Hoops, cancer and vague faith

The University of Tennessee's men's basketball program now has a couple of religion ghosts following its rather successful hoops program. In addition to the team's coach Bruce Pearl, who is said to be passionate about his Jewish faith, one of its best players, prolific 3-point shooter Chris Lofton, has suggested that his faith helped him beat a cancer that he has kept silent about until now. A reader of ours in submitting the story to us said that the story is incredible but fails to discuss in any substantive way how his faith helped him beat cancer:

Lofton talks a lot about how his faith kept him going, and also about the "why me?" questions that he had. The reporter does a nice job with the story, but doesn't dig into Lofton's faith at all, not even to find out what kind of church (if any) he attends, what Bible passages his parents read to him (which is one of Lofton's anecdotes), etc.

I couldn't agree more with this reader's sentiments. The story is a great exclusive for ESPN, and the reporter seems to handle the subject fairly delicately. Since Lofton took strong measures in the past to protect his privacy, perhaps his faith is something he didn't want to discuss. If that was the case, the reporter should have mentioned it to the reader in the interest of full disclosure.

Here are the sections of the story where Lofton's faith is mentioned:

Cancer wasn't going to beat him.

"I just remembered my mom and dad telling me, 'It's all going to be OK. Just pray about it and keep your faith,'" Lofton recalled. "You're going to go through tough times. We all are. It's how you respond to them that counts. It's how you get back up.

"You're going to get knocked down. It's whether you stay down or whether you get back up and fight that counts."

And make no mistake. Lofton had one hell of a fight on his hands. ...

"I cried myself to sleep a lot of times talking to them on the phone," Lofton said. "You're by yourself and there's really nothing anybody can do. You just have to deal with it. My mom and dad kept me strong. They gave me passages out of the Bible to read to help keep me strong. We all leaned on our faith."

By comparison, check out this Washington Post/Newsweek On Faith Q&A with NBA star Michael Redd from about a month ago. If you're into basketball, and don't mind that Reed's team is not playing these days, it's a great read and does a tremendous job of digging into Redd's faith:

How much does your faith impact your daily life?

Every day I rely on my faith to be the best husband I can be, the best father I can be. I rely on my faith not so much to score 50 points or win a basketball game, but you know travel, you travel so much in the NBA. We definitely pray for our health and our strength as we play every night. And you know just praying for that I can be a light for Christ even though I'm playing basketball because I know that's what I'm really here for. It's not just to play basketball but it's to show who Christ really is. That's my goal. It's not necessarily to win a championship every year, which would be wonderful, it would be wonderful and that's why I play, but I think ultimate success is if someone says what must I do to be saved? That's the ultimate success. It's an awesome responsibility but at the same time I love it, I love it.

What do you typically pray for or about?

I just mainly talk to God. I don't necessarily get on my knees all day. I just pray to God help me with me, help me with me. God, you know my issues, you know my weaknesses, continue to cleanse me, continue to purge me, help me to be the best father I can be, best husband I can be every day, be the best teammate. Also, I pray for my family all the time, my friends, that's an every day.

Obviously the format for this interview is different, as it's not attempting to be a straight news piece, but the point that religious issues deserve additional question and depth still stands. When a journalist tells the story of a person's life that mentions faith, deeper issues of faith should not be lightly skimmed over.

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