Sports scribes hurdle religion

hurdlesSports reporters are often some of the most closely read journalists in the local newspaper. They are also often the most knowledgeable journalists about the subject they cover. To some people's surprise, sports journalists must also have an adequate grasp on just about everything else in life, including religion. Consider the following New York Times article on the hurdler Queen Quedith Earth Harrison's dramatic Olympic qualification race Sunday. The reporter goes from describing a rather unique 400-meter hurdles competition to a criminal rap sheet, to an unusual religious faith:

The family names relate to belief in The Nation of Gods and Earths, a black militant group that split from the Nation of Islam in the 1960s. It is also known as Five-Percent Nation, with its adherents called Five-Percenters.

The term Five-Percenters derives from the belief that only 5 percent of the world's people liberate themselves from worshipping a false "mystery God" and become gods to themselves and their families. Some consider it a black supremacist religion; its followers consider it an uplifting way of life.

"It's really about finding peace with one's self and really being clean and educated, building yourself up in society where you are known as an underdog, a minority," Harrison said. "Each black man is considered a supreme being. Woman is the earth, the creation of all things."

One person's "uplifting way of life" is another's supremacist faith. Is that all readers expect to know about this religious faith?

Any journalist would struggle to give readers a full story on this tremendous athlete without delving into the subject of religion. Fortunately, many sports reporters take note of the religious aspects of athletes' lives. Some choose to ignore it, but most manage to do a reasonable job of explaining how an athlete's faith drives his or her life and desire to compete.

What are often missing are deeper questions of faith that explain an athlete's religious ideology. This can be true when the religious identity is unique or unconventional. Too often sports reporters take statements such as "I want to thank the Lord for this victory" on face value.

As the 2008 Olympics approach, I am hoping to see reporters ask athletes to explain exactly what they mean by that type of statement. Perhaps if athletes knew they would be further questioned on the subject of religion, those who are less than sincere would be less casual in making such statements and viewers would get a better understanding of how faith influences an athlete's life.

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