Seeing the trivial in sacred hoops

barnes On and off the court, Rick Barnes is a changed man. The University of Texas men's head basketball coach has forsworn swearing and fatty foods. Where he used to hurl profane names at his players and slurp sodas, now he says "let's kick butt" in the huddle and has cut out the carbs in his diet. Give sports columnist Kirk Bohls of the Austin American Statesman credit for finding this story; as the NCAA tournament is in full swing, the timing is right. But Bohls evinced little interest in examining the deeper reasons for Barnes' changes. The result was the type of scratch-the-surface story that we at GetReligion lament.

Toward the end of his column, Bohls got around to summarizing and hinting at why Barnes changed. Here is his answer:

It's all part of the new Rick Barnes, a 53-year-old stickler for discipline who now preaches what he practices. And listening to what others preach as well.

"Ask him what's on his iPod," assistant coach Russell Springmann coaxed.

If Barnes isn't breaking down film of Austin Peay before Texas' NCAA tournament opener in Little Rock, Ark., on Friday, there's a very good chance he's listening to one of the sermons from Matt Carter, a preacher at the Austin Stone church where Barnes and his family attend services. They are members of Lake Hills Church in Westlake.

The coach also takes part with his wife Candy's daily devotionals and reads from books she has given him, such as Billy Graham's "The Holy Spirit" and Minneapolis preacher John Piper's "Don't Waste Your Life."

"The journey's real important," one Barnes confidante said. "Having self-control is never a bad thing."

Did you see the ghost(s)? Faithful GR reader Shannon Edmonds did. In his email to us, Edmonds noted the following:

Here's yet another example of a sports story with religious ghosts -- albeit ones that get a brief, non-descript mention in the final few paragraphs, a mention that only begs the question of the entire article: WHY has the coach changed? If you take this article at face value, there is no reason for the change.

Edmonds is right: Bohls slighted the reasons for Barnes' change. While Bohls mentioned that Barnes read sermons from various preachers, he failed to explore the theology or religious messages of those preachers. In doing so, Bohls missed a key part of the story.

Bohls should have at least browsed the websites of those preachers. I did, and my search for information about Matt Carter, the pastor of Barnes' non-denominational Christian church, was valuable. It is likely that Barnes stopped cursing out of respect for one of Carter's four tenets ( also see here ):

I believe the best thing we can do for the children and youth who are part of our church is to help them forge relationships with adults who care about them and with their peers rather than creating a lot of programs. In relationship, they will hear truth and have opportunities to mature spiritually and become who they are called to be.

Sure, Bohls' story was a lighthearted take on the topic. Cursing and eating junk food are easy fodder for a column. But Bohls appears to have concentrated on those to the exclusion of a more significant story: Barnes changed his ways for the welfare, spiritual or otherwise, of his players. (Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson has done the same.)

What's so funny about that?

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