Football news sacked by religion

amazing sackReaders of The Miami Herald's sports section may be wondering if the newspaper's sports department is on the hunt to hire a religion expert. Based on the last couple of days of football coverage, it may not be a bad investment although they are doing fairly well with what they have at this point. On Thursday, the newspaper published an article that primarily focuses on the faith and missionary work of Florida Gators quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow. The next day the newspaper published an even more extensive article on Miami Dolphins quarterback John Beck and his two-year experience on a Mormon mission.

The Tebow story is nothing particularly new and is the product of Southeastern Conference Media Day. Stories coming out of "media day" in any sport at any level tend to be fairly fluffy, but fans love seeing what the team has to put forward for the upcoming season.

Reporter Joseph Goodman's story is headlined "Tebow uses fame as a pulpit" and describes the 25 minute news conference as "bizarre" in the lead. But is "bizarre" really the best way to portray what happened?

It was a bizarre beginning to the Southeastern Conference Media Days on Wednesday. There was a football player at the dais -- perhaps the best in the country -- and there were football writers in the audience, but the topic of football seemed like a footnote.

Then Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, told hundreds of sports reporters that football isn't that important.

''I want to do everything in my power that football gives me to influence as many people as I can for the good, because that's going to mean so much more when it's all said and done than just playing football and winning championships,'' Tebow said.

Yet another group converted. College football is a religion in the Deep South, but when Tebow shows up for the season's kickoff party, the whole thing turns into a tent revival.

The bizarre part of the story is Tebow's personal story of faith and upbringing and his incredible talent. Is it that bizarre that that was the subject of the press conference?

What an athlete does in the off-season seems like a reasonable thing to talk about though, and if that makes it preaching from the pulpit then so be it. Media days don't exactly give reporters much option but to write about what was said from that pulpit.

The challenge with covering Tebow, who is the son of Christian missionaries, is that his religious work, including preaching in prisons and churches and mission trips to Thailand, the Philippines and Croatia, has already been extensively covered.

For me, the Indiana Pacers have spent more time recently talking about their player's off-the-court arrests and legal problems than basketball. And I am certain Peyton Manning's first press conference of the season will have little to do with football and more to do with the health of his knee. If that turns the press room into a medical center or a criminal courtroom then so be it. Reporters cover the subject at hand on media day.

The day after the "bizarre" Tebow press conference, The Herald published a story on Dolphins quarterback John Beck and how his time as a Mormon missionary prepared him to overcome adversity:

And Beck's mission turned out to be good preparation. In the 1-15 season, he started four games, passed for one touchdown and three interceptions, lost five fumbles, and then saw the Dolphins draft Chad Henne in the second round in April.

"I always say when you're on the mission, you have to face a lot of rejection,'' Beck said. 'A lot of people don't want to talk to you. When you walk down the streets, people throw stuff at you, they cuss at you. Where I was at in Portugal, some people liked to swerve their cars in front of us, kind of joke around like, `I'm going to hit you.' Ridicule, all that kind of stuff, it was just normal, you just had to work through it.

''Let's take that into last year where a lot of things were going bad for us,'' he said. ``It was tough, but we had to just keep on working kind of with the goal in mind that even though it's tough, we're going to keep working and things will be good. That's kind of how it is on a mission.

The article doesn't go much into Beck's faith or how it has impacted him personally other than his decision to go on the mission. Obviously that was a fairly substantial decision and commitment, but it would have been nice to see more on how his personal faith informs his lifestyle and personal goals.

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