Faith, family and football -- again

gibbs 01Forget the primaries. Here in D.C., the big news is that Joe Gibbs resigned and retired as head coach and leader of the Washington Redskins. The Washington Post played its boxed collection of Gibbs URLs above the New Hampshire coverage this morning. Mercy, talk about a clash in local religions. As you would expect, if you've been reading this weblog lately, there has been a lot of Godtalk in the Gibbs coverage the past 24 hours. This is logical, since Gibbs talked openly about his faith. After all, this is how he chose to end his resignation statement:

I just hope that my heart came across to everybody here on how I feel about this. The last thing I want to say, it has been amazing for me to experience the fact that -- we serve such a wonderful God that looks down and most cases takes a very average person, a physical education major in my case, with ballroom dancing and hand ball, and blesses him with some of the greatest experiences anybody could every have on earth. I have been blessed beyond belief. I want to say thanks to the Lord for letting me be a part of this and I want to say a personal thanks to all of you.

That isn't a quote that will surprise anyone who has followed this man's life and career. It's certainly part of the story, especially in light of other remarks that he made explaining his exit. Clearly, the health crisis in the life of 3-year-old grandson Taylor -- who has leukemia -- was a major factor, as well.

But how does that all add up? What could reporters do to put the faith-and-family angle of this story in context?

I thought reporter Mark Zuckerman of the Washington Times did a totally logical thing, in his sidebar that ran with the headline, "Move a matter or priorities." He found a very direct source for, well, the coach's own confession about his struggles with his own values. Gibbs has not been hiding from anyone.

In an online testimonial posted on his personal Web site the final week of December, Gibbs provided an inkling of what was to come.

"Many times for me, I've had the wrong priorities in life," he said. "Where should our profession be? I think it should be third in our life. First should be God and my relationship with him. Second should be my family and the influence I'm having on others. And that puts our profession where? Third. Many times for me, I've had it out of place where it shouldn't be. For me, it's been a struggle."

Meanwhile, there isn't much that anyone can say beyond the words that Sports Illustrated columnist Peter King offered online at SI.com. He found a way to combine several themes, including the shame that Gibbs felt about his own mistakes when he forgot a key clause in the NFL rules at the end of a nasty loss to the Buffalo Bills. King connected the dots, including football, family and faith.

hammer nailRead it all, but especially note this:

Gibbs admitted he learned a lot from the blown call against Buffalo. A deeply religious man, Gibbs admitted he'd been trying to sound convincing that he was coaching because God had told him to. Now he admitted that maybe he'd been a little selfish in coaching because it was because he wanted to do it, not because God wanted him to do it. And he determined after that game -- his explanation to me -- that he now would truly put his life in God's hands. I tell you this story because I believe Gibbs, in all likelihood, prayed about what to do, and there's a good chance the answer to his prayer was that God was telling him it was time to be with his family.

We don't write things like this very often in this business. But devout people say and feel devout things and are driven by their relationship with their God. I think Gibbs is one of those people. And I think it had something to do with his decision to retire.

Nailed. It. Right. There.

In other words, this is one case in which a believer's struggles to follow his own beliefs and be obedient to God (click for a Gibbs video on the topic) affected a major news story. That means that the faith element was part of the journalistic equation. That's news.

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