If you are one of those Americans who care about the little sports operation called the National Football League, then you probably know that one of the biggest stories in the land right now (surf these links) is that America's most powerful sports institution is trying to get its act together on issues linked to its players and domestic-violence issues.
At the center of this storm is All-Star running back Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens. In addition to waves of coverage in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., media, the recent case involving Rice and his then fiance, now wife, was recently the subject of a major story in ESPN Magazine.
Now, this ESPN piece is a first-person essay by Kevin Van Valkenburg, who has professional roots here in Charm City. Thus, it blends opinion and hard-news content. Here is a sample of what that sounds like, in a large chunk of copy that states the thesis: Should NFL fans -- on faith -- forgive Rice?
This winter, when I watched the grainy hotel security video of Rice dragging his unconscious fiancée, Janay Palmer, out of an elevator after allegedly knocking her out, I ... wondered whether I had somehow played a role, however small, in the selling of a Ray Rice: Great Player & All-Around Great Guy narrative that now seemed so patently false. I thought about whether that said anything about my character, my instincts. I also thought a lot about my two daughters, about one day sending them out into the world and about the men who might someday come into their lives.
Rice isn't ready to speak with me just yet, the Ravens say. Maybe down the road, they say. So, I decided to make some calls, talk to people who can help me find an answer to the one question that continues to dominate my thoughts. Is Ray Rice a man who made a single, aberrant, wildly out of character mistake for which he is truly sorry and for which he seeks to atone? Or is he a dangerous man likely to abuse his wife again or worse?
All of that is totally logical and valid.
However, try to spot the key element in the language used by Ravens Head Coach Jim Harbaugh when he steps forward to talk about the Rice case. In addition to talking about Rice, his wife and his daughter as family, there is something else in there:
Harbaugh says he understands what's at stake, what the organization is risking by choosing to support Rice. Like me, Harbaugh has a daughter he will have to send out into the world one day. We've had conversations about our kids, about the blessing and the challenge it is to raise daughters. But where I am skeptical, he is hopeful. He knows Rice better than I do, certainly. Perhaps that should count for something? "Some people will forgive him, and some people won't," Harbaugh says. "I know he's asked for forgiveness, and whether he gets it or not is not up to the people doing the forgiving."
The coach, raised a devout Catholic, often looks to the Bible for guidance in difficult times, and this, he says, has been no different. "What does the Bible say about discipline? You either accept it or you reject it," Harbaugh says. "The wise man accepts it, and the fool rejects it. Well, Ray's accepted it, and he's been humbled. He's going to be a better man for it. I believe that. But the journey's not over. It's not like he's going to be mistake-free for the rest of his life. Who is?"
Keep reading and reading between the lines.
Obviously, a key voice in all of this is Rice's wife, who has not been talking to media other than an initial press conference, which almost everyone agreed was a PR disaster.
However, there was a wedding video -- called "We Made It" -- which drew close scrutiny from some in the media, but never went viral with the public. So what does Janay say there? And how does Van Valkenburg respond?
... When armed with the knowledge of recent events, a few lines from their wedding vows that appear in the video take on a much larger meaning.
"There were days when I didn't think we would get here," Janay says during the ceremony. "But I can't put into words how grateful I am for God putting you and keeping you in my life."
She looks so happy, like there is so much joy in her life yet to come. I want to rejoice with her. I want to stop being afraid for her. I wonder how to hold both fear and hope in your heart.
You can see the trend here, right? It's called, in GetReligion terms, playing the "God card."
I am not, of course, suggesting that the Raven officials and the members of the Rice family are right and that Van Valkenburg is wrong. That is not my point at all.
My point is journalistic, in that I want to ask: Did the ESPN team hear the clash between the faith language on one side and the essential secular skepticism on the other? If they did, why not ask the obvious religious questions and put that issue on the table? Why not seek out factual material about the role of faith in the family's life?
The story does mention the involvement of a Christian ministry called "Ruth House" in the Rice family's recovery. OK, what is that all about? What are the facts? Why not ask questions about that?
In other words, religion plays a major role in this story. Why not probe and discuss that angle?