A 'lousy night' for atheists?

josh hamiltonWhen Josh Hamilton talks about the impact of "God's grace" on his life, reporters and commentators cannot ignore it. Back in January, there was a flurry of coverage of the Major League Baseball slugger's amazing life turnaround, much of which focused on the role of faith. Those watching the ESPN broadcast of Hamilton's ridiculously amazing performance in last night's All-Star Home Run Derby would have had trouble missing the fact that God played a rather significant role in the mere fact that Hamilton is still swinging a bat today. Many Internet boards and blogs are buzzing over a broadcaster's statement that it was "a lousy night to be an atheist." I do not know how this statement makes any logical or theological sense, particularly since Hamilton failed to win the contest. I am sure the atheists, who had every right to enjoy Hamilton's athletic performance, are not too pleased with the comment either. Are all atheists presumed to be incapable of finding enjoyment in hearing about the role religion played in turning a person's life around?

At best, the comment was a rhetorical device for an ESPN broadcaster who seemed at a loss for words to describe both Hamilton's performance and his remarkable life turnaround.

Aside from the comment about atheists, ESPN included some of Hamilton's own personal testimony from previously recorded interviews, and the broadcasters made a series of references to the role faith played in turning his life around. The broadcast has left an array of impressions regarding ESPN's handling of Hamilton's faith. From what I saw (unfortunately only Hamilton's first round set of homers), most of the comments touched lightly, but frequently, on the role Hamilton's faith played in his life. Others saw it differently:

[I]t is painfully obvious that ESPN does not get religion, either in print or on the air. During the Home Run Derby at the All Star Game, Josh Hamilton mentioned God, his faith in God, how God had made a difference in his life, etc. every time someone from ESPN put a microphone in his face. ESPN consistently, and deliberately, changed the subject.

At times, it was almost comical. One commentator quoted a Hamilton teammate as saying that Hamilton is an "evangelist" and then tried to explain the term without any reference to Hamilton's faith. Another commentator said that Hamilton makes sure that he has a "buddy" when he goes out in public to avoid succumbing to temptations. I guess that "buddy" is the religion-neutral term for "accountability partner."

ESPN needs to employ one person who gets religion. Desperately.

If you saw the derby Monday night, particularly the later rounds, feel free to leave us with your impressions of how the broadcast handled the subject of Hamilton's faith.

The ESPN broadcast aside, the print media and the Internet have also been covering Hamilton's story of faith in the aftermath of his impressive display of athletic prowess. Here is an article titled "Josh Hamilton: A Story of Faith" from the Bleacher Report, an open source sports news network:

When confronted about his former drug addiction, Hamilton simply says, "It's a God thing." Hamilton is not shy about his story, he talks to groups and fans at different functions about how Christianity has brought his life from drugs to what it is now.

The song that plays when Hamilton steps to the plate in Texas is, "Saved The Day" by the Christian group, Phillips, Craig & Dean.

One way or another, the news account by The Associated Press managed to neglect any significant mention of Hamilton's faith other than his quote that he feels "blessed" to be playing baseball again and that his recovery story was an "incredible tale of redemption" that made national news this year. Why would a straightforward news account avoid using words that more directly describe the faith-aspect of Hamilton's story?

The Baltimore Sun was more direct about Hamilton's faith-based recovery story:

New York -- Despite losing in last night's Home Run Derby final, the legend of Josh Hamilton keeps growing.

The Texas Rangers' 27-year-old outfielder is not only a budding superstar who leads the majors with 95 RBIs.

He's not just a born-again Christian and recovering addict who publicly speaks about overcoming his demons.

And he's more than a Home Run Derby record holder.

He's also a soothsayer.

The Sun's coverage is an example of how a journalist can appropriately mention the significance of faith in a rather short story. By using direct language, the 10-paragraph news story conveys Hamilton's story of faith rather accurately.

There is an appropriate time and place to cover an individual's faith in an in-depth format. While the morning-after story is rarely the place for this type of coverage of any subject beyond the box score, an appropriate choice of words ("born-again Christian" and "demons") can convey a significant amount of information and meaning in a short amount of space.

Photo of Josh Hamilton used under a Wikimedia Commons license.

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