Sports and games

Here we go again: ESPN.com trims J-word out of big Florida rite in Tim Tebow's life

Here we go again: ESPN.com trims J-word out of  big Florida rite in Tim Tebow's life

Greetings from SEC football territory, deep down in the Bible Belt.

I was not surprised that my recent posts about the coverage — or the lack of coverage, in many cases — of sports and religious faith drew some reader responses. Click here for the main post and then here for the “Crossroads” podcast on the topic.

The podcast post included the following throwaway line, talking about how it’s impossible to discuss some sports figures without mentioning their faith, especially when their views on sex are part of the story: “Can you say ‘Tim Tebow’? I knew that you could.”

Well, a Catholic priest caught something in the news that I missed.

Apparently, Tebow was induced into the University of Florida football ring of honor the other day. As you would expect, ESPN did a story on this big day in the life of an SEC Network star. And, as you would expect, Tebow was asked to make a few remarks during the ceremony. And, as you would expect, Tebow did a shout-out to Jesus.

The priest noted: “Funny that tmatt should have just mentioned Tebow. Compare what he says in the video (about 28 seconds) with what's quoted in the article. Something's missing.”

Click this ESPN link to see the best video (or watch the longer version at the top of this post).

The ESPN.com news report goes out of its way, at the very top, to quote Tebow’s “message to the fans.” But was this all that he said? Here is the overture:

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Tim Tebow became the sixth player to join the Florida Ring of Honor on Saturday, as the crowd inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium chanted, "Tebow! Tebow!"

Tebow, who won the Heisman Trophy and two national championships as Florida's quarterback from 2006 to 2009, was honored after the first quarter in No. 22 Florida's 27-19 home victory over No. 5 LSU.

A Tebow highlights package played on the video screens as he stood near the 20-yard line. When his name was unveiled, the crowd gave him a standing ovation and chanted his name. Tebow then took the microphone and had a message for the fans.

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Old question from world of sports: Why avoid role of faith in lives of many great athletes?

Old question from world of sports: Why avoid role of faith in lives of many great athletes?

There is nothing new (or newsworthy) about athletes, in post-game interviews, saying things like this: “Most of all, I would like to thank God for the many blessings he has given me.”

Or even this: “First, I’d like to give praise to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Many superstars say this after victories. Many say things like this after defeat. The question “Crossroads” host Todd Wilken asked, at the start of this week’s podcast (click here to tune that in), was this: Do mainstream news reporters, when then here this, roll their eyes with skepticism?

The answer, I think, is, “Yes, they do.” And for others, the response is stronger than that: It’s either cynicism or sarcasm verging on hostility.

Why? Well, in many cases these sports reporters know that some of the athletes saying this are absolute jerks or hypocrites of the highest orders. Reporters know that some — no, not all — of these Godtalk superstars are not walking their talk.

So this acidic attitude tends to seep into lots of mainstream stories about the many, many, many religious believers who are newsmakers in college and professional sports.

But words are one thing. Actions are another.

Like what? Well, as is often the case, things get really messy when superstars are living lives that are genuinely countercultural when it comes to — you got it — sex.

Can you say “Tim Tebow”? I knew that you could.

When I was young, one of my heroes was at the center of similar controversies. That was Roger “Captain America” Staubach, a happily married, family-guy Roman Catholic.

Several years ago, M.Z. “GetReligion emerita” Hemingway wrote up a very similar case surrounding NFL star Philip Rivers. Her headline at The Federalist included a wonderful new culture wars term: “Fecundophobia: The Growing Fear Of Children And Fertile Women.

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Deacon Greg 'CBS' Kandra vents: USA Today sports said WHAT about Brett Kavanaugh?!?

Deacon Greg 'CBS' Kandra vents: USA Today sports said WHAT about Brett Kavanaugh?!?

I truly appreciate people who have the ability to show restraint in today’s crazy, heated world of social media.

Take, for example Deacon Greg Kandra, a former CBS News writer with 26 years, two Emmys and two Peabody Awards to his credit. He is now a permanent deacon in the Catholic Church, assigned to Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, a 3,000-member parish in Forest Hills, a Queens neighborhood on the north end of New York City.

Kandra has a blog called “The Deacon’s Bench” and it’s a great site to bookmark, if you want insights into everything from good preaching to trends in pew-level Catholic life.

At the same time, he has been known to offer commentary on news coverage of church events and trends. His credentials speak for themselves. Frankly, I wish he wrote about news issues — television news, in particular — more often.

Kandra showed as much restraint as possible in a recent post that ran with this dry, biting headline: “Great moments in journalism: USA TODAY’s botched column on Kavanaugh.

What happened? Kandra quotes several summaries of this train wreck, including this material from The Daily Caller:

A Friday USA Today article stating that Judge Brett Kavanaugh “should stay off basketball courts for now when kids are around” was re-edited the next day and the original tweet to the piece was deleted.

“The U.S. Senate may yet confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, but he should stay off basketball courts for now when kids are around,” USA Today sports reporter Erik Brady wrote in the piece which has since been changed to an opinion column.

“A previous tweet contained a statement that has since been edited out of a sports column,” tweeted USA Today on Saturday. “That tweet has been deleted. The updated opinion column and editor’s clarification are here.”

The result was what Kandra called a “shouting match on social media.” So much for the deacon’s quiet weekend.

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SI glimpses a faith angle: The doubts, tears, anger and agony of slugger in an epic slump

SI glimpses a faith angle: The doubts, tears, anger and agony of slugger in an epic slump

If you’re a baseball fan, this is an amazing and historic day, with two extra games jammed into the National League schedule just to find out who plays where in the early stages of the playoffs.

Lots of people will be missing work today in Los Angeles, Denver, Milwaukee and Chicago. But the baseball fans here at GetReligion will have little to do with all of this, since Bobby Ross, Jr., is a Texas Rangers fan and my loyalties remain in Baltimore.

However, the sad, sad story of the Orioles and their journey into the shadow land called “rebuilding” did inspire a striking story the other day in Sports Illustrated, focusing on the epic disaster that the 2018 season was for slugger Chris “Crush” Davis. The headline: “Crushed Davis: Nobody Is Struggling With the Modern Game More Than Chris Davis.”

This is a story with two levels — sports and a man’s crushed spirit.

The baseball part is pretty easy to describe: No one has been affected more than Davis by the strategy called “the shift” (infielders move into shallow right field to frustrate left-handed batters). Davis has, like many who bat on the left side of the plate, spent his career molding a swing designed to produce hard contact pulling the ball. The shift has stolen a stunning number of his hits and RBIs.

Why not just change your swing to push the ball to left field or bloop it over the “shift” defenders?

This is where the baseball theme in this story morphs into matters of the mind, heart and soul. Trying to tinker with a player’s grooved swing messes with his mind. Here is the overture:

Baseball’s shortest walk feels like its longest. As Chris Davis trudges the 70 feet from home plate to the dugout, he has plenty of time to consider the people he has just let down. There are his fellow Orioles, of course, who will greet him with pats on the backside that feel more like condolences than encouragement. The coaches who sat on buckets to flip him thousands of balls over the years. His father, who coached him harder than anyone else. The organization that writes his paychecks and strings his likeness up on lampposts and sells dolls featuring grotesquely oversized representations of his head. His wife, who gave up her dream job without complaint when he got traded. His three kids, who seem to have grown two inches every time he returns from a 10-game road trip.

Davis, who has struck out 178 times through Sept. 13, knows baseball's walk of shame better than just about everyone else in the majors.

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In the jaw-dropping story of an NFL coach's search for his family, glimpses of faith emerge

In the jaw-dropping story of an NFL coach's search for his family, glimpses of faith emerge

Even without a religion angle, this would be an incredible story.

I'm talking about ESPN's in-depth narrative on an NFL coach's long search for his birth parents.

"Absolutely amazing." "Unbelievable." "Just astounding." That's how various readers have described the piece.

Others have seen God at work in the outcome.

"Wow Just, wow," said one reader. "This story has all the feels. The God of Heaven watches over us all. No, that doesnt mean life is all roses & picnics. But His hand can be seen...for those who have 'eyes that they might see..'" 

"This ESPN story about @coachdmc finding his birth parents is absolutely worth the read," said another. "Someone recently said to me that God is doing more behind your back than in front of your face. This story says yes and amen to that."

Intrigued yet?

I'm doing my best not to give away any spoilers, in case you haven't read the story yet and would like to check it out before I offer a few hints.

Basic storyline: A young mother gives up her baby for adoption. The baby grows up to become a football player and later a coach. All the while, although he loves his adoptive mother, he searches for his birth parents. He eventually finds them — and it turns out he had known his birth father almost his entire life. 

But yes, faith makes various cameo appearances as the ESPN writer, Sarah Spain, allows the spiritual angle to unfold naturally.

Early in the story, the adoptive mother references God:

By March of that year, Jon Kenneth Briggs had been renamed Deland Scott McCullough, and he was living at home with his new parents, Adelle and A.C.

"We were still in love, a good couple," Comer says. "We went to church, partied, went to cookouts. We were working together and doing this together and wanting to make a home for our children. We knew that God's hand was in it. Deland came so fast to us. We knew that it was meant to be. Both of us."

But things changed quickly. Comer's father had a stroke, and though A.C. wanted to put him in a nursing home, Comer brought her dad to live with the family in Youngstown. Their marriage deteriorated, and when Deland was just 2 years old, A.C. moved out.

"They went through a lot of hurt and disappointment, but they took it," Comer says of her sons. "I said, 'God gives you an example of what to be and what not to be. You have to make the choice.' And that's all I had to say, and they got it."

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Love for people drives major-league catcher to help, but what role does his faith play?

Love for people drives major-league catcher to help, but what role does his faith play?

Was it a good movie?

Did you enjoy it?

Those tend to be my main two questions in assessing the latest flick at the theater.

I don't pay a lot of attention to film critics because they tend — from my perspective — to nitpick various details that don't matter much to me. They're paid to find fault.

What does that have to do with GetReligion? Well, as a media critic for this journalism-focused website, my job calls upon me to spot holy ghosts in mainstream press stories and point them out for readers. But occasionally, I fear that I'm demanding a level of religious specificity that is no concern to ordinary readers.

Thus, when I read a story like a recent Dallas Morning News feature on good works by Texas Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos, I'm unsure whether to (1) just be thankful for a nice piece that goes behind the scenes of a charitable player or (2) complain that the paper fails to offer any concrete details on the subject's obvious faith.

I mean, given the circumstances, it's not difficult for most readers to assume that Chirinos must be a Christian (something that the "Servant of Christ" mention on his Twitter profile quicks confirms):

ARLINGTON -- He had just signed his first professional contract. The scouts who signed him had just left his home. He was 16. His father, Roberto, told Robinson Chirinos to pull up a chair at the family's kitchen table.

"Never forget about people," Roberto Chirinos told him.

He never has.

Robinson Chirinos was telling the story again Saturday afternoon after spending the morning, along with more than half of the Rangers' roster, handing out backpacks as part of a Back To School Block party at the Refuge Church in Fort Worth.

The event taking place at a church is a pretty obvious clue, as is the additional context offered in the next few paragraphs:

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Political speeches? Hey AP! NFL This Hall of Fame class stopped just short of giving an altar call

Political speeches? Hey AP! NFL This Hall of Fame class stopped just short of giving an altar call

GetReligion readers know that I am a big sports fan, even during these days of NFL confusion. I lived in greater Baltimore for 12 years and followed the Ravens quite closely.

So, yes, I watched the NFL Hall of Fame speeches the other day, in part because Ray "God's linebacker" Lewis was a first-ballot pick and he spoke at the end of the program.

Now, you knew that Lewis was going to go into full-tilt preacher mode when given this kind of platform. Right? 

So imagine my rather cynical surprise when I picked up my Knoxville News Sentinel the next day and saw this headline on the Associated Press story covering this event: "Hall of Fame speeches get political." That was a shorter version of the AP's own headline: "Hall of Fame speeches get political in Canton, Chattanooga."

Ah come on. Yes, there was obvious political implications to many of the remarks. I get that.

But several of the speakers packed their speeches with so much Godtalk that I thought the NFL police were going to have to rush in to prevent them from ending with an altar call. Many of the most striking remarks, in terms of politics, were mixed with religious content. I mean, Lewis -- in a plea for safer schools -- even talked about prayer in American schools.

This was a classic example of one of GetReligion's major themes: "Politics is real. Religion? Not so much." Here is the AP overture, which is long -- but essential. You have to see how hard AP worked to stress the political over the spiritual.

CANTON, Ohio (AP) -- Just as the demonstrations of players during the national anthem have become a means of expression for NFL players, the stage at the Hall of Fame inductions often turns into a political platform. It certainly did Saturday night.

Ray Lewis did so with his words, and Randy Moss with his tie.

There even were political tones with a different target 600 miles away during Terrell Owens’ speech at his personal celebration of entering the pro football shrine.

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Holy ghosts haunt Houston Chronicle's front-page profile of former Astros pitching great J.R. Richard

Holy ghosts haunt Houston Chronicle's front-page profile of former Astros pitching great J.R. Richard

Far too many journalists are "tone deaf to the music of religion," as commentator Bill Moyers once told GetReligion's own Terry Mattingly.

I get that sense about an in-depth Houston Chronicle profile of former Astros pitching great J.R. Richard that appeared on Sunday's front page.

At repeated junctures in this otherwise excellent and nuanced piece, facts and details appear that seem to scream, "There's a religion angle here! Please ask Richard about his faith journey and what he believes about God!"

Instead, it's as if the Chronicle can't hear that voice and instead moves forward with unrelated material, leaving obvious questions unanswered.

The first clue of a religion angle comes right up top.

See where Richard is speaking:

The most terrifying pitcher ever to have called the Astrodome home slowly pushes himself up from a couch and lumbers, at 68 years old, into a small room overcrowded with 100 of Houston’s homeless and neediest people.

They have come off the searing hot pavement to Lord of the Streets, an Episcopal Church and clinic on Fannin Street, for the free lunch, but first they must fill rows of foldout chairs and listen to uplifting testimonials from others like them.

Many in the audience do not know there is a guest speaker until the 6-foot-8 J.R. Richard wades through the aisle toward the pulpit.

“I don’t have no psychology degree,” he says during a private aside, “but sometimes it don’t take that.”

A church? A pulpit? Might there be a specific reason for Richard speaking at this location?

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Friday Five: RNS council, execution witness, McCarrick scandal, gamer pastor and more

Friday Five: RNS council, execution witness, McCarrick scandal, gamer pastor and more

GetReligion has covered the various happenings at Religion News Service since the firing of former editor in chief Jerome Socolovsky (now with NPR) and the resignations of other key staff and columnists.

This week brought another development for RNS — the appointment of a 19-person advisory council for the news service.

See the full list of members here.

Tell us what you think!

(Full disclosure: I do freelance reporting for RNS in addition to my full-time work with The Christian Chronicle.)

Now, let's dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: While working for The Oklahoman nearly two decades ago, I witnessed four executions. Still, I can't even imagine what Associated Press writer Michael Graczyk has done — serving as a media witness for 429 inmate deaths. 

If you missed it, news coverage of the retirement of Graczyk, a practicing Catholic, is worth your time.

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