God and gridiron beat (again)

david tyree catchAnybody remember the post-Super Bowl interview with New York Giants wide receiver David Tyree? That was the man who, just after making that amazing catch with his helmet and hands allowing the Giants to win the Super Bowl, thanked God on national television just for the chance to be out there. Some skeptics doubt whether God really has an impact on the football field. Others have expressed frustration and disdain for athletes who insert God into the conversation after an athletic event.

But in Tyree's case, it's hard to deny that the reason Tyree is out there is because he found a supernatural savior. The New York Times profiles Tyree's life story and does not shy away from the God talk. In fact, the reporters Greg Bishop and Pete Thamel embrace it:

"What looked to be the lowest point in my life ended up being the greatest thing that ever happened to me," Tyree, speaking of his arrest in 2004, said Saturday morning while sitting at his kitchen table.

From special-teams demon to Super Bowl deity. From moonlighting drug dealer to born-again Christian. From a child who drank alcohol and smoked marijuana with his family to a sober father and husband who started his own nonprofit organization.

Who remembers Sports Illustrated senior writer Peter King quoted in Christianity Today saying that he "tires of players bringing up their faith after a" football game?

"To be honest with you, people like me just totally ignore that, because we're not writing about religion," King said. "We're not writing about somebody's Christianity. Once the questions veer off into game-oriented things, that's when I start taking notes."

Question for King and for others who like to ignore statements about God from athletes: would you listen to Tyree talk about how God is the reason for him making a game-winning catch in the Super Bowl? Would you try to argue with him and say that God did not have an impact on his life? I doubt it. More from the NYT:

The morning Tyree left jail, in March 2004, his estranged girlfriend, Leilah, sent him a text message. It read, "I'm with child." She was pregnant with their second son. He promised to visit her in Syracuse and went home and downed a bottle of Remy Martin cognac. During the visit that month, Leilah presented Tyree with an ultimatum -- her lifestyle or his.

Tyree promised change, just as he had promised before. He glimpsed a Bible on her bed, and when he picked it up and started reading from the book of Genesis, for the first time, the words on the page made sense. He went home and "called every woman and told them, 'Things are about to change.' " Tyree said he never drank again.

Then one day, for no reason in particular, Tyree went to the Bethel Church of Love and Praise in Bloomfield, N.J. He sat in the back, about a month after the arrest.

A woman started singing before the congregation, her voice, loud and passionate, filling the room. As Tyree listened, he felt her joy and realized he had none. He lowered his head into his hands and started crying, first sniffles, then sobs lasting 25 minutes.

"I'm a successful player in the N.F.L., having what most people would desire for their lives," Tyree said. "I'm at the pinnacle of sports. But I had no joy. I had no peace. My life was obviously in disarray."

My only fuss with the NYT piece is that it failed to delve into what Tyree means by finding God. What did Tyree's mother mean when "she said she found God" and in her final words before dying "I'm liberated"? Is it inappropriate for a reporter, or even a sports reporter, to ask Tyree what he meant when he told his mother that she needed "to find Jesus. You're going to hell"?

The NYT reporters leave a lot open for the reader to interpret, which is probably appropriate in this situation. But follow-up questions on theological statements shouldn't be considered inappropriate for reporters. Getting to the heart of what athletes mean when they credit God and thank God for their success could potentially encourage those who don't mean what they say to quiet down and give those who do mean what they say a chance to further inform those listening and reading.

With that all said, did anyone read The Washington Post's massive 3,100-plus word story on the late NFL superstar Sean Taylor? Not that there has been an absence of God-talk in the tragic murder of the Washington Redskins safety, but could that aspect of Taylor's life been mentioned at least once in this rather personal piece on Taylor and his family life?

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