Back in 2003, a friend of mine named Brent High made national headlines when he started organizing "Faith Nights" -- Christian faith nights, that is -- at minor-league baseball games in Nashville, Tenn.
In a 2005 feature, USA Today described High as one of the "fathers of religious promotion nights." A year later, in 2006, the major-league Atlanta Braves called up "Faith Days" to the Big Show, and ABC News, CBS News and The New York Times -- among other major media outlets -- did lengthy reports on mingling sports and salvation.
Skip ahead to the present day, and USA Today has published the skeleton of a potentially enlightening and even interesting follow-up on faith-based sports marketing. Unfortunately, the skeleton is 435 words of lame, bare-bones, quasi-reporting.
The 2011 headline (in case you missed it five years ago):
Pro teams adding religion to promotional fan days
The top of the story:
Pro teams are increasingly promoting Christian, Jewish and Mormon fan days, because they help drive group ticket sales in a recession.
Pro teams are also getting religion because groups approach them and promote the events.
But some religious and secular groups don't think such fan day promotions are appropriate.
Who are the Christian, Jewish and Mormon groups approaching teams and promoting the events, and why are they doing so? No idea. The story doesn't bother to quote anyone identified as a Christian, Jew or Mormon.
Who are the religious and secular groups who don't think such fan day promotions are appropriate? Well, of course, there's space in the story to quote the critics. The (fairly predictable) religious critic:
(T)he Muslim advocacy group Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) wants equal time for other religions.
"The ultimate test of this kind of policy would be to have a Muslim Family Day -- and gauge the public reaction to it," says spokesman Ibrahim Hooper. "Given the heightened state of anti-Muslim sentiment in our society, I have a feeling there would be some objections to that."
Has CAIR approached any major-league teams about organizing a Muslim Family Day? Would CAIR be willing to commit to buying a certain number of tickets? Is Hooper a baseball fan? Are there any Muslim baseball players who might give testimonials after games? Again, no idea. This story is about as deep as my beloved Texas Rangers' pitching rotation most seasons.
Oh, the (fairly predictable) secular critic:
Teams have pushed ethnic heritage days for years. But religion? That's problematic, answers Blair Scott, spokesman for American Atheists. It's not illegal, but Scott believes it's unethical.
"They're out to make a buck. They're taking advantage of people's religiosity to make that buck. "
Scott doubts he'll ever see "Atheist Day" at stadiums.
"When you have a Super Bowl party in the atheist community, two people show up. We don't tend to be big sports fans."
"They're taking advantage of people's religiosity to make that buck." Again, I'd be curious to know if Scott is himself a baseball fan. It doesn't sound like it. As for taking advantage of people, wouldn't it make sense to seek a response from someone -- anyone -- on the getting-taken-advantage-of side? A Christian, Jew or Mormon perhaps?
Moreover, USA Today might demonstrate a bit of enterprise and ingenuity and quote someone other than professional critics in a story like this. Why not go to the ballpark and find a Muslim fan to interview? Or an atheist fan?
The story would still be biased and unbalanced without input from Christian, Jewish and/or Mormon fans, but injecting real voices into the piece might drop it a few notches on the Lame-O-Meter.