This has certainly been an interesting year for quarterbacks in the National Football League. Trust me, I know that journalists always pay close attention to quarterbacks (I worked in Denver during most of the John Elway era), but it seems to me that news people have been dissecting these guys to an unusual degree, as of late. Clearly, the man at the head of the parade is Tim Tebow, especially the fixation on his tendency to kneel and pray at the end of games -- the "Tebowing" effect. In his case, each and every hint of religion is hot stuff.
This has led to an interesting discussion of NFL rules. In the midst of "taunting" crackdown, some are asking why it isn't taunting if players -- think Detroit Lions -- take a knee after they sack the quarterback. There's a thin line between mocking his faith gesture and mocking his faith (click here for a must-read Fox Sports column about this).
Journalists are really paying attention to the close details, on and off the field.
This leads me to an interesting New York Times story the other day about Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and his wedding ring.
Yes, his wedding ring.
Let me state right up front that I do not know if Fitzpatrick is a man of faith or not. People who study all things NFL know him primarily as the league's only quarterback from Harvard University. Other than local news reports about him visiting a Catholic school to speak at a program on avoiding drugs (certainly a topic that one can oppose for secular reasons as well as sacred), I can't find any religious information about him online. Feel free to do searches of your own, if you feel the need.
As for me, I remain curious about this fascinating Times piece, which opens like this:
Ryan Fitzpatrick, married for nearly five and a half years, says he never removes his wedding band. Not when he clips his nails. Not when he changes diapers. Not when he slings footballs around the field on Sundays for the Buffalo Bills.
For Fitzpatrick, the conscious decision to wear his ring makes him something of an anomaly in the N.F.L., where most players -- especially quarterbacks -- opt to leave it in their lockers, fearful of injuring their hands or fingers. Fitzpatrick understands the hazards of his workplace, but he has a pragmatic reason for thinking he can ignore them: because he throws right-handed, wearing the ring on his opposite hand does not affect his performance.
So there is a practical angle to this -- avoiding injury. The story also investigates whether or not the quarterback's personal choice might violate some obscure NFL rule, since the league micromanages nearly every detail of what players can and cannot wear.
But, right up top, someone had to ask Fitzpatrick why he has made this, gulp, controversial choice.
It appears that he may even have been asked that question twice. Is it just me or does it seem that he was asked if there was some deeply personal reason? Perhaps it is a moral statement?
“I haven’t seen a reason to take it off, I guess,” Fitzpatrick said in a telephone interview this week. “It stands for something. It’s not like I’m trying to throw a message in anybody’s face. It’s just a personal thing between me and my wife. It’s important for me not to take it off.”
The ring -- platinum, with a brushed finish and his wedding date inscribed on the inside -- fits snugly on his exposed left ring finger, and in two seasons it has yet to fall off or even come loose. In truth, Fitzpatrick said he found discussing it more uncomfortable than wearing it. He does so for “personal reasons, not for everybody to talk about.” But people do talk about it. ...
The wives of other players have noticed the ring, for example. They praise Fitzpatrick for his open display of his commitment -- which embarrasses him. The story also offers commentary from other players who do, or do not, wear their wedding bands into combat. Just about every angle gets covered.
It's clear that this subject makes some people uncomfortable. It's clear that many assume Fitzpatrick is sending some kind of message. In the age of Tebow, is it strange to wear a wedding ring? Does this imply some special level of commitment that might be religious and, thus, controversial? Or is he simply a normal, secular guy who wants to make a display of his love for his wife -- to the degree that it makes tongues way a bit?
I have no idea. But this strange little story sure left me curious.
Perhaps that was the goal: curiosity, but not a final, defining piece of information. There was no need to damage the man's career by asking about something as dangerous as religion.