

This brings me a piece that ran recently on the McClatchy wire -- "Democrats are all but extinct in the South." This news story was, timed, I am sure, to be relevant after the long-awaited fall of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, the last Democratic senator in the old South (or as many journalists prefer to say, the old Confederacy).

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Your weekend think piece: Demographics are destiny, the liberal Jewish edition

Your weekend think piece: Demographics are destiny, the liberal Jewish edition

On the surface, there is no religious component to the following question: "Why do some people choose to have children, while others do not?" The same thing is true if you ask, "Why do some people choose to have more than 2.1 children, while others do not?"

But if you know anything about polling linked to demographics, you know that it's impossible to answer those questions in real life -- in a majority of cases around the world -- without running into religious beliefs and practice. Look at it this way, if one Catholic family has one child and another has seven, the odds are very high that family No. 2 goes to Mass way more often than family No. 1.

Several years ago, The Weekly Standard (yes a conservative journal) did a highly fact-driven think piece -- "America's One-Child Policy" -- that contained the following paragraph that remains as relevant today as when it was written:

... (In) a world where childbearing has no practical benefit, people have babies because they want to, either for self-fulfillment or as a moral imperative. "Moral imperative," of course, is a euphemism for "religious compulsion." There are stark differences in fertility between secular and religious people.
The best indicator of actual fertility is "aspirational fertility" -- the number of children men and women say they would like to have. Gallup has been asking Americans about their "ideal family size" since 1936. When they first asked the question, 64 percent of Americans said that three or more children were ideal; 34 percent said that zero, one, or two children were ideal. Today only 34 percent of Americans think that a family with three-or-more children is ideal.

So here is the thesis statement that I think, on many stories linked to contemporary religion (think coverage of the declining number of Catholic priests in North America), journalists need to think about.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Press covers another 'women's reproductive rights' case, but most miss the unusual (thus, newsy) pro-life angle

Press covers another 'women's reproductive rights' case, but most miss the unusual (thus, newsy) pro-life angle

According to most news reports about the U.S. Supreme action involving Peggy Young and her case against the United Parcel Service -- such as the CBS News clip atop this post -- this was a pretty standard battle focusing on "women's reproductive rights." 

Most of these stories seemed to have been produced with a template. This was all business as usual, in other words. But was that the case at the court?

Listeners who tuned in the NPR report on the case heard the same oh-so-familiar storyline -- but with one brief reference to a twist in the plot. 

The online version of the NPR story began like this. Can you spot the religion ghost in this lede?

Women's reproductive rights are once again before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday. Only this time, pregnancy discrimination is the issue and pro-life and pro-choice groups are on the same side, opposed by business groups.

In other words, the big news here is that very unusual coalition created by this case. What's that all about? Who is involved on the pro-life side of that equation and why? 

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Was the Washington Post all that interested in the heart and soul of superstar Tom Hanks?

Was the Washington Post all that interested in the heart and soul of superstar Tom Hanks?

Every year, the Kennedy Center Honors are handed out and this often creates, in my opinion, some of the most interesting Beltway journalism about the arts and culture.

The point, of course, is that these honors are given to truly transcendent artists, those who have helped shape American life or who somehow symbolize essential trends in our times (as defined, of course, by the principalities and powers behind the honors process).

The Washington Post features team, as you would expect, rolls out massive, deeply researched stories about these artists. This brings me to the long, long feature that ran the other day about actor Tom Hanks, who is about as likely a Kennedy Center honoree as anyone who has ever lived.

The big theme in this piece is that people respect Hanks as a thinker, as an artist and as a man, yet they also know that he has kept his private life in the shadows. The bottom line: It's just hard to find out what makes this guy tick. Here is the crucial passage:

Poke around. Ask other actors. Google at will. There’s not much you can find on Hanks. No storming off sets. No DWIs. No errant tweets. He did once extend his middle finger to the paparazzi after being stalked at lunch, but he has never pulled an Alec Baldwin.
In person, he is warm, thoughtful and funny. ... Just don’t mistake that warmth for accessibility. Tom Hanks, the public figure, has rehearsed his lines as well as Tom Hanks, the actor. Long ago, he built a wall between his personal and professional lives. No magazine cover is worth scaling it. Over the years, the few snippy comments the genial Hanks has made to interviewers have come when others have tried to intrude.
“If people don’t know the real me or know what my life’s about, that’s good, because I don’t want them to,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1993.

All well and good. Hanks has been a rather private man, but not all THAT private. 

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Trying to hear the voices of faith in the Ray and Janay Rice story

Trying to hear the voices of faith in the Ray and Janay Rice story

It must be real challenge to cover the domestic-violence drama of Ray and Janay Rice -- the actual story of the human beings themselves, as opposed to the melodrama within the bazillion-dollar kingdom called the National Football League -- without including some of the Godtalk.

Mr. and Mrs. Rice continue to talk about sin, forgiveness and redemption. The same goes for the Ravens head coach, who is an outspoken Christian, and ditto for the general manager. The team's director of player development (and moral issues) is an ordained minister. Many of Ray Rice's closest friends among Ravens players -- like wide receiver Torrey Smith -- are Godtalkers as well.

How do you quote these people without covering the religion angle?

Faithful GetReligion readers know that the team at The Baltimore Sun is up to that challenge.

Thus, I was curious to see what would happen when Rice won his battle with the NFL powers that be and was reinstated as an active player in the league. It's the hottest storyline of the pro-football weekend and, here in Baltimore, local news channels ran BREAKING NEWS! alerts onscreen during regular programming for two or three hours, which wouldn't happen if there was a peace settlement in Syria.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Fox News tries its hand at Vatican watching

Fox News tries its hand at Vatican watching

Fox News has waded into the murky waters of Catholic news analysis, seeking to explain to its viewers (and readers on its website) the church's battles over liberalizing its moral teachings.

It is encouraging to see a secular news outfit address these issues. Fox understands that these issues are of interest to its viewers. The conservative demographic that is the core of its viewership is also likely to find favor with the opinions proffered. Yet, the fulcrum of the argument in this piece is based upon an erroneous supposition.

The story entitled “Cardinal's demotion helps Pope Francis quell 'conservative backlash' -- for now” is founded on the notion that Cardinal Raymond Burke was dismissed from his post as prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura as a consequence of his vocal opposition to calls for a change in church teaching backed by Pope Francis at the recent Synod on the Family. 

Fox posits a cause and effect, but its theory is not supported by the facts.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

The 'Kellerism' brand of journalism comes to the heartland -- in Fort Wayne, Indiana

The 'Kellerism' brand of journalism comes to the heartland -- in Fort Wayne, Indiana

I find it sad, but not all that surprising, that the journalistic virus that your GetReligionistas call "Kellerism" is spreading out of the elite zip codes along the East and West coasts.

Once again, "Kellerism" is a form of advocacy journalism that is practiced by journalists who are working in mainstream newsrooms, as opposed to newsrooms that openly admit that they have a dominant editorial point of view, or template, on many crucial issues in the public square. The term grew out of remarks by former New York Times editor Bill Keller, with an emphasis on this 2011 forum (video) at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library in Austin. 

Here, once again, is a chunk of an "On Religion" column I wrote about his response when he was asked if -- it's a familiar question -- the Times can accurately be called a "liberal newspaper."

“We’re liberal in the sense that ... liberal arts schools are liberal,” Keller noted. ... “We’re an urban newspaper. … We write about evolution as a fact. We don’t give equal time to Creationism.” ...
Keller continued: “We are liberal in the sense that we are open-minded, sort of tolerant, urban. Our wedding page includes -- and did even before New York had a gay marriage law -- included gay unions. So we’re liberal in that sense of the word, I guess. Socially liberal.”
Asked directly if the Times slants its coverage to favor “Democrats and liberals,” he added: “Aside from the liberal values, sort of social values thing that I talked about, no, I don’t think that it does.”

As I have noted several times, the key words are "aside from." Why use a balanced scale when editors already know who is right?

Please respect our Commenting Policy