Yes, another God and football story: ESPN ignores Catholic faith in Harbaugh's life

It is very easy to be cynical about a lot of the Godtalk that goes on in the world of sports.

You know what I'm talking about. There are a few players and coaches, not many, who really do think God is on their side and wants them to win games. Personally, I have noticed that the more devout players are -- meaning that they are actually active in faith groups week after week -- the more likely they are to say that their prayers focus on the well-being of other athletes and requests that they all play -- safely -- to the best of their abilities.

Take, for example, those prayer circles that form on the field after National Football League games (the ones the networks never show on television). They involve players from both teams -- together. What do you think they are praying about? Are the winners praying, "Dear God, thank you for giving us the power to kick these other losers' butts." Probably not.

Now, I bring all this up because of an interesting comment a reader made the other day on my post about Stephen Curry and his decision to leap from the Kingdom of Nike to the Under Armour brand. His new company, you may remember (click here to catch up on that), let him put some faith-centered material on his Curry-branded shoes. We're talking about the 4:13 and "I can do all things" references that point to Philippians 4:13, which states, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (KJV)." Thus, "BlueOntario" asked:

I wonder if you are on to something. What is driving the several stories documented here of ESPN avoiding "the religion angle?" Is there actually a top-down driven policy, probably never in writing, that states what the lines are regarding religion that ESPN stories can never cross?
Pattern or coincidence?

This brings me to a story that I have been thinking about for awhile, a piece -- yes, at ESPN -- focusing on Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and his unique approach to working in today's bottom-line-driven NFL culture.

The hook for this story was the death, following a motorcycle accident, of a young Ravens cornerback named Tray Walker. Walker was not a star, but he had potential and his salary was a crucial support system for his family. Although Walker spent most of his time on the practice squad, the story notes that "Harbaugh was heartbroken," as were some other players on the team (including some I follow on Twitter).

This ESPN feature described the head coach this way:

The Baltimore Ravens coach, who is entering his ninth season, is one of the few men in the NFL who approaches his job less like a CEO and more like the patriarch of a large family. He is demanding, and he is stubborn. If you dog it in practice or disrespect your teammates, he will fly across the field and get in your face like an ornery badger. But away from the field, he is loyal and loving in ways that make him unique in his profession.

And then:

"If they're on your team, you're their dad," John continued. "They deserve your love. And if you can't like them, or love them, either you shouldn't be the coach or they shouldn't be on the team. Every player should know that you love them, and you care about them, even when they act crazy. Even when you discipline them. Even when you tell them it's not OK, that you're going to be there on the end of the bench. But I still love you. I still love you."

Now, Harbaugh is very open about his faith -- as long-time readers of GetReligion may know. I wrote about this issue rather frequently during the decade-plus I spent in Baltimore, with The Baltimore Sun landing in my front yard every morning.

To cut to the chase: Might this X-factor in Harbaugh's work have SOMETHING to do with his Catholic faith? Might that be worth a mention? I would even say that his attitude toward his players -- theologically speaking -- might even be linked to the those ashes on his forehead on Ash Wednesday each year, as Catholics head into the sobering season of Lent with its teachings about mortality.

Look for the word "Catholic" in this piece. Did I miss it?

When you consider the stated subject of this piece, how does one leave out Harbaugh's faith?

Well, toward the end, there is one vague Godtalk reference, simply because Harbaugh put it there in a key moment in the Walker drama, right after the accident:

The coach couldn't sleep, couldn't focus, so he wrote a letter to his team. "As I focused on Tray this morning, some thoughts came to mind that I wanted to share," Harbaugh wrote. "What would I say to my own son, if I had a son, in a situation like this? You guys are that important to me."
In his letter, Harbaugh talked about looking after the people you love, about walking away from trouble, about considering the consequences of your actions. It was less a lecture and more of a plea. "I am asking you to consider what is at stake in your life," Harbaugh wrote. "Consider what your thoughts, actions and choices mean to those around you. Live your life fully and with purpose. Have fun and share your happiness. Find your Faith, and allow God to Grow Your Faith. Let's look out for one another. Be a great brother and friend. Inquire. Listen. Ask. Investigate. Reach out. Be There. Take a Step. Go For It. Remember, We are Brothers in Arms. And, again, take care of each other."

That's strong stuff. I wonder where that kind of language came from?

Just asking.

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