The other day, I posted a blog about Baltimore Ravens cornerback Cary Williams, a young man with a remarkable and at times tragic life story. The plot changed for the better, however, when he went to live with a relative who turned out to be an ordained minister, even if the Baltimore Sun didn't seem interested in that particular angle of the story. There was tons of evidence that faith played a major role in this story, yet very little of that information made it into ink.
Now it's time to take a look at a lengthy Sun feature about defensive lineman Arthur Jones. Here's the double-deck headline, which sets the tone:
Arthur Jones overcame injury, death of sister on path to NFL
The Jones family has produced two other elite athletes: MMA champ Jon and draft-eligible Chandler
Note that the strength of the family itself is central to this news feature. After an opening act, readers are given this summary of the story:
Through individual triumphs and family tragedies -- the death of their older sister and a fire at their home -- the brothers have formed a lasting bond. They have thrived thanks to their religion and strong faith in their family.
"Guys always ask why I smile so much," said Arthur, whose wide grin lights up the Ravens locker room. "I'm healthy. I've got a beautiful family. My parents are both still living. I have so much to be happy and proud about and to smile for. And I play for a great organization, so why not?"
Note the vague reference to "their religion."
That faith-centered note pretty much vanishes until much later, when it turns out that this isn't simply a family with some vague, tangential connection to faith. As the story develops, there are other faith-centered moments, examples of language that reveal something about this family and its home life:
Jon and Chandler had always looked up to their oldest brother for guidance and inspiration. But the Jones boys learned to rely on each other when their older sister, Carmen, was diagnosed with brain cancer and quickly grew seriously ill. She died at age 17 when Arthur was in eighth grade.
"She was an angel. You ask God, 'Why?' But I guess God had a better plan for her," Arthur said.
At this point, well into this lengthy report, the Sun finally serves up one rather crucial detail:
With his father, Arthur Jones Jr., who is a pastor in Binghamton, N.Y., and his mother, who used to work with the mentally handicapped before complications from diabetes caused her kidneys to fail, tending to Carmen during her two-year battle with cancer, the brothers survived the difficult and confusing time together. There were left at times to fend for themselves until Carmen was released from the hospital and spent the rest of her life in their home.
So this strong family does not have a vague connection to some generic form of religion.
No, Jones is actually a pastor's son -- even though it does not seem important to mention anything about that. As it turns out, his father is the outspoken leader of a small congregation, but one that is part of a powerful and very important African-American denomination -- the Church of God in Christ. With a few clicks of a mouse, it's possible to find out that "Arthur Jones Jr." is actually the Rev. Arthur Jones Jr., of Mt. Sinai Church of God in Christ.
This brings up another Associated Press Stylebook point that, to my amazement, I must make again. Why is it that editors of The Baltimore Sun are so quick to strip Africa-American clergy of their formal titles if and when they show up in stories that are not directly about events in religious organizations? In stories that are about sports, for example? Why is it necessary to turn the Rev. Arthur Jones Jr., into Arthur Jones, Jr., who -- oh, yeah, by the way -- just happens to be an ordained minister?
In this case, the central theme of this story is the strength of this particular family and its ability to stay strong and united when faced with the tragedies and challenges of life. Are we supposed to assume that the Sun editors believe that this family's strength is not, in some way, linked to the ministry of this father and mother? All of this has nothing to do with this son growing up in a pastor's home?
Just asking. Again.