There he goes again: The media's ongoing struggle to cover Tim Tebow's faith

That Tim Tebow guy, he sure does present some challenges to mainstream sports reporters who may or may not be all that comfortable with religious faith.

In the latest episode of this long-running drama, Tebow -- who has been taking a shot at professional baseball -- played his first game in an Arizona Fall League, along with other major- and minor-league prospects. He made contact in his at bats, but went without a hit. Tebow was his normal humble, practical self in this ESPN story about the game:

"Obviously, I wish I could have done a little bit more at the plate and got a couple of hits," Tebow said after his AFL debut. "But it was fun. You've got to knock a little rust off. ... Each day is not just about the result. It's about: What are you learning? How are you improving? How are you going to be able to take that over into spring training?"

However, the real story on this day had nothing to do with baseball. Afterwards, Tebow lingered along the third-base line to sign autographs and talk with fans, from a much larger than normal fall-game crowd. That's when there was a medical emergency.

Let's walk through this scene a bit, as described down in the body of this ESPN report:

When one fan had a seizure, Tebow opted to stay with him until paramedics arrived.
"I just remember just being very disoriented,'' Brandon Berry told The Associated Press by phone. "Then I saw Tim."

Now here is the question asked by some readers: Did Tebow -- the son of medical missionaries -- stay with the man or did he pray with the man?

The cutline on the photo of this moment added:

Tim Tebow didn't do much at the plate on Tuesday, but he did assist a man who had a seizure after the Arizona Fall League game.

That's one way to put it.

Let's go back to the ESPN report, which eventually did include the dangerous word -- "praying," as opposed to "assisting." The medical details here indicate that the reporter did follow-up work and took this scene very seriously. The narration begins with Barry, himself:

The 30-year-old said he was OK at home in nearby Avondale, Arizona, after being released from the hospital. Berry said he didn't remember much after the seizure, except that he told the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner that he cheered for Georgia -- an SEC rival of Tebow's Florida Gators.
Daniel Kelly, a Tebow fan from Casa Grande, Arizona, said he met Berry early in the game. Kelly was getting a baseball autographed by Tebow when the seizure began.
"He's just shaking violently,'' Kelly told the AP. "We're like, 'Get a paramedic! Get a paramedic!'"
Kelly said he and his wife, Samantha, began to pray. Kelly then looked up to see that Tebow was also praying while placing a hand on Berry's leg.
Kelly said Berry appeared unconscious for about 30 seconds before coming to with a coughing fit. Officials from the stadium tended to him while awaiting paramedics from the Phoenix Fire Department. Kelly said it was near 100 degrees at the stadium and that Berry was with him in the sun for most of the game.
Berry said he has been having seizures since 2013 and was diagnosed with a pituitary tumor in January.

The ESPN story is very restrained and I can appreciate the intent there. After all, Tebow works for the SEC Network, a branch of ESPN. Readers should also notice that it does not appear that Tebow lingered at the scene to field questions about this crisis.

However, the simple fact of the matter is that some of the witnesses to the scene immediately began describing (yes, think Twitter) what happened in religious language, including use of the word "miracle." Check out the CNN mini-report at the top of this post.

Clearly, there was another way to cover this story. See this tweet, from a religion-media professional (and GetReligion reader), linking to an ABC News story that focused on the religion-angle news.

Now, I would note that ABC and ESPN are part of the same media family. I have no idea if the newsrooms in these organizations use a common stylebook or policy manual that might address some of these language issues. I would assume that they do not.

The key is not whether journalists believe or do not believe that some kind of miracle happened here. I would guess, based on Tebow's language in the past, that the last thing in the world he would do is claim any kind of credit for what happened. He might say that prayer is a mystery, a statement that almost any medical missionary would affirm.

But should journalists have quoted what the witnesses were saying? Are their voices part of the scene? And, yes, did it complicate matters that Tebow -- a love/hate figure in American culture -- was involved?

With that final question in mind, let me recommend this recent Weekly Standard essay by Christopher Caldwell: "Why Do People Care About Tim Tebow?" Note the ending:

Tebow is sort of a sports tragedy. He is really an extraordinary athlete: Strong, with what calls "the sort of wide shoulders that would make Atlas envious." Fast. Decisive. But he is not quick, and so he will forever be excluded from playing at the highest level the games Americans most love to watch. To be a fan of Tebow the Athlete is to commiserate, to feel like the only person who understands his predicament.
And the same goes for Tebow the Christian. Sometimes he can be a conventional American, when he talks about following your dreams and blah-blah-blah. But at other times, his spiritual approach to things is unconventional and profound. Last week, a sportscaster asked him a question that was meant to do little more than sow dissension and generate gossip:
"Why, do you think, has there been so much criticism from other people about your attempt to make it in baseball?"
And Tebow replied in a way that made this entire perspective on life sound petty and servile:
"I don't know. But you know what the good thing is? You don't have to listen to what "other people" say. The great thing -- for all the young people watching -- is: You don't have to live the life that other people want you to live. You get to go after what you believe, and what you want."
When he talks that way, it is easy to see one thing that is special about Tebow. He presents Christianity the way most of his fellow Christians have always understood it -- as a message of liberation. Christianity, of course, is not the only way to protect oneself from the tyranny of other people's expectations. But for most Americans, and at most times, it has been the main one.

You just know that this Tebow guy will be back in the news again. Right?

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