Redemption via Super Bowl?

The week I moved to the Green Bay area, the ushers at church handed us kitchen magnets listing the Packers schedules with a little plug for the men's ministry. That was when I realized that sports and religion blend quite frequently here in cheese town.

A recent Wall Street Journal article about how Steelers is practically a religion in Pittsburgh could similarly apply to this city. Of course, we will be interested to see if religion angles come out in some of the inevitable profiles of key players.

On the Steelers' side, we've talked before about coach Mike Tomlin's Christian faith, safety Troy Polamalu's Orthodox Christian faith, and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's attempt to capture the team's faith as a whole.

And we might see further analysis of Ben Roethlisberger's "redemption," perhaps with comparisons to Michael Vick. Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault twice. No criminal charges were filed, and the league suspended him for four games earlier this season. Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Vick served time in prison for his involvement in an illegal dog fighting ring. Back in 2009, Terry asked whether Vick's redemption was completely faith-free, and I'm curious how the divisive quarterback stories will play out. After all, he said after last night's victory, "God is good." It's definitely worth considering whether a redemption story is a push for good PR, but specific details might help us sort this out.

In this lengthy ESPN article about how Roethlisberger is working to rebuild trust, we learn very little about whether religion has played a serious role.

With his bar-hopping days apparently behind him, Roethlisberger retreats to his parents' home in his down time. They moved last year from their house in Ohio to a ranch just outside Pittsburgh, and Ben spends a lot of his time outdoors with his dad, Ken.

Roethlisberger was raised in a fairly strict, religious environment, people close to him say, and has turned back to those roots.

"I think his main focus was getting a better connection with the Lord and getting a better connection with his own family," Colon said.

It might be tough to get specifics from "people close to him," but "fairly strict, religious environment" tells readers very little about his transformation. We see the same vagueness in a story from the Associated Press.

Roethlisberger began attending [Ann Loomis'] suburban church last summer, and she has watched him emerge as someone she calls "just a regular guy going to church on Sunday."

"Professionally, I think the cockiness that was typically attributed to him is no longer there. You can see a genuine person who loves what he does. He loves football, first and foremost, but I would venture to say that his newfound faith has become greater than that," says Loomis, 36, who lives north of Pittsburgh.

"He is becoming a man and finding himself through his mistakes and his restoration as well," she says. "This past weekend, he could have been partying it up after winning the game and sleep all Sunday. But I will tell you, that man was in church on Sunday morning."

In a brief interview, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review asked him a little bit about faith earlier this season, generally saying that he "found his religion."

You said you are more at peace with yourself. Why? It's a calming feeling when the Lord runs your life. And it's something I've always known as a church person, but I've never really believed it. I think I've known it but never believed it. And now I know it, and it's a great thing.

When athletes talk about finding religion, it produces its share of eye-rolling. Do you expect that reaction from fans? It's OK. I'm not going to be going out there and trying to push it on people and make it seem like all of a sudden I am this great person. That's not who I am. That's not what religion and faith is all about. You're not going to see me getting cross tattoos and wearing cross necklaces. That's not what it's about. So if they want to roll their eyes, that's fine. Because I know where I am at and God knows where I'm at, and that's all that really matters.

The reporter's skeptical question appropriately challenged the quarterback's story. Unfortunately, the vague question doesn't help us get a clearer picture of whether his faith has changed over time. For instance, is it so hard for these outlets to include the name of the church that he has been attending? David Briggs recently wrote about research from sociologist Eric M. Carter of Georgetown College, who interviewed 100 current and former NFL players and looked at the influence of religion in their lives.

Overall, 72 percent of the players who reported that they were happy with life also reported that religion was an important support mechanism in their life.

The religious factor, Carter said, appears to furnish some players "with companionship and a sense of essence, the emotional, social psychological, and social supports missing in their lives."

Or, in the words of one of the players, "If you ain't got no family, no loving wife, or other things like that, it's God....He's the only thing that's gonna save you."

There is one kicker: The benefits of religion come with practice. Athletes who publicly proclaim their religious beliefs but do not practice their faith have worse outcomes.

If we could play skeptical and wonder whether Roethlisberger is rebuilding his image for further paychecks, wouldn't it make sense to dig a little more deeply into his religious habits? If reporters play up the forgiveness and redemption angles, at least they could offer a few details.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

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