After the "Offseason from Hell," college football returns this weekend. (Insert loud whoops here.)
Last week, I critiqued a Tulsa World story on the faith of Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones. This week, the faith of another quarterback — Case Keenum — drew the attention of a major newspaper. In fact, this was the headline on the Houston Chronicle's 1,500-word story on Keenum:
Faith, family, friends help UH's Keenum bounce back from injury
Yet it's not until the 21st paragraph that Keenum's faith enters the picture — and even then, that key angle takes up only a small section of the report:
The struggles also helped Keenum come to a realization about his football career. And as he always has, he leaned on his faith.
"That's when you realize that your body is going to fail one day, no matter what," he said. "Whether you're in the best shape or the worst shape, one of these days it's going to be you and God. All that stuff - records, championships, awards - all that stuff is not going to matter. It's going to be, 'Do you have Jesus Christ in your life or not?'?"
Even in high school, Keenum's Christian beliefs were important to him. Sandifer said Keenum was part of a group of about 15-20 players who participated in Bible studies the day before Wylie games. The church he and his family attended, Beltway Park Baptist Church, sits directly across the street from Wylie Junior High and little more than a stone's throw from the family's home.
With the support of his family and faith, Keenum progressed through his rehabilitation on schedule and was cleared for all activities over the summer. He has been able to take his normal first-team repetitions with the Cougars during fall practice, though coach Kevin Sumlin was sure to give him a couple of days off.
But you know what? I have no problem with how this story handles the faith aspect.
This is a sports story, not a religion feature. Faith obviously is a big part of Keenum's life, and the Chronicle both acknowledges that fact and answers key questions about Christianity's role in this athlete's life. The paper even allows the player to discuss his faith in his own words ("Do you have Jesus Christ in your life or not?").
Most refreshingly, faith is presented as a natural part of the story. That angle blends seamlessly into the overall context of this athlete's road back to the gridiron. Isn't that what we at GetReligion advocate all the time — the elimination of religion ghosts?
Score a touchdown for the Chronicle.
And as long as I'm lofting praise into the end zone, I want to call your attention to a 1,600-word feature on the faith of Sooners wide receiver Ryan Broyles in The Oklahoman.
As you may recall, Broyles was quoted in the World story about Jones that I reviewed, prompting me to complain:
It surprised me to hear Broyles talking about Jesus because I had read about off-the-field troubles early in his Oklahoma career. Did Broyles have a come-to-Jesus experience of his own? The story provides no clue.
Ask and you shall receive, albeit from a different Oklahoma daily. The Oklahoman story is filled with revealing insight and details, including this section:
He remembers Sunday morning at Mission of Hope, standing in the church service looking down at the children as they sang. They had their heads thrown back and their arms raised up. They didn't care who was around. They worshipped with every ounce of their bodies.
Something clicked inside him during that trip.
Longtime girlfriend Mary Beth Offenburger met Broyles at the airport when he returned from Haiti. The person who hugged her as tears streamed down his face was not the same person she'd told goodbye a week earlier.
“There's no going back,” Broyles told her.
No going back to the way he was.
Offenburger marvels at how much Broyles has changed. He eats better and stretches more because his body is a gift from God. He takes bike rides just so he can enjoy God's creation. He studies the Bible daily with her — and sometimes without her.
Score a touchdown for The Oklahoman, too.