If you follow the National Football League at all, then you know that wide receiver Steve Smith -- formerly of the Carolina Panthers, now with the Baltimore Ravens -- has a reputation. He's small, but really tough. Some people say he's arrogant. He has been known to fly into a competitive rage and punch people, even his own teammates.
This is not the NFL player you expect to be walking around with a study Bible.
So I was fascinated, the other day, when Sports Illustrated ran one of its patented player profiles that hint at faith themes and realities -- but the team then drops the ball on specifics. For example, read the following overture:
Smith leaves football at the team facility. “I actually love to read,” he says, citing business texts such as The Richest Man in Babylon and motivational works like A Tale of Three Kings and The Last Lecture among his favorite books. He collects passport stamps, traveling through China, Italy, Australia and all over Africa; he’s been to Jerusalem, Barcelona, London and Paris. He says things like “Tanzania is known for tanzanite.” At one point Smith pauses because he knows this all sounds strange coming from, well, Steve Smith. “There’s a perception of me that I’m a hothead and an idiot,” he says. “That because I’m aggressive on the football field, I’m a thug. But look, just because you see me [doing one thing] in my workplace doesn’t mean I walk around stiff-arming people and spinning cantaloupe in the grocery store.”
That, of course, is what the 35-year-old Smith is known for, a career spent in perpetual combat: three documented fistfights with teammates, scores of altercations with opponents, countless spins of the football in defiant celebration after every catch, even in practice.
So the story lists many of Smith's tips for success, such as "play angry." That's the thug hothead, right?
But then readers hit the following short passage:
The fifth trick: collect quotes. Smith stores dozens of them in a folder on his smartphone, from the Bible and football coaches and philosophers, and he will glance at them in moments that require inspiration, affirmation, guidance. The origin of his favorite quote is unknown: “Never be ashamed of a scar. It simply means you were stronger than whatever tried to hurt you.”
And then there is this anecdote about Smith the man and his friends in unusual places:
In the 2010 off-season Smith traveled to Australia, and on the flight he was seated next to the agent for one of his own celebrity superfans: John Isner. A 6’ 10” professional tennis player, and now the highest-ranked American male, Isner (who grew up in Greensboro, N.C.) had been a die-hard Panthers supporter since the team’s inception, in 1995. The agent played matchmaker, and Smith watched the Australian Open that year from Isner’s box. Isner later attended Smith’s practices, and they swapped tennis rackets for game-worn cleats. Isner says that his signed number 89 Panthers jersey is among the first things he would grab if his house ever caught on fire.
For all that separated Smith and Isner -- 13 inches in height and about 2,500 miles, from Greensboro to Smith’s hometown of Los Angeles -- the two men weren’t so different. They shared faith and family and Carolina football.
Faith and family? That angry guy spiking a defensive back into the turf?
But what about his personal life?
The calming influence, the driver behind Smith’s evolution, is Angie. The 11th trick: marry well. The couple met at Utah, married soon after and had four children. “The way my wife makes me feel is that she should be the one on the field, and I should be in the stands,” Smith says. Before his high school reunion, Smith got excited about rubbing his success in the faces of his doubters. Angie is the one who asked, Are you going with the right motives? “I can embarrass her sometimes,” he confesses when asked about the time he broke a teammate’s nose. “There have been some things in my career, in my life, where I’ve let her down.”
Now that's what you were expecting, right? You were expecting Smith to talk about his life as a path of redemption? You were expecting him to be committed to faith-based work with street people, right?
Now, these are the hints. Did anyone involved in reporting this profile stop and connect the dots? Did anyone say, "What?!?" Where are the facts? Where are the details that flesh out the hints?
Or is religious faith, again, something that just isn't REAL ENOUGH to take seriously?