David Boudia and Steele Johnson won a silver at the 2016 Olympics in 10-meter platform synchronized diving, finishing right behind a duo from the always powerful Chinese team.
If you saw this in The Washington Post this morning, you read about an amazing story of human strength and courage -- period -- with Johnson winning a medal while performing a dive that almost killed him when he was a boy.
If you read about this duo from Hamilton County Indiana in The Indianapolis Star (or followed the URLs I received this morning from various Christian news lists), you read a very different story. In this version, it's clear that religious faith played a major role as Johnson and Boudia managed to conquer their personal demons and win silver.
Which story is true? They both are, in terms of the basic facts. Which is more complete? It would certainly appear that -- when Johnson (see the video with this post) and Boudia are allowed to tell their own stories -- the religion element is absolutely crucial.
So we face a familiar question: Did the Post team fail to see the religion ghost in this story or was the faith element actually edited out of this dramatic narrative?
This is what the key material looked like in the faith-free version of the Johnson story, published by the Post:
Johnson was just 12 years old and going through a routine diving practice at Indiana University in Jan. 2009 when he attempted a difficult 3 and 1/2 somersault dive. It would later become his favorite move, but that day it was too far advanced and nearly cost him dearly. As he began to spin in the air on the dive, Johnson’s head collided with the concrete platform. He fell unconscious and plunged 33-feet into the pool, hitting the water head first and sinking.
His coach, John Wingfield, dove in and saved him and Johnson was quickly rushed to the hospital. Johnson’s “scalp ripped in half” as he hit the water, and according to a video blog he posted on the anniversary of the incident earlier this year, Wingfield had to hold Johnson’s head together in the pool to keep the young diver from bleeding out and to keep the pool’s chlorine from seeping into the open wound and causing brain damage.
And that is pretty much that. This is a story of human strength and determination.
This narrative looks radically different when Boudia -- who won a gold medal in the London Olympics four years ago -- is added to the mix. Both of these divers have stories to tell and, in both cases, religious faith is woven into the plot.
The Star team did not lead with the religious material -- but the faith elements were strongly featured in the background material. It helped that the divers have been quite outspoken, as of late, when it comes to telling their stories.
Boudia last week released an autobiography detailing suicidal thoughts, drugs, drinking and cigarette smoking. He has said becoming a Christian changed his life, as did marriage to wife Sonnie and fatherhood. His daughter, Dakoda, is nearly 2.
“I can’t wait to kiss the cheeks on my little girl,” Boudia said.
When Johnson was 12, he struck his head on a platform in January 2009. He recently divulged he has memory loss from that incident.
“When something like that happens in your life, a near-death experience, you don’t know where you’re going to be going with your life,” Johnson said. “I could have stopped diving. I could have gone back to middle school and just been normal and played different sports like football or soccer.
“The fact that God gave me the ability to stick with it and persevere and not have fear and anxiety about diving, it all worked out in the end.”
Some of the demons made it to Rio, with Boudia talking openly about his fears and struggles at his third Olympic games. Over and over, the duo from Purdue University kept repeating two numbers:
He and Johnson calmed each other by repeating “4:6," meaning Philippians 4:6. It is a Bible verse:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
So what happened here? Did the journalists at the Post and the Star simply know that they were writing for radically different audiences? Was this a blue area code vs. a read area code situation? Did Post editors decide that faith details are not very inspiring to their urban, sophisticated audience inside the Washington, D.C., Beltway?
Or, once again, was this a matter of economics?
The Star piece has a Rio dateline on it, which means the reporter was on the scene and had a chance to interview the Indiana duo or, at the very least, hear their press-conference narratives. This was a local story and, thus, really mattered.
The Post piece, on the other hand, has no dateline on it. Looking at the newspaper's website, it is clear that the Post has reporters in Rio. However, it is not clear whether the Johnson piece was built using on-site reporting, or Internet resources alone.
But watch the dramatic and very personal YouTube by Johnson at the top of this post. In the summary statements near the end, the faith element of his story is clearly articulated. So why avoid this part of the story, when it would have only taken a few words -- a sentence or two at the most -- to have included it?
FIRST IMAGE: Screen grab from a WLFI report on the Olympic trials.