Theodicy on the sports page: Did Glover Quin really say God took out Jordy Nelson?

It's time for another weekend of preseason National Football League games -- those meaningless revenue generators in which the league's top players try to get ready for the new season, while doing everything they can (praying even) not to get hurt.

This brings us, whether most sports reporters know it or not, to centuries of debates about the sovereignty of God.

Yes, one of the hottest topics in sports news this past week (click here to scan the nearly 2,000 news articles) was whether Detroit Lions defensive back Glover Quin was crazy when he said superstar Green Bay Packer wide receiver Jordy Nelson's season-ending knee injury had something to do with God's plan for his life. Looking at this from the viewpoint of Packer fans, you could even say this was another one of those stories that centered on "theodicy" questions (previous GetReligion discussions here) about why God allows evil to exist.

From a journalism perspective, what this sad case study demonstrates is that there are times when it is simply wrong to yank one tiny simplistic soundbite out of a long, complex quotation about a complex topic.

Here is the top of an ESPN feature examining the wreckage in this case:

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Detroit Lions safety Glover Quin defended himself ... after his comment about the injury to Packers receiver Jordy Nelson and the will of God caused a backlash in social media.
Quin, when asked ... about Nelson's injury, said he respected Nelson and hated to see him hurt. But as part of the answer, Quin also said "God had meant for Jordy to be hurt." The comment was part of a bigger answer on what Quin believes about how and why injuries happen. ...
Among those who reacted to Quin's comments were Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who retweeted a comment from Brian Baumgartner, an actor from the TV show "The Office," about Quin's comments.

Right. So now we have a not-so-wonderful combination of religion, professional football, social media and Hollywood theology.

However, let's pause on that tweet for a moment.

Buried down in the mountain of comments and retweets is an interesting reference to a statement from Nelson -- an outspoken Christian -- about an injury he suffered in college and the impact it had on his life. "Count Buffalo" tweeted out the quote, from a Fellowship of Christian Athletes commentary:

In other words, readers really need to ask this question: Did NELSON understand what Quin was saying far better than the journalists and social-media mavens who turned this into a media firestorm? You would have to say "yes." See point No. 4 in this piece on essential facts about Nelson.

So let's go back to that ESPN piece, which tried to explain what happened with the Quinn quotation:

"I don't mean that God particularly said 'I want to take Jordy Nelson out,'" Quin said. "I'm not saying all that. I just believe that what is meant to be will be, regardless. That's just how I feel about it." ...
Quin said people don't have to believe what he believes, and have their own beliefs. He also said God is bigger than football and the game is about growth and learning from injuries, and winning and losing.
Quin's comments Monday came as he responded to questions about Nelson's injury and possible changes to the preseason schedule. Quin said injuries could happen any time, not just the preseason.
"I feel like injuries are going to happen, same way Jordy got hurt," Quin said Monday. "I hate that Jordy got hurt, but in my belief and the way that I believe, it was God had meant for Jordy to get hurt. If he wouldn't have got hurt today, if he wouldn't have played in that game, if he wouldn't have practiced anymore and the next time he walked on the field would have been opening day, I feel like he would have got hurt opening day. ...

Once again, reporters do not have to agree, in this case, with the religious beliefs of Quin and, ironically, Nelson. That's not what this post is about. We are not here to argue about the sovereignty of God, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

The problem, apparently, is that there were no reporters in the room who had even the most basic knowledge of how traditional Christians talk about the will of God and their convictions that, when looking at big picture, even the worst moments of pain and loss in a person's life can be seen as part of a larger redemptive plan.

Once again, look at that earlier quote from Nelson:

Would it have helped if a reporter had noted this earlier Nelson quote when writing about what Quin did or didn't say? Well, of course. I would think that there had to be someone covering the Packers beat day after day who knew enough about Nelson's background and faith to have connected the dots in this case.

I also wonder what Nelson himself has said about this latest injury. He has, apparently, been quiet about this setback. I would keep my eyes on his Facebook account, as well as this Twitter site that aggregates just about everything anyone says about the Packers star.

So, in conclusion, did Quin really say that God wanted Nelson to hurt his knee?

Yes, that's what the soundbite said. But is that what the man really said?

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