What. It. All. Means. Simone Manuel keeps trying to tell the world her whole story

I don't know about you, but I am still fired up about that stunning and historic gold-medal win by Simone Manuel in the 100-meter freestyle.

So, yes, here is a follow-up post (click here for my quick earlier take in this week's "Crossroads" podcast piece) on the news coverage of this young woman and her amazing Olympics story. In other words, the scribes in the mainstream press are still hard at work striving to tell the world (all together now) What. This. All. Means.

Let's start with some crucial video work.

For millions and millions of folks, Rio 2016 is experienced through the "how many ads can we make you watch" entertainment package offered by NBC Sports. The stories run by major news organizations are important, but the images that flash across that big, glowing wall in the home entertainment cave is what really matters.

So please click here and watch this piece of video from an NBC interview with Manuel minutes after her win. What are the first words that she speaks, when offered the chance to say What. This. All. Means?

That would be, "All glory to God."

This is not surprising, of course, for anyone who has glanced Manuel's Twitter feed. Here she is again with the other glowing Simone of this Olympics, as in gold-everything gymnastics icon Simone Biles (one of several high-profile Catholics on the U.S. team).

Now, watch the official NBC version of that same pool-side moment (at the top of this post) that has been posted at YouTube. Spot a key difference, after the editors have had time to work on it?

The God language is gone. I wonder: Would they have cut that brief snippet if her first words were about economic injustice, race or a cultural issue linked to sexuality? Is there anyone out there who thinks such a remark would have been cut?

Meanwhile, is there anyone in GetReligion-reader land who actually saw this interview when it was live, on the air? Note that there is a rather glaring edit right in the middle in both versions. Does anyone remember what Manuel said right there? Just asking.

It is very obvious, and I would stress accurate, that Manuel's win is very important for people who have fought for decades to defeat the nasty "black people can't swim" stereotype. Anyone who has a heart and cares about this life-and-death issue knows that 70 percent of young African-Americans cannot swim and, thus, are five times more likely to drown than white children.

Can you say, #blackswimmersmatter? I sure can. I could totally see Manuel -- perhaps working with churches and schools -- becoming a leader in a movement to address this ongoing tragedy. That would be a very pro-life cause.

But there is the point. It is totally conceivable that Manuel may, gold medal in hand, be able to use her many strengths (she is a student at Stanford University) in her future work -- including her glowing Christian faith. Might that be a part of her story? A key element in What. This. All. Means, as well as her valid ability to speak out on racial issues as a role model for millions?

So is her faith making it into the key stories?

No one will be surprised that a religious outlet like Baptist Press put Manuel's faith in the lede, then mixed religious content with her other remarks. I mean, that's what religious newsrooms do. Right?

Simone Manuel became the first African American to win an individual medal in swimming on Thursday (Aug. 11) when she won gold in the women's 100-meter freestyle, and she was quick to credit the Lord for that accomplishment.
"All I can say is all glory to God," Manuel said through tears in a post-race interview. "It's definitely been a long journey these past four years. I'm just so blessed to have a gold medal ... I'm just so blessed." ...
Manuel and her family are part of The Church Without Walls in Houston.
After the race, pastor Ralph Douglas West tweeted, "It makes me proud to see Simone give God the glory in this monumental moment in her life."
Manuel said the medal was not just for her, but for those who have come before her and inspired her. "And for all the people after me who believe they can't do it, I just want to be an inspiration to others that you can do it," she said.

So Manuel is an outspoken, evangelical Protestant Christian from the Bible Belt. Got it. But the link to her church and her pastor is crucial. Will reporters in other newsrooms follow up on that?

Obviously, lots of stars thank God after wins. But, in this case, there seems to be more to Manuel's faith than a bit of Godtalk on camera.

So let's contrast Baptist Press news approach that with the top of the second-day New York Times report. Frankly, I thought this was an excellent story -- with one major hole in it. Want to guess what is missing? Here is the overture:

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Simone Manuel woke up Friday morning to confirmation that her victory in the 100-meter freestyle a few hours earlier had not been a dream. The proof was perhaps more surreal than Thursday night’s payoff: Instagram posts from LeBron James and Serena Williams.
Manuel’s friend and fellow trailblazer Lia Neal had forwarded the messages after stumbling across them on Twitter.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, I wish I could see her reaction right now,’” Neal said. “She doesn’t need to hear from anyone else. Those are like her two favorite athletes.”

And later, there was this hook to the national impact in social media:

James wrote that he watched the race with his daughter. Williams posted a picture of Manuel and Simone Biles, who won the gymnastics all-around gold medal, and called them “amazing.” One mother posted a photograph on Twitter of her exuberant young black daughter posing in front of a television screen that showed Manuel being interviewed. By early Friday evening, it had more than 12,000 likes.

That's amazing stuff. But is there some journalistic reason that these angles cannot be combined with actual reporting about this young woman's faith?

I mean, everyone understands that Baptist Press is going to put the faith element high in a story. That's part of this religious wire service's identity.

So, should we then assume that it is just as logical for The New York Times to omit the religion angle in this major international sports story? Is editing Manuel's faith out of her story -- the story that she tells when offered a chance -- a crucial part of the great Gray Lady's journalism DNA? Why would that be true?

Just asking.

Please respect our Commenting Policy