Sometimes the religious angles in a football story just jump out and grab the sports writer and force them to dig into the topic. For example, see here this excellent profile piece by ESPN.com's Wayne Drehs on Kurt Warner. This is one of those athletes you simply cannot write about without mentioning his faith:
Warner has one hand on the steering wheel and the other buried in a carton of french fries when the conversation turns to how he's perceived. He knows what some people think -- that he's a do-no-wrong perfectionist who doesn't curse, doesn't drink and lives this straight-laced, holier-than-thou life.
And in a way, he understands. That's what happens when you talk about Jesus, mention God or explain your selfless ways by professing your faith. That's what happens when you pass out football cards that in bold, red letters proclaim: "Read The Bible -- Attend Church -- Pray to God -- Tell Others About Jesus." And that's what happens when, after winning the Super Bowl MVP award, you stand on the biggest stage of your life and begin a postgame interview by saying, "First things first, I've got to thank my Lord and Savior above."
June 20, 1996. That's the day the football cards that Warner hands out say he was "born again." Warner grew up in a religious family, but not until he met Brenda in college at the University of Northern Iowa, not until a couple of his Iowa Barnstormers teammates and she started pressing Warner on his beliefs, did he truly dig into the Bible searching for answers. What he discovered was a whole new life.
At other times, the faith angle is there in a news story and the journalist is faced with the seemingly delicate challenge of explaining the athlete or coach's person's spiritual beliefs. For example, Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy is nearly impossible to write about without mentioning his faith.
See here how Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz writes about the high possibility that this Sunday may be the last time Dungy coaches a professional football game in Indianapolis:
Every year for the past few years, he's done the same thing: He's walked away from the game at season's end, let the emotion drain from the process, talked with his family, prayed and ultimately decided to return for one more season. I remain convinced that he was ready to call it quits after last season, but was talked into returning for this season by owner Jim Irsay for the opening of the new stadium.
Dungy, if you haven't noticed by now, is a different kind of man, and for that, we're all eternally thankful. As accomplished as he is as a coach, football is not his life, and he does not want football to become a jail of his own construction. He has the financial freedom to pursue other passions, most of which relate to helping less fortunate souls through faith-based initiatives.
It's hard to find a better pulpit than the one provided for an NFL head coach. But that job takes incredible time and focus. Dungy has mentioned before he wants to work with prison ministries and other areas where he might be able to touch other people's live in a more profound way.
Those who know Dungy know exactly what Kravitz means when he says that Dungy "is a different kind of man." For those who aren't clued in (and if you follow this blog, how could you not be?), see the end of that paragraph and his mention of Dungy's involvement in helping "less fortunate souls through faith-based initiatives." Oh, and Dungy seeks a pulpit, but why won't Kravtiz come out and say that it's Dungy's faith that makes him different or that it is his Christian faith?
Perhaps it was for stylistic reasons, and it should be noted that Kravitz is a columnist with a distinct style of writing (but who also often breaks news as every good journalist should).
A final category this post will explore is found here in this excellently written and reported feature in The Baltimore Sun about racism in the NFL in general, and on the racism that existed on the 1958 Baltimore Colts in particular. The article is a must-read (it quotes Mark Bowden's The Best Game Ever, which my father says is an excellent book) for anyone who appreciates good journalism, sports or American social history in general:
Most of the time, Lyles, Lenny Moore, Milt Davis, Jim Parker, Johnny Sample and Eugene "Big Daddy" Lipscomb weren't allowed to stay in the same hotels as their white teammates on road trips. They rarely, if ever, socialized with the white players, in part because they couldn't enter the same restaurants, bars and movie theaters. In Westminster, where the team held its annual training camp, the African-American players encountered so much blatant racism on a daily basis, they decided one year to boycott the welcome banquet being thrown for the Colts by the city.
Tmatt was actually the one who caught this one and in sending the article around, he noted that it is pretty amazing where faith shows up in sports stories. Here it is near the end of the article:
If there was one white player who was truly colorblind, it was wide receiver Raymond Berry. Berry went out of his way to try to help Lyles, driving to his apartment in West Baltimore on the Colts' days off. For hours at a local park, Berry would show Lyles how to run routes and catch passes.
"He was a Christian and a real straightforward guy," Lyles said. "He was the only person on the whole team who went out of his way to try and help me."
"Thank God for Raymond Berry, because he showed us we were a team," Moore said. "He showed us we were in it together. It was a thing you could hold on to, and we held on to it."
So many issues are raised by this single quote. Did the reporter and his editors think that the quote simply spoke for itself and that no follow-up was necessary? Is there more to that sentence or subsequent follow-up questions that didn't make the final cut?
Some of the questions that come to my mind are as follows: were the rest of the players not considered Christians for one reason or another? What does it mean when Lyles says that Berry's Christian faith and "straightforward" manner relates to his ability to see his teammates without regard to their color?
A reader who submitted the Warner story to us said that it was a good example of the fact that many journalists on the sports beat get religion and that it is "a shame that those on other beats don't." He also predicted that we'd only get two comments on this story if we posted on it. Whether that predication is right or wrong, sports continue to be an important area of religion coverage and something we won't let slide anytime soon.