Daniel Norris makes no secret of his Christian faith — no secret at all.
The Detroit Tigers pitcher's Twitter profile is typical of that openness:
I live to find 3 things. 1. Eternal life. 2. The strike zone. & 3. Good waves - 2 Peter 3:18 - Just Keep Livin' *dirtbag*
The latest examples of how sports journalists treat the top prospect's faith come in recent reports on the 22-year-old having a malignant tumor removed from his neck this offseason.
Despite a drive-by scattering of terms such as "prayer," "faith" and "eternal life," holy ghosts haunt the reports.
The Detroit Free Press notes:
After the season, Norris announced his cancer on Twitter and Instagram.
“I’m a firm believer in the power of prayer,” he posted Oct. 19. “So now, I’m asking for prayers.”
His faith is the center of his being. “It’s something to lean on,” he said. “Without faith, I don’t think I would be in the big leagues.”
What faith? Why not elaborate?
Likewise, the Detroit News allows Norris' unspecified faith a cameo appearance:
Norris said he leaned on his family and his friends, including agent Matt Laird, as well as his faith — “It gives me something to help find peace,” he says — as he worked through it all.
Finally, MLB.com hints at a deeper foundation while focusing on Norris' love of baseball:
To say the mound was an escape for him would be underselling what baseball means in his life. Between prayer and doctors, he felt good.
As you may recall, I interviewed Norris for The Christian Chronicle last summer:
In my visit with Norris in the Tigers' clubhouse at Comerica Park, I asked about ESPN's in-depth "Man in the Van" feature on him that skirted around his Christian faith:
“The guy who wrote it, he obviously has to answer to an editor,” Norris said of the ESPN article. “But as bad as it sounds, I think he did a good job of sneaking it in there — how I live and my morals and my faith — without actually coming out and saying it. Because as sad as it is, I think some of that would have been edited out.”
But why must media reports edit out Norris' Christianity?
Wouldn't digging deeper into the specifics of his faith and how it influences his actions and outlook produce a better, fuller understanding of what makes him tick?
Of course it would. But there's a reason why "God" talk tends to get sidelined in sports media, as former GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey pointed out in a 2010 piece for the Wall Street Journal:
Peter King, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, admits his own skepticism when players bring up their faith after a game. "I've seen enough examples of players who claim to be very religious and then they get divorced three times or get in trouble with the law," Mr. King said earlier this week. "I'm not sure that the public is crying out for us to discover the religious beliefs of the athletes we're writing about."
Faith is the belief in things unseen. Sportswriters are trained to write about the observable. "One of the problems that we have is determining the veracity of a person's claim that he has just won this game for his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," Mr. King said.
In the Baltimore Sun before last year's Super Bowl, Washington Post reporter Rick Maese characterized his fellow journalists as "notebook-toting cynics who worship at the altar of the free media buffet." But he softened his language and cut his colleagues some slack when I spoke to him recently. A sports reporter might write one story with a strong religion angle and feel like the idea is no longer fresh for the next athlete he covers, Mr. Maese told me. "It's not like the reporter's going to bring an athlete's beliefs or religious affiliation up out of the blue," he said. But "if that's something the player cites as a motivating factor, I don't think you're telling the full story if you don't explore that angle a little bit."
In Norris' case, telling the full story requires exploring that angle more than a little bit.