Rave review for a Raven

Greetings, GetReligion readers. Here's your third-string quarterback with a post about a Baltimore Sun story on the Ravens' Todd Heap, one of four Mormons on the Baltimore squad.

I'm joking, of course, But ordinarily, tmatt grabs most of the stories in his Baltimore hometown (such as this recent one related to the Ravens), while The Other M. Hemingway reigns as our resident expert on Mormons.

This time, though, I jumped to the front of the line in GetReligion's all-you-can-eat -- er, all-you-can-critique -- buffet, so I'm going to take a crack at this one.

Years ago, while serving as religion editor of The Oklahoman, I did a feature on a day in the life of young Mormon missionaries. Later, the missionaries invited me to hear Dale Murphy, the former Atlanta Braves' star, speak at an Oklahoma City area church. I interviewed Murphy about his Mormon faith -- and baseball -- and wrote a story for the paper's Sports cover.

My experience writing about Murphy is part of what interested me about this Sun story on a Mormon football player.

Here's the top of the Sun's nearly 2,000-word Page 1 story:

In a violent world, where grown men curse and taunt each other in their struggle to reach the end zone, the Ravens' Todd Heap is strictly PG.

Heap doesn't smoke, drink or swear. "Gosh darn" are his naughtiest words. The tight end won't talk trash, but he'll take out the garbage without being asked. He doesn't carouse, like many teammates. Tattoos? You won't find one on Heap's 6-foot-5 frame.

"Todd leads a great life," said Haloti Ngata, the Ravens' Pro Bowl defensive tackle. "When I came here, I looked up to him. I knew that if I followed him, I could have a great life in the NFL, and also at home."

Like Heap, Ngata is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and one of four Mormons on the Ravens' squad. The others are defensive end Paul Kruger and rookie tight end Dennis Pitta. No NFL club has as many LDS members.

That's a plus for the Ravens as they enter the playoffs, team officials said. Basic tenets of the Mormon faith, such as devotion to family, humility and respect for one's elders, all translate to football.

It's an interesting story that seems to gush with praise for Heap and the positive benefits that his faith brings to his team. The story provides a snapshot of Heap's strong character and upbringing. Readers learn about Heap's deep Mormon roots:

Heap hails from hardworking pioneer stock who emigrated from England in 1841 in search of religious freedom. His great-great-great grandfather was a bodyguard for Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A great-grandfather, John Henry Heap, was called by church president Brigham Young to colonize Arizona and settled in the dusty town of St. Johns.

"He [John Henry] rode into town with a team of horses and one trunk with all of his belongings. On his death, he owned two whole townships of land and 15,000 head of cattle," said Theo Heap, 84, Todd's grandfather and the family historian.

Despite the piece's positive attributes, however, it seemed shallow to me. After reading the entire thing, I don't feel like I have a clear understanding of what Heap believes and why.

Some of my specific questions:

-- Readers learn that Heap is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but where? We hear from no one associated with his home congregation, or stake. Now, using the name of his church might be a privacy issue for his children, but I wondered about that information.

-- It's reported that Heap is rooted in his beliefs, but readers never really find out what he believes theologically. The story is all about morality, but does Heap read the Bible? The Book of Mormon? Do any particular passages speak to him and influence his life?

-- The story references three-hour church services on Sunday when Heap was growing up. What about now? How does someone who plays football on Sunday live out his faith? Does he attend a team chapel service or otherwise find a way to worship on game days? Does he participate in the Ravens' Christian Bible studies with teammates?

-- In the background on Heap's childhood, reference is made to "family home evenings" where kids were asked to sing, recite poems or play musical instruments before parents and siblings. Does Heap maintain this practice with his own children?

-- One line in the story says that Heap declined the optional two-year LDS mission for which many young men and women volunteer. I wish the reporter had dug deeper there. Was that an easy decision for Heap? An emotional one? Did his family want him to play football, or would they have preferred that he put his career on hold and go pass out church pamphlets for two years?

My criticisms aside, the piece is worth a read. Check it out and let me know what you think. We may need to bring in the first string.

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