The case of the buried lead

bsg buried treasure2If the news is buried, is it really news? Certainly, if GetReligion points it out. The Boston Globe's Amalie Benjamin profiles the "comeback victory" of New England Patriots linebacker Don Davis. Nice bit of reporting and writing, but as our reader Mark pointed out in a letter to the paper's ombudsman, the article's real news was buried deep inside the yarn.

But first, here's the nut graph of the article:

His playbook was gone, left behind in New Orleans, as the Saints had requested. He had been released that November day in 1998, a linebacker sent out into the unforgiving abyss that greets NFL castoffs. He hitched the U-Haul to the Mustang and drove, his tears obscuring the highway.

What am I going to do with my life? How am I going to recover? Who am I?

He had no answers.

''I drove straight from New Orleans to Kansas City with my phone off and nothing but hate and anger and sadness," said Davis. ''Those 14 hours, I would say, were critical. That's when everything came to a head. That's when I really needed that time to look at me and see who I was and what I was planning on doing. I really had no idea, outside of football, who I was."

He made no plans, had no unsettling thoughts of how and when, but suicide was in his mind.

Tremendous reporting, excellent narrative, but it's not until the 35th paragraph do we read what Mark believes to be the hook of the story:

Those eyes, ever shifting, have caught only one player with the potential to hit the depths he experienced. Davis, deeply religious, thanks God that the player didn't act.

I'm with Mark in that this aspect of Davis' life certainly deserved a bit of digging. I can't imagine that this is all Benjamin knew of Davis' religious beliefs. Otherwise how would Benjamin be able to write that he was "deeply religious"? The problem is that that assertion is not backed up and leaves the reader hanging.

And here is what our reader Mark wrote to Benjamin and the ombudsman:

Here's a man whose life was in the pits, but seven years later is a calm, mature leader on a championship football team. What made the difference? What produced this life change? How did this transformation take place? What people, conversations, or organizations assisted him? We get nary a whisper of answers to these questions -- except those two words, "deeply religious."

I am reasonably certain that that Don told you quite clearly what his salvation was, and I don't think it was sleep (para. 10). By failing to let him tell us also you not only didn't address the basic 5 Ws of journalism but also did your readers a grave disservice.

We'll see if the ombudsman gets back to Mark on this, but I am curious why this aspect of the story was buried. I don't know whether the religious aspect of his life belong in the lead, but certainly questions were unanswered.

Other sportswriters have no problem covering sports figures' faith. Indianapolis Star sportswriters covering the Colts often cite head coach Tony Dungy's deep faith. Here's an example in coverage leading up to his 100th win:

"He was a huge reason why I came here," [Pro Bowl defensive tackle Corey] Simon said. "He doesn't allow the game to run his life. Family is very important to him and his faith in God and his relationship with Jesus Christ is very important to him, and those are two things that I value very highly in a person, especially a person who's going to be my coach.

Could this just be an East Coast media thing?

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